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Introduction to Safeguarding & Welfare



As parents, we have three main goals, that our children are:

  • Happy

  • Healthy

  • Safe

Over the last few years, the term ‘safeguarding’ has appeared in many areas of sport with many of us having heard of scenarios where children have been mistreated within the sport environment whether that be bullying, physical abuse, or, more disturbingly, sexual abuse.

Unfortunately, these scenarios are not just limited to the high-profile cases we hear about in the media but have sadly been happening at grassroots level across the country. Shockingly, this mistreatment can happen right in front of our own eyes without us even realising it because so few parents actually know where the line is between acceptable and unacceptable behaviours of those in positions of responsibility and trust. This has to change.


We at The Athlete Place feel that this is an important issue to discuss here on our Athlete Parent platform… partly because we have had our own personal experience of it and were blind to the warning signs until it was too late. We want to help others avoid the heartache we’ve endured.

We have no intention of going into explicit detail about our and others’ associated experiences, no athlete was physically hurt or subjected to the physical side of sexual abuse… but what we will say is that the psychological fallout was, and to a certain extent still is, significant.


The Importance of Trust


When we take our kids along to a sports club for the first time we do so having full trust in the set-up, trust that our child’s health, wellbeing, and safety will be of paramount consideration to those whom we have entrusted them.

It is essential that we can trust fully all environments where children participate in organised sports activities.

Importantly, the athletes themselves also need to feel that these adults are on their side, want what’s best for them, and will never cause them harm. If this trust is broken, especially early on in life, it can profoundly impact a person’s ability to ‘feel safe’ with others going forward, impacting friendships, and relationships, and potentially causing mental health issues further down the line. Children don’t deserve this.

A coach especially can almost feel like part of the family, you spend so much time together, sharing many important moments of your life with them. When that line is crossed, the loss of trust in the person you entrusted your athlete’s sporting future, is very hard to get over.

It’s important to say here that the majority of coaches are 100% dedicated to helping young athletes achieve their goals in a safe and enjoyable way… and we are truly indebted to all of them for all that they do. Without them, youth and junior sports would not exist. It’s that small minority that this applies to…



Where the line becomes blurred …


A coach’s job is to not only organise and supervise training sessions but to also act in a way that builds athletes’ confidence, saying the right things is, therefore, an integral part of the role. Kids should come away feeling happy, fired-up, confident, and positive about their experience and/ or sporting prospects.

Unsurprisingly, coaches become trusted, respected adults and sometimes even friends, whose words are often viewed ‘as gospel’ in the eyes of both athletes AND parents. We tend not to question what they say and do. We shouldn’t need to, they are the ‘expert’ and in any case, the vast majority of coaches and support staff are good, caring people, people who invariably volunteer huge amounts of time to provide great opportunities for our athletes.

… and crossed


When you’re convinced that the coach has your athlete’s best interest at heart and is bringing out the best in them, especially from a performance point of view, ‘red flags’ can be easily overlooked and the benefit of the doubt given if concerns do appear… a very easy trap to fall into… I did, BIGTIME.

Looking back, the red flags had been waving for so long but I downplayed them because I trusted him. I also felt guilty raising my concerns because this man was devoting a considerable amount of time and effort, for free. Questioning his behaviour would have been awkward, to say the least, and come across as ungrateful. It was a very real fear that this might impact the coach-athlete relationship. Basically, a no-win situation.

It’s all very well saying that as a parent you shouldn’t feel guilty for missing warning signs… you should have been able to trust the coach after all, but, believe me, you do feel guilty. It’s a horrible feeling.




Risk Factors Affecting Higher-Performers


Specific issues can begin to occur when a young athlete starts to show sporting potential. Coaches can become more intense with the athlete receiving more of the coach’s attention. Time can also be spent in a one-to-one environment (even within a training set-up). When athletes get to a level that involves more extensive travelling for competitions, especially those that involve overnight stays, issues can arise if parents are not able to accompany their athletes. Even at an elite level, training camps which are often overseas, present their own set of safeguarding and welfare complications. Just because they’re late teens/twenties, they’re still your child…


Moving Forward (our views)

Having a highly visible set of guidelines displayed in an easily accessible position could:

  • Clearly explain what behaviours are and are not acceptable.

  • Make things ‘black or white’, ie. removing the ‘grey areas’ that result in uncertainty and a reluctance to report concerns.

Crucially, this would allow everyone to know where they stand whether they are an athlete, parents, coaches, support staff, or simply members of the general public.


Protocol for reporting:

We also feel strongly that anyone experiencing, observing, hearing of, or suspecting behaviours should always have the ability to report concerns.

The ability to report issues anonymously would greatly help, as would the ability to obtain anonymous advice. This has already been provided in the area of anti-doping. Here at The Athlete Place, we will be pushing for these changes.

Note: We have used the word ‘coach’ as a relatable example, to represent anyone who performs/attempts abusive behaviours within a sporting context.

It’s important that both you and your athlete understand that the vast majority of coaches and support staff are genuine, lovely people, who often give their time and expertise free of charge… and only want the very best for your young athlete.

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