Most children in America will participate in some form of team sports during their childhood. Playing team sports can help to foster a child’s self-confidence, sense of belonging and help them develop empathy for others. No matter what sport, parents have a responsibility to ensure that their child can play in a safe and nurturing environment.
The following list is steps you should take as a parent, to help mitigate the chances of your child being a victim of abuse while playing on a youth team:
- Ask the leadership of the sports organization if they have a written policy detailing the steps that are taken to background check and verify all coaches and volunteer credentials before they are allowed to be around children and coach a team.
- If your child is working with a private trainer, make sure you attend the sessions to keep an eye on them, or drop in at various times unexpected to see for yourself what is going on. Insist that all training sessions occur in a public place with other people around.
- Prep your child ahead of time with personal safety skills, so they will know what to do should various situations arise.
- Impress upon your child the importance of not keeping secrets! This is a big one. If a coach or volunteer is asking your child to keep secrets, they could be grooming them for sexual abuse later. Predators will often start with little secrets to see if the child will comply and then slowly and methodically advance to more sinister actions that they want kept secret.
- Let your child know it’s okay to say ‘No” or “Stop, I’m not comfortable with what you’re asking me.” By empowering your child with the authority to stand up for themselves with an adult, you have given them another tool to help keep themselves safe.
- If your child relays information about the coach or a volunteer that concerns you, do not freak out because it may cause the child to stop talking. Casually ask the child to tell you more about the situation and person. Ask your child if other kids are privately expressing concern about this person also. Investigate and inform the leadership of your concerns.
- If there is something about the coach or a volunteer that just doesn’t set right with you, follow your gut instinct. Many times people ignore that gut feeling only to find out later that there was something to be concerned about. Try talking to the coach or volunteer to see if you can pinpoint as to why your Spidey senses are tingling.
All parents want their children to enjoy their childhoods and to go cheer them on when their team competes. It can be so much fun and a bonding experience for the parent and child. But, parents must put the safety of their children first, and not assume all organizations have done their due diligence on their coaches and volunteers. Always check the references for an organization thoroughly before allowing your child to participate!