The last few weeks we've been spoiling you with some really fantastic guest bloggers. Those of you who read our blog regularly, or have downloaded our free safeguarding in sport guide, will know Marilyn Hawes by now. Marilyn is the Founder/CEO of Freedom From Abuse CIC, an organisation specialising in providing up to date safeguarding training to clubs like yours.
This week, Marilyn is back to give us some more insight into children, vulnerable adults and dealing with young people coaching older athletes.
Behaviour checks, boundaries & vulnerability
Whilst we must rightly support coaches and highlight inappropriate behaviours around young players and vulnerable adults, what about the players themselves acting outside the rules? All young people are vulnerable by mature of their age and inexperience of life.
A child is anyone under 18 years of age.
A “vulnerable person” is a person who is 18 years of age or over, and who is or may be in need of community care services by reason of mental or other disability, age or illness and who is or may be unable to take care of him/herself, or unable to protect him/herself against significant harm or serious exploitation.".
The actual word vulnerable means being, or feeling susceptible to criticism, persuasion or temptation which could cause harm to that person - emotionally or mentally. This, however is not the same as being a "vulnerable person" in the medical sense of the word. Nonetheless, both situations must be responded to in a supportive manner.
Everyone can find themselves vulnerable at times. They could be grieving, suffering with anxiety because of pending exams, a divorce, who knows? This vulnerability is far harder to detect, as people tend to keep it within hidden from view. Therefore, a general wellbeing “health check” asking how everyone is as you meet them is not a bad thing. And watch for negative body language signs which indicate there may be something wrong.
Supporting younger athletes who transition into a coaching role
What happens when a young teenager who was a regular club member until a few days ago, now becomes a coach, and to older members? Last week they may have been a junior member! The youngster needs guidance and direction. Things will change for them, for example, it is now no longer appropriate to send messages/texts with virtual 'kisses'; or send photos and videos, as they may have done previously. The rules have now changed in their new position and they need to understand this.
If the youngster cannot, or will not adjust to their new role of responsibility then the position of “ coach” should be revoked at your club. Whilst an unfortunate situation, they can always join another club if their intent is to continue coaching.
Protecting younger coaches
The young person should be aware of inappropriate behaviours which may impact them. They also need guidance and to know that the committee and welfare officers are there to protect them.
For example, what if an older player is attracted to the younger player and begins to offer them more money for coaching than originally agreed? This is sometimes how the early stages of grooming can/may begin. The youngster could feel intimidated to speak out, especially if the older player being coached has influence at the club or is even on the club committee!
Is there a policy at your club, or notice, declaring expectation once this crossover has occurred, as a reminder to all? Not only do you need to protect your members & coaches, you need to protect your club's reputation.
What to do if an older member is socialising with a young person
If an older, adult member is known, or seen to be socialising with a young person, this needs to be monitored and recorded. Parents should be informed by the welfare officer to ensure they are made aware and are okay with the situation. Although this may be happening outside of club hours, it could have originated from within the club.
Sadly, these days, with all we are now learning, everyone's safeguarding knowledge needs to up to date to prevent harm. Anything that doesn't feel right must be reported. It is okay to be professionally suspicious or sceptic.
There also needs to be reassurance to everyone at the club, irrespective of who they are. Athletes, coaches and parents need to know the due process for if situations such as this should occur and what will or will not be tolerated.
Being aware of grooming
Any activity where high achievement is likely, there is always a risk of exploiting young and vulnerable members. Young people, with the support of parents and carers want to “live the dream” and some will be blinded by their wish to succeed. This is when grooming can occur. This can be disguised in special treatment by the coach, offering an unusual amount of 1:1 coaching sessions and so on. Learn more by downloading our safeguarding in sport guide.
Music, drama, fashion etc. all flag up a safeguarding risk. But sport is the one arena where most forms of abuse can be evident. Bullying, emotional and verbal abuse, racial abuse, physical abuse, grooming and sexual abuse can all take place within a sporting environment. And your club needs to be prepared to deal with these situations, should they ever occur.
Sport is fun and needed for healthy living. Responsible people should be doing all they can to keep it that way and not have people turning away because they fear the environment.