By: Lisa Licata, Director, Professional Administrators
National Alliance for Youth Sports
Last week, a jury in Pennsylvania found Jerry Sandusky GUILTY on 45 counts of child sexual abuse. Also last week, in a not-so-high-profile case, a South Carolina man who was a former teacher, coach, foster parent and church youth group leader confessed and then plead guilty to 23 charges of child sexual abuse (read that story here). These stories are both sickening and frightening for those of us dedicated to serving youth.
As youth sports providers – we must ask ourselves what can be done now to protect young athletes in our programs? First, we must do everything in our power to prevent child abuse before it ever happens. Within the NAYS Academy for Youth Sports Administrators coursework, professional youth sports administrators who are earning the CYSA (Certified Youth Sports Administrator) credential use two related concepts over and over and these are very applicable here! The first concept is to be PROACTIVE versus reactive when it comes to creating a safe and positive youth sports environment. This means taking specific steps to eliminate bad behaviors and bad people from our programs. The second concept is to build a thick shield around the program and the participants because the more that is done, the thicker the shield.
Preventing child abuse in youth sports is not a new topic; NAYS first released the Child Abuse & Youth Sports: A Comprehensive Risk Management Program in 1996. The fundamental aspects of this effort remain the same today – adults play a HUGE role in youth sports and we need to be sure that the adults that are involved with our programs are there for the right reasons and are not hurting anyone!
Child abuse in youth sports can be prevented if we adults (not just administrators, but all parents, coaches and volunteers) take active roles in the lives of our own children as well as any children that we may know.
To be proactive and to create a thick shield against child abuse in youth sports we must:
Educate ourselves about what child abuse is and how to recognize it
Implement policies to minimize opportunities to abuse (for example avoiding one-on-one contact)
Screen everyone to ensure they do not have a criminal history that would preclude them from being around children
Learn about the grooming techniques that abusers use to prey on young people
Create awareness with children by talking about this topic and encouraging dialogue between parents and young athletes.
Listen to our gut – if we feel, hear or see anything that seems wrong, we cannot turn a cheek. We must report suspected child abuse!
A case of child abuse can be devastating to a youth sports program – but the impact goes far beyond the immediate program – the victims and the families involved may feel the effects for a lifetime. The cycle of abuse may continue. NOW is the time to break the cycle and/or prevent it from happening in the first place! Our children – all children – deserve this!