Updates to SCUK Safeguarding & Protecting Children Workshop.

sports-coach-ukLast night I attended a mandatory 3 year renewal of my SCUK Safeguarding & Protecting Children Workshop over at Oaklands Manor (University of Derby) in Buxton.  Before the session I was a little worried that it would be the same as the last 2 versions that I attended, but was pleasantly surprised to see some updates and additions that have come in as of April 2013.  In addition, Mark, the tutor, was an excellent facilitator of what can sometimes be an awkward topic to deliver. He was knowledgable, shared his own experiences and allowed for really good group interaction.  In this post I will try to outline 1 or 2 of the new bits.

 

E-communication.

With the rapidly changing times and rising use of social media networks, this is a necessary and welcome addition to the course.  3 years ago, social media was an ever-present in most (young) people’s lives, but the topic was brushed over in discussion and there were no real answers.  This was probably down to there being no real guidelines at that point, and limited knowledge, use and understanding of social media amongst the group.  3 years on and more people are more aware of the use of social media as well as having vast experiences of some of the issues that social media can bring into the realm of coaching.  What was nice to hear was that people are not totally disregarding it’s use and that many of the coaches on the course are finding safe and appropriate ways of ‘safeguarding’ the issue of e-communication and are beginning to think about it’s use in developing codes of conducts for coaches and athlete’s.  

facebook1

The conversation revolved mostly around Facebook; some coaches had set up separate Facebook accounts for  specific groups (club, age group or team) and this appears to be a popular and accepted safeguarding measure.  Coaches present talked about the fact that they use it more as an information ‘pushing’ service (session cancelled, game info, training times etc.) and this fit nicely into SCUK’s recommendations of social media being one-way methods of communication.  This then brought about a discussion of whether coaches should accept friend requests from their players.  The decision was unanimously ‘No, no way, not a chance!’ and plausible arguments were produced for why.  

 

On reflection though, I began to think about the consequences of not accepting a friend request from one of your player’s.  By discouraging this social interaction, albeit in an electronic, web-based format are we dipping our toe into the waters of neglect, one of the forms of abuse that safeguarding aims to protect against? Are we neglecting that player’s social needs in this digital age?  Of course the common argument for this not happening, is that coaches ‘have things on their Facebook pages that they don’t want their players to see’.  Is the deeper sociological question here then, that if that is the case, are we really suitable candidates as coaches if there are certain aspects of our lives that we want to ‘hide’ from our players? Or, are we just confirming Goffman’s ‘Front stage, back stage’ theory (a colleague of mine will be very smug that I have made a reference to Goffman here) and that the person we are when we coach is something very different to the person we really are, making our coaching one big act? (click here for a quick paragraph about the theory from orgtheory.net). Lots of (too many perhaps) questions, but I have come to the conclusion that if your Facebook page is as professional as you would like your coaching to be then why not accept a friend request?  On the other hand if you prefer for your Facebook to be a representation of your private life and very separate to your coaching (that Goffman fella again) then I guess this is understandable.  Being a ‘tweeter’ rather than a ‘poker’ (I use Twitter but have no Facebook account) I use the platform to share things with the rest of the world (well those 170 odd people who are daft enough to follow me).  I’m not particularly precious about the content that I tweet about but then, whilst this is probably for another discussion, I see Twitter as a more professional form of social media rather than personal one (personal opinion). As such I am not really that concerned when players, students and even parent in some cases follow my tweets.  I guess this brings me on the the next update that I found interesting on the course. Acceptable – Unacceptable spectrum.

 

The Acceptable – Unacceptable Spectrum.

I will (try to) keep this short but this spectrum has been introduced into the course whereby actions can be deemed somewhere between acceptable and unacceptable.  For me this has it’s benefits, but it also poses some questions.  The benefits for me are that it appears to dismiss many of the concrete do’s and don’ts that for me have limited or restricted good coaching practice in the past.  There are many incidents of this but to give an example, the topic of ‘touch’ always creates debate in this area.  I was involved in assessing presentations with students a few weeks back on the topic of safeguarding and at the end of one of them, I asked a coaching student if it was appropriate to touch players, to which he firmly replied

“No!” 

