Overcoming Abuse: For Athlete and Parent
Following a safeguarding issue, athletes will cope in different ways and a lot will depend on the type of abuse they were subjected to. There’s no escaping it, this will almost certainly impact the athlete, in some shape of form, for some time to come. Parents will need to monitor their athlete’s wellbeing and be vigilant for warning signs that they are struggling to cope with the aftermath.
One of the most common impacts relates to trust. Their own ability to trust will have been shattered if their abuser was an adult who they had previously looked up to and respected, or was in a position of responsibility. If not addressed successfully, this can go on to affect friendships, relationships, and their ability to trust people, in general, going forward.
It is absolutely essential they feel they can reach out to a trusted adult who can provide support and guidance to help them navigate the situation. Surrounding themselves with a support network of people who have their best interests at heart will be immensely helpful.
Many will benefit from professional help in the form of counselling and parents are advised to always view this option as part of their athlete’s recovery and, in an ideal world, athletes should always be offered professional help. It is highly likely they will have found it too difficult to divulge the full details of their abuse to their parents, meaning parents might not be fully aware of the true extent of the harm done. Speaking out more freely about their abuse may be easier or only possible with someone they view as totally independent, like a counsellor.
Practising self-care will be important as safeguarding issues can have a significant impact on well-being. They should be encouraged to take care of themselves physically, mentally, and emotionally. Seek professional help if needed, and...
They must always be reminded that they are not alone and that there are people and resources available to support them.
Safeguarding issues that involve a coach can often impact an entire training group/team. In these scenarios, training partners can be significant support for each other. Knowing they will all be dealing with similar feelings and emotions provides a common bond with each athlete knowing the others understand the challenges they face.
Overcoming Abuse - For Athlete and Parent
Cheryl Higgins, Mother of Ben, Team GB 400m
What to Expect
Many emotions will result.
Anger is common.
Trust issues will inevitably follow.
Taking out their anger in their sport can be a positive emotional outlet. If wins and PBs occur as a result, these can become a powerful part of the healing process.
Safeguarding issues that involve a coach can have far-reaching effects. The entire training group can be affected, in different ways and to different degrees.
Training groups can be an important source of support and camaraderie.
How You Can Help
Accept that this will be an incredibly difficult time for athletes to navigate.
Encourage them to talk. Be aware that some won’t want to and your attempts to bring up the subject might even cause additional anxiety, upset, and even anger. Try to establish the best approach for your athlete and act accordingly.
Ensure that they know you’re there for them and a listening ear if required.
Overcoming this form of adversity might require professional help, in the form of counseling.
You, as a parent, have every right to feel angry, upset, and betrayed.
Take Home Point
Athletes will cope with the effects of a safeguarding issue in different ways and a lot will depend on the type of abuse they were subjected to. Demonstrate to them that you believe their account and are there for them. Seeking professional help is always a good option. Be mindful that your athlete may feel uncomfortable divulging details and exposing their true feelings and emotions in front of you… sometimes parents are to-close-to-home and a more neutral, independent listener can offer an easier environment to offload anger, let out emotions, and be vulnerable.
Rebuilding trust will be a priority.
Channelling emotions and frustrations into their sports performances can, for some, be an extremely powerful coping strategy, especially if their prominent emotion is anger.
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.