Setting Guardrails in Youth Sports
"Guardrails. Nobody needs one... Until they do."
Guardrails keep cars from straying into dangerous places. Though no one wants to use one, drivers deal with the dents and scrapes they cause, knowing a cliff or head-on collision awaited them on the other side.
The ability to reach athletes on an individual level is a hallmark of an effective coach or instructor. Easier said than done, connecting with a young athlete takes expressing a deft mix of authority, empathy, likeability, and credibility.
Some well-meaning coaches or instructors offer private sessions or send encouraging text messages in their eagerness to reach an athlete. Unknowingly, they set a potentially harmful precedent by normalizing adult and minor contact beyond the program. Normalizing extracurricular contact creates the conditions for predators to groom or sexually abuse young athletes.
Policies and best practices for one-on-one interactions between program staff and players are the guardrails that keep clubs and associations from veering into dangerous territory and, most importantly, keep children safe.
The Rule of 2
Many organizations have instituted the 'Rule of Two' policy to preserve a coach's ability to pour into a young athlete and that child's safety. This protocol dictates at least one other adult must be present whenever a minor has one-on-one contact with a coach, instructor, trainer, or volunteer.
'Present' is the operative word in this policy. It is not enough for the second adult to be in proximity. They must be attentive and ready to act should any questionable behavior occur. So, choosing to stay warm in the car or listening to podcasts through earplugs is not an option for the observing adult.
The stakes are so high that leagues, clubs, and associations must take a 100% compliance posture regarding the Rule of Two. Click [insert link] to learn more about the Rule of Two and how to best implement it.
3 Digital Danger Zones
Text, email, and social media have greatly simplified communication between program staff, parents, and players. However, it seems that every problem technology solves, many new ones are created.
Smartphones open a window for predators to approach kids away from the watching eyes of parents and other protectors. Prohibitions on non-program text or email exchanges with minors must be established and enforced.
A best practice is creating a dedicated communications team of at least two adults but no more than four. Limit access to player contact info to this team only. All text and email threads sent to minor players must include their parents and at least one other communications team member.
For athletes' safety and the program's protection, it is essential to establish guardrails to keep players from the personal social media accounts of adults associated with the program. Social media interaction should be limited to an official club social media account. From the beginning, it is important to establish expectations with players that they shouldn't invite staff to follow them, nor should staff ask players to follow them on social media. Additionally, a corresponding policy must be documented and distributed to any adult associated with the program.
Dents versus Disaster
Here's my last piece of advice to those implementing these policies: buckle up. Some people are going to complain. These practices are likely to cause some people to suffer inconvenience or offense. For instance, a parent sending birthday party invitations may not accept that a team contact list can't be shared. Or, an instructor may bristle at the notion someone needs to watch over them to make sure they don’t do anything indecent.
Take comfort knowing these minor dings and dents are much better than something more disastrous happening to a child and the program.
About the Author
Kyle Lubrano is a mother, former collegiate athlete/coach/administrator, and serves as Players Health Chief of Athlete Safety. Lubrano oversees the assessment, implementation, and management of sports organizations' Athlete Safety programs, the development of preventative educational assets, and investigative services for Players Health. Before Players Health, Lubrano served three national governing bodies (NGB) of sport--USA Lacrosse, USA Field Hockey, and USA Baseball--in Coaching Education, Sports Development, and Athlete Safety roles.
About Players Health
Players Health believes kids prosper when they feel valued, and they are on a mission to create the safest and most accessible environments possible for athletes to play the sports they love. They help sports organizations manage risks and make sports safer and more enjoyable for young athletes with its suite of insurance products and health & safety solutions.