Ask The Experts
Q: I coach a 12-and-under softball team. I've received a complaint from one of my player's parents about one of my assistant’s method of reaching around the girls to show them how to swing a bat. Obviously I want the players and their parents to feel safe. How do I approach the coach about changing his teaching method?
A: As a prevention specialist and a prosecutor of child abuse and sex crimes, I applaud the parent who expressed concern for their child's safety. Too often this subject matter makes people uncomfortable so they choose to look the other way.
Certainly on the whole, coaches should not be required to refrain from demonstrating for young players the proper batting stance, but they should be sensitive to the discomfort of a parent or player.
There are a variety of ways to adjust the teaching method. Simply put, the coach can be told "When you do X, it may make the player uncomfortable. I suggest you try doing Y.” The coach could describe the correct stance and augment the discussion with a video, he/she could demonstrate the stance utilizing another adult or the coach could adjust the player's batting stance from the front and avoid the uncomfortable "reach around."
In terms of how to effectuate the change in the coach’s teaching method, it is recommended that you set up a training with all staff to explain the proper method to be used when instructing players how to swing the bat. Advise the staff that prior to demonstrating the swing with a player, they should explain what they are about to do. Coaches can be guided by the following sample language: “In order to show you the proper balance of the swing, I need to help you swing the bat. Is that OK with you?” This simple approach incorporates permission and consent into the action without being overbearing.
Ultimately, it is important that there are built-in safety mechanisms in all youth sports which include players being taught that if anything makes them uncomfortable they should report it, letting parents know what behavior is appropriate and inappropriate and ensuring the coaches have proper training. Furthermore, it is recommended that organizations limit or eliminate one-on-one situations to the extent possible. By anticipating potential problems and providing effective training, we can continue to keep children in youth sports safe.
Jill Starishevsky is a mother of three and an Assistant District Attorney in New York City where she has prosecuted thousands of sex offenders and dedicated her career to seeking justice for victims of child abuse and sex crimes. Her mission to protect children, along with her penchant for poetry, inspired My Body Belongs to Me, a children’s book intended to prevent child sexual abuse by teaching 3- to 8-year-olds their bodies are private. Featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Jill is a prevention specialist who, through media appearances and public speaking events, teaches how to recognize and prevent child sexual abuse. Learn more at http://www.mybodybelongstome.com.
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