Abusive adults often use trust to create opportunity. A young athlete’s naivety can leave them vulnerable to this. Many are not aware they are being abused.
It can be very difficult for athletes and parents alike to know whether what is being said or done constitutes grooming. There can be a very fine line between genuine kindness and this intentional, manipulative form of abuse. But whilst it is sad to have to question others’ motives, being aware of the signs that a line has been crossed is a sensible move that can save a lot of heartaches further down the line.
We have included below the World Athletics definition of ‘grooming’:
”Grooming is the process whereby an individual builds a relationship with a child encouraging them to trust them so that the groomer can manipulate and exploit them for their own advantage. Grooming an athlete’s family, entourage and friends often leads those individuals to believe that the groomer is dependable and trustworthy enabling the groomer to have access to the athlete. By manipulating the athlete and exploiting the relationship they will make the athlete believe they have to comply with the groomer’s demands. The power a groomer has over the child is used to isolate them from friends and family who might otherwise warn or caution them from complying with the groomer’s demands.
Grooming can take place online as well as in person; online grooming is often much quicker often due to the groomer pretending to be younger and sometimes a different gender than they are in reality. Groomers may provide advice to a child as well as offering gifts or attention.”
What You Can Do
Be aware that young athletes can be naive, and impressionable and, as such, are vulnerable prey to, for example, an abusive coach.
Be aware that an abuser will often use trust and friendship to deceive their victim, eg. grooming.
Look out for signs of grooming where, for example, a coach creates scenarios designed to encourage trust and dependency.
Look out for attempts to cement a friendship with the athlete outside of the sporting environment, eg. communications via social media/instant messaging, etc.
The repeated emphasis on the athlete’s potential and signs of favouritism within a training group are two potential red flags to look out for.
Be aware that grooming tactics can extend to parents and family members too. When trusted by the athlete’s support network, an abusive coach’s behaviours can go unnoticed.
Avoid scaremongering tactics with your young athlete… the last thing you want is for them to grow up unable to trust anyone…
Take Home Point
Grooming is a serious safeguarding issue that can have long-lasting psychological, emotional, and physical impacts on athletes. It is crucial for parents to be vigilant and to question motives, especially when levels of attention, kindness, and communication become more than shown to others. When a young athlete is made to feel special it can be a wonderful feeling (for both athlete and parents)… but this is precisely what abusers are hoping for and how manipulation becomes possible.
Be careful, question motives, report concerns, and don’t get sucked in…
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.