By: Michele LaBotz, MD, FAAP
Keeping kids safe while playing
sports means more than just preventing injuries. It also means creating an environment where kids can enjoy the benefits of sports participation while safe from abuse.
To help protect your children, talk with them about
situations and adult behavior that's wrong. You can also give your child's sports organization a check-up to see if it is doing enough to keep kids safe from all forms of abuse and harassment.
Make sure the following systems and policies are in place:
Hiring procedures: beyond the background check
When hiring staff and volunteers, organizations should require criminal background checks. These alone, however, are not enough. Written applications, personal interviews, and references from non-family members should be required and checked.
Formal abuse prevention training
Adults involved in the organization should be trained to recognize behavior that signals psychological, physical, or
sexual abuse within a sporting environment.
Coaches and other adults involved should have access to resources on positive, effective practices for coaching and training young athletes. Proper training can help coaches know the difference between:
- High-intensity training methods, and those that are physically abusive.
- Motivational communication and talking with kids in a way that is bullying or harassment.
Codes of conduct
Policies should spell out appropriate and inappropriate physical contact between athletes and adults who are not a child's parent. Hazing,
bullying, and other forms of harassment by athletes or adult staff/volunteers should be strictly prohibited.
Organizations should have policies and systems that allow for:
- Youth athletes and parents to report suspicious behavior, with procedures in place to guarantee prompt attention and follow-up.
- Mandatory reporting of inappropriate behavior by staff and volunteers.
- All allegations, or reasonable suspicion, of child abuse or neglect to be reported to local law enforcement.
Adults staff and volunteers should follow set rules when communicating with children:
- Parents should be copied on all e-mails between individual athletes and any adult within the athletic organization.
- Adults within the organization should not reach out socially to individual athletes by phone,
texts or social media.
- Any “one-on-one” training or other contact between athletes and coaches or staff should be in a highly visible location, ideally with other adults nearby.
There should be written policies for traveling for games, competitions or other athletic events:
- Athletes should not travel alone with a non-parental adult.
- Detailed travel plans should be provided to parents before overnight travel.
- Athletes should use the “buddy system” for all activities during travel.
Training and competition facilities
Where athletes train and compete is also important. Facilities should be:
- Well-maintained with proper safety equipment available for the sport.
- Visible for others to see, but with security measures to control access for adults when possible.
- Equipped with bathroom or locker-room facilities that provide athletes privacy and security.
Preventing Child Sexual Abuse in Youth-Serving Organizations: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services guidelines for development of policies and procedures.
International Olympic Committee Consensus Statement: Harassment and Abuse (Non-accidental Violence) in Sport: An overview of risks, manifestations, and prevention of abuse and neglect in athletic settings.
SafeSport: Chartered by the U.S. Olympic Committee to develop best practices for the prevention of abuse and maltreatment in sports, educate the athletic community on this topic, and to respond to reports of sexual misconduct within the U.S. Olympics and Paralympics. This includes youth training within the structure of their sports’ national governing bodies.
About Dr. LaBotz:
Michele LaBotz, MD, FAAP, is a member of the AAP's Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness and on the Board of Directors for AAP's Maine Chapter. She practices sports medicine at InterMed in Portland, ME.