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Know the Rules...For Child Safety in Youth Sports

September 5, 2007 10:00 PM

More than 41 million children in the United States play in an organized youth sports program.1 The benefits of these athletic activities are many and varied. For instance children can learn about discipline, responsibility, respect, and good sportsmanship. They can also develop self-confidence and a positive self-image, while learning new skills.

What can parents and guardians do to protect their children and assure both their children and themselves that the experience remains positive and productive? First and foremost, parents and guardians should have expectations about the coach and program. Parents and guardians have expectations that when their children go to school the teacher will have the training and expertise needed to teach their children and the school will have the standards and guidelines in place to run efficiently and effectively. There is a tendency to lower the expectations for sporting activities in which the coach is a volunteer and may be a fellow parent, guardian, or neighbor. Good intentions and a willingness to spend time with children just aren’t enough when you’re talking about the safety and well-being of children.

Parents and guardians need to understand that most of the people who volunteer as coaches truly care about children and mean them no harm. The risk comes in the small percentage of volunteers who see the coaching experience as an opportunity to gain access to children for the purpose of exploiting them. Couple that with the trust, respect, and authority the word “coach” implies, and you’ve got a potentially exploitive combination if the coach chooses to betray that relationship with the child. Children may also be reluctant to discuss their feelings with their parents or guardians, especially if they’ve been taught not to be a “tattletale” and to respect adult authority.

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