Note: The following is a guest post by Mark Folger – coach and gymnastics school owner. I have wanted to write about this very topic for some time but just never could get the words just right – Mark, however, shares many of my same thoughts and makes clear, actionable recommendations to keep our children and the good coaches safe.
It appears that the children in our society are more in danger from predators than many of us would have believed prior to the last few weeks. News of alleged inappropriate behavior toward children from coaches in college football, gymnastics and college basketball brings to the forefront the age-old questions, how do we protect our children from people who want to do them harm? How do we allow our children to reap the benefits provided by all the wonderful adults involved in youth sports while protecting them from that small percent of one percent of coaches with immoral motives?
First and foremost, our children must understand what constitutes inappropriate touching. But, if prevention is our goal (rather than reaction), we must teach our kids to recognize the signs of prepping and baiting used by adults to build relationships with children that may allow future abuse. What seems to be common to all the cases reported is that the children involved were allegedly set up for the abuse over a time frame of months or years.
Unfortunately, the things a coach tries to develop in a good relationship with athletes, trust, confidence, care and concern are the very things a pedophile tries to develop when “setting up” future victims. This forces parents, coaches and administrators to walk a very fine line between protecting our children and falsely accusing good people. But, it should also lead all of us to accept and implement certain guidelines that are set in stone and followed without exception. Doing so will go a long way toward protecting our children from that percent of one percent of coaches who want to do them harm and it will protect the nearly one hundred percent of adults involved in youth sports for the right reasons from being falsely accused of inappropriate behavior.
TEN STRATEGIES FOR PROTECTING OUR CHILDREN
(and their good coaches)
1. A coach should never be alone with a child, not before practice, not after practice, not during travel.
2. Coaches and athletes should never share hotel rooms when traveling.
3. Coaches should not provide special treatment to one or two athletes compared to the rest of the team. This could be trips to movies or ballgames, gifts, etc.
4. Team sleepovers should be supervised by multiple adults. Use common sense when considering the sex and number of adults supervising this type of activity. Make sure parents are involved.
5. Trust your child’s coach, but not blindly. Trust is something earned, not given. It must be continually earned or it should be taken away.
6. Parents should monitor their child’s relationship with his/her coaches, not in a conspiracy theory, witch-hunt way, but to simply confirm they’ve chosen good people to guide that part of their child’s life.
7. Everyone should report abuse when witnessed. Not hearsay or rumors, but if you witness abuse, REPORT IT!
8. Adults should intervene on behalf of the child when witnessing child abuse (if you can do so safely).
9. Children should understand what constitutes inappropriate touching and know to report it when they see it or experience it.
10. If you are one who is part of that percent of one percent who coach or get involved with youth activities for immoral reasons, please get help.
Note: Although these thoughts are presented in a coach/athlete mode, they can just as easily be applied to many adult/child relationships.
About the Author: Mark Folger has coached gymnastics for over 30 years and is currently on the USA Gymnastics National Committee, and was the USA Gymnastics 2009 Junior Olympic National Coach of the Year. He has a Bachelor's Degree in education from the University of Oklahoma and spent two years in graduate school there studying sports science (primarily youth sports motivation).