Abuse can be inflicted by coaches, adult volunteers, staff members or teammates. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security because a coach is nice. Individuals who sexually abuse children often know they need to create a sense of safety and trust with the people around them, so that concerns are dismissed.
Commenting on athletes’ or employees’ bodies or appearance in a sexual manner.
Giving gifts, money, trips or special favors.
Playing body contact games, tickling, giving back rubs or wrestling.
Videotaping or photographing athletes or employees in revealing or suggestive poses.
Coaches who seem to prefer certain ages or genders of children and who tend to have a “special” relationship with one child.
Making sexual jokes, sexual gestures and innuendoes or engaging in inappropriate, sexually oriented banter (e.g., discussion of dating behavior).
Sharing sexual exploits or marital difficulties.
Intentionally invading an athlete’s or employee’s privacy during nonworking hours or outside of regularly scheduled practice and competition.
Excessive communication through email, text messaging, instant messaging or other social media.
What parents can do to help prevent abuse
Ask the sports club or program whether all coaches, volunteers and staff undergo criminal background checks before they are hired.
Does the organization also check references, conduct personal interviews and require written applications?
Ask whether the club has written policies. Those policies should clearly define coach misconduct, prohibit romantic or other nonprofessional relationships between coaches and athletes, define and prohibit emotional, verbal and physical abuse, bullying, hazing, initiation rituals, harassment and physical punishment by staff or athletes.
Ask how the club monitors interactions between its staff and athletes. It should ensure that a coach is not left alone with a child.
Ask what the process is for reporting inappropriate behaviors. There should be a formal written policy.
Ask whether coaches, staff and volunteers undergo training in professional behavior and in identifying behaviors that they must stop if they observe them.
Ask whether the club has an independent athlete welfare advocate or athlete protection officer to whom athletes know they can go in complete confidence to help them address concerns.
Ask the coach about his or her coaching history. Does the individual have a child on the team? If not, how did he or she get involved? Does the individual coach other sports, genders or age groups?
If you sense hesitancy in answering the questions or you think the coach is uncomfortable with your interest, you might want to pay more attention.
As children get older, show up unexpectedly early on occasion and observe how practice is going. Be comfortable setting boundaries, such as limiting one-on-one time with your child.
Talk to your children regarding all inappropriate or abusive behaviors and what they should do if they observe or are subjected to such behaviors.
Does the club have a policy for traveling to competitions?
Athletes should not travel alone with coaches, nor should they share a room or be alone in a room with a coach. There should be a detailed itinerary.