“In no circumstance?” I asked.

“No!” again he quite adamantly replied.

“What about a hi-5…”

“…………..No!”

I think at this point he thought I was trying to lure him into some trap where I would then turn on him for being inappropriate. But what seemed clear was that this student was so drilled into not ‘touching’ that he was maybe missing out on some key social and physical interactions that are perhaps required/acceptable in a coaching environment. Robyn Jones has produced a short review on this topic of touch and caring in coaching (click here). The student began to think a little when I asked if he thought that by not giving the hi-5 he was actually carrying out an act of neglect…

 

The negatives of this of course may be that it is possible that by opening up this spectrum, we may allow those individuals who choose to abuse children a way in e.g. certain touching can be deemed acceptable in sports such as gymnastics, trampolining, outdoor pursuits.  Then I guess that abuse is going to happen if it is going to happen, the important issue is the safeguarding mechanisms that are in place to report, record and ultimately prevent this in future.

 

My final point is that the spectrum opens up a lot of interpretation of what is acceptable and what is unacceptable and each individual will have different opinions on different situations based on their own values, morals and beliefs.  This was evident amongst the 20 or so present on the course with a simple question such as whether it is acceptable to smack your child? Interpretations and perceptions of actions and reactions will now add a new dimension of complexity to the already ‘messy’ nature of coaching.  One point to remember is that ‘it is not your responsibility to decide whether abuse is taking place. However, you do have a responsibility to raise issues over concerns and ensure the safety of the players under your supervision’.

As ever comments and questions are welcome.

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2 responses

  1. Some intersting points here stu. I think some consideration needs to be given to the grooming process and the normalisation of abusive behaviours in sports culture too – just because there are reporting mechanisms in place doesn’t mean suspicions of abuse will be reported; sex offenders tend to groom their victims as well as those around them so victims may be afraid/disbelieving or even think the abuse is consensual, and some behaviours that constitute abuse (see the Child Protection in Sport Unit’s definitions) are not recognised as such by athletes and others in sport.

    Have a look at my stuff on the politics of touch in a risk society too and tell me what you think – 2010 paper in sport, education and society and 2014 paper in sociology of sport journal (plug, plug!). One of my points is that there’s a typology of touch that is never really unpacked but should be, and also that the concern of coaches about being accused of abuse (which is generally why they say they restrict athlete touch) should be secondary to the concerns for youth athletes’ welfare (there are far more if them being abused than their are adults being falsely accused).

    This is turning into my own blog! Sorry 🙂

    1. Hi Mel,

      thanks for having a read and it’s always nice to get comments back.

      Without having read your papers (yet, but getting round to it…) I think that these courses promote talking about the subject and bring together people from different backgrounds and experiences. For me it allowed people to talk about what they think abuse is/isn’t (and it is scary knowing what sort of practices still go on with regards to initiations and punishments with people thinking that it is OK…) and to maybe think about better practice compared to their own. An example was that the whole group thought it was perfectly acceptable to give a 12yo who was late to the session 20 press ups in front of the whole group. Whilst I personally think this is all sorts of wrong, none of them thought it important when I asked them if they would ask why the player was late. Simply the child was wrong and therefore needed to be punished and it was important that as a coach ‘we’ set those rule from the start!!

      I know this is a minor point, but I hoped that the discussion we had about it at least made people think a little differently when they left and went back to coaching their players.

      Do these course stop abuse? Not at all. I hope though that if we can tackle some of the things that people see as traditional ‘normal’ coaching practice and show them as being wrong, it may lead to more people thinking about and challenging all types of abuse.

      The interesting and maybe more appropriate way to tackle this, would be to run the SGCP courses to the athletes and perhaps if they began to understand that some of actions that they are faced with day to day actually constitute abuse, perhaps there would be a greater understanding and whistleblowing from athletes and a greater impact on those coaches operating outside of what is considered good practice.

      I never really articulate myself as well as you do, but hope this makes sense ha ha! Looking forward to reading through your papers and will inform the students about this too.

      Cheers Mel

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