Protecting youth athletes from physical and sexual abuse should be a top priority for community and travel sports leagues. Coach and volunteer background checks are just the first line of defense when it comes to keeping predators away from players, but they are by no means the only thing a sports league has to do to ensure the safety and well-being of every player. The abuse prevention policies and guidelines your league creates should also be designed to minimize the possibility of sexual abuse as much as possible. But when it comes to your abuse prevention policies are you covering all your bases?
Here’s what Michelle Peterson, national expert on child abuse, has to say;
My first piece of advice for clubs is to have an expert create the policies, not coaches or parents. Experts are objective and understand how sexual predators operate and know what situations put players at risk. It is impossible for parents to imagine their child’s coach as a predator and to place restrictions on someone they would never suspect in committing child abuse. Therefore, policy’s created by Boards, staff or parents are likely to be incomplete, inaccurate and fail to protect players from abuse. An example of this was a conversation I had with the director of a soccer program who created an abuse prevention policy of his own that required only male coaches travel and stay with male players and the same for female coaches and players…this coach clearly is not knowledgeable around sexual abuse as many male predators abuse male children and females abuse young girls as well.
Michelle raises a great point. When you don’t believe that a favorite coach or neighbor is capable of abusing a youth athlete it’s very hard to create an abuse prevention policy that plans for as many situations as possible, simply because part of you can’t believe it would ever happen. Like the soccer coach that Michelle worked with—his policy may keep a potential abuser and some of the players apart, but it does not ensure that a male coach wouldn’t abuse the male players or a female coach wouldn’t abuse the female players. His plan was created with the best intentions but it left a loophole a predator could exploit. But in order to stop a predator you have to think like a predator, which is why Michelle recommends that leagues hire experts to write out the abuse prevention policies.
In addition to travel guidelines, your abuse prevent policies need to think beyond the field or the locker room. Social media makes it so easy for coaches to keep in contact with players and their parents, but it’s probably better for everyone if coaches are prohibited from “friending” or following their young players on sites like Facebook and Twitter. Even if they coach has the best intentions and would never harm a player, a league’s abuse prevention policies should also strive to protect both coaches and players from compromising situations.