The Role of Coaches in Mitigating Domestic Abuse Among Athletes

Knowing the Signs

Coaches, similar to teachers, have a unique relationship with victims of domestic abuse. In 2010, there were approximately 74,000 reported cases of youth-related domestic abuse in Canada. Over a quarter (25%) of domestic violence that is perpetuated against youths under the age of 18 is committed by a family member within the home.

This abuse is commonly physical and/or sexual in nature. However, various forms of emotional, psychological, and verbal abuse also occur. Coaches play an imperative role in recognizing the signs of abuse in their athletes, and are increasingly encouraged to utilize the proper resources to protect the youth.

Coaches have a unique relationship with children and youth in that they are trusted greatly by youth, and they also spend a large amount of time with the youth. This puts coaches in a position where they are more able to identify the signs of domestic abuse. Some recognizable signs of physical and sexual abuse in youth include:

  • Outward physical injury (Bruises, broken bones, burns, head injuries, etc.)

  • Signs of trauma to a child's genital area (Bleeding, swelling, bruising, etc.)

  • Bloody, torn, or stained underwear

  • Difficulty walking or sitting

  • Exhibiting sexual behaviour or talk that is inappropriate for a child's age

  • Not wanting to be left alone with certain people

  • Significant changes in a child's hygiene (Ex. Refusing to bathe or bathing excessively)

  • Resuming behaviours that a child had grown out of (Ex. Thumb-sucking)

  • Excessive fearfulness or worry

  • Signs of depressive and anxiety disorders and/or PTSD

"Coaches have a unique relationship with children and youth in that they are trusted greatly by youth, and they also spend a large amount of time with the youth"

Suspected Case of Domestic Abuse? What Coaches Can Do

Coaches who notice signs of abuse in their athletes are often very hesitant to report it. Coaches are weary about presenting false accusations against parents, resulting in many instances where the abuse goes unreported. Coaches lack confidence in their ability to notice signs, and therefore lack the confidence to report it.

Nonetheless, it is imperative that coaches become more comfortable in labeling the signs of abuse and reporting such incidents to their regional Children’s Aid Society (CAS). Reporting a suspected case to the proper authorities will allow for an informed investigation to take place, ultimately better ensuring the safety of the youth involved.

How to Improve Reporting Confidence in Coaches

Leading experts assert that there needs to be a renewed emphasis placed on training

coaches to be well-equipped to recognize the signs of abuse as well as provide them with the relevant reporting information. This means that prior to any engagement with youth, all coaches should be required to complete a curriculum that includes lessons about domestic abuse among athletes. In this training, coaches should be provided with information regarding the signs and how to identify them. Also, there should be provided resources for facilitating conversations between the coach and the youth. This is essential in order to create a safe space for the youth to feel more able to discuss their experience(s) with domestic abuse with their coach. Finally, the training ought to provide coaches with the contact information for their local CAS and give further insights as to what the reporting process looks like. This will improve the coaches’ comfort levels with reporting, encouraging them to report suspected cases of domestic abuse among their athletes.

"This means that prior to any engagement with youth, all coaches should be required to complete a curriculum that includes lessons about domestic abuse among athletes"

Another dimension to training programs for coaches must include an intersection between gender and victims of abuse. When a female youth shows signs of abuse, coaches, especially female coaches, are more likely to report this suspected abuse. Male victims and coaches, on the other hand, are less likely to report such abuse(s) due to societal pressures surrounding the upkeep of ‘masculinity’ and not showing emotions. As such, both the coach and the male youth are unlikely to engage in emotional and/or personal discussion. This can lead to the coach failing to recognize some of the warning signs of domestic abuse. Teaching coaches, especially male coaches, about the importance of having open conversations with their athletes about their homelife is imperative to fostering a safe home environment for youth.

Moving Forward

Coach-athlete relationships are very unique. Coaches are in a privileged position to identify the warning signs of domestic abuse. Improving training programs for coaches is essential in order for them to be able to better recognize these signs and know what to do once one suspects a case of domestic abuse. Making these training systems mandatory and standardized across the region/state will ensure that coaches are better equipped to protect their athletes from domestic abuse and ensure their safety at home.

Written By: Sarah Fobert



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