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UK Coaching Team
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Coaching Essentials

Safeguarding and Protecting Children – Frequently Asked Questions

Quick guide to identifying the essentials of good coaching practice, with particular consideration to working with children and young people

If you are new to your coaching career or volunteer role, welcome to a really rewarding vocation. It is really important to ensure you have safe, accessible practices for all your coaching sessions so that everyone can maximise their opportunities and enjoy your sport.

This guide is not a substitute for a full safeguarding and protecting children workshop or a condensed version of a safeguarding and protecting children resource, it should be viewed as information to encourage your further learning.

Sport is great fun, can aid a healthy lifestyle and helps develop a range of valuable qualities, which can be used in all aspects of our lives. As coaches, we should encourage all children, young people and adults to be involved in a wide variety of sports and physical activities.

To achieve this aim, your coaching sessions must meet the highest standard for safeguarding and child protection at all times.

Safeguarding and protecting children – the coach's role

It is important that every child (or adult) is safe throughout your coaching session. This includes not only your coaching but also the environment in which you are leading your session. You particularly need to ensure that children are safe as they have less experience and understanding of the risks involved in your sport.

Some children may be in situations that mean they are at risk or suffering significant harm; this could be from their home, school or a sporting environment. These children need to be protected and it is important that you know what you need to do if you become aware of this situation.

As a coach (in a paid or volunteer position) and as an adult, you have a legal and moral responsibility to ensure that all participants are safeguarded and protected in your coaching session.

Remember...

  • the welfare of the child is paramount
  • all participants, whatever their age, gender, culture, language, racial origin, religious belief, sexual identity or disability, have an equal right to be safe and protected
  • all suspicions, concerns or allegations of harm must be taken seriously and responded to appropriately.

Children and/or young people – This refers to a person under the age of 18.

Governing body of sport – Organisation with responsibility for the administration of that sport; for example,The Football Association (The FA).

Safeguarding – The proactive policies and procedures in place for the benefit of all children involved in our clubs and activities.

Child protection – Relates to specific children who are at risk of, or are suffering, significant harm.

Welfare of the child – The well-being of the child for his or her benefit or safety.

Duty of care – The legal and moral responsibility we all have to keep each other safe.

Good coaching practice is one of the key principles of safeguarding children in your sessions. Your governing body of sport will have a safeguarding and protecting children policy and procedure that you should read to ensure your coaching session meets the requirements of the policy.

An example of a safeguarding policy and procedure can be found on the England Hockey website.

Click on ‘Governing Body’ and scroll down to the link titled ‘Safeguarding and Protecting Young People’ and click on this to take you to England Hockey’s Safeguarding Policy and Procedures, Proud to Protect.

Your governing body of sport’s code of practice will set out, very clearly, the expectations it has of you as the coach and how you conduct yourself within your coaching session in your sport.

  • Rights – Coaches must respect and champion the rights of every individual to participate in sport.
  • Relationships – Coaches must develop a relationship with performers (and others) based on openness, honesty, mutual trust and respect.
  • Responsibilities: personal standards – Coaches must demonstrate proper personal behaviour and conduct at all times.
  • Responsibilities: professional standards – To maximise the benefits and minimise the risks to performers, coaches must attain a high level of competence through qualifications, and a commitment to ongoing training that ensures safe and correct practice.

Incorporating the key principles from your sport’s code of practice into all your coaching sessions will allow you, the coach, and the children you teach to have a safe, enjoyable session and encourage their improvement in your sport.

By modelling good coaching practice through all your sessions you will be setting a standard for yourself, the children you coach and other coaches in your club or facility. Difficulties can arise when certain poor behaviours or language become acceptable and part of the culture of your club; for example:

  • coaches and/or children swearing without being challenged
  • children regularly being reduced to tears during coaching
  • excessive exercise being used as punishments for children
  • children being asked to take part in humiliating initiation ceremonies (sometimes referred to as hazing).

These behaviours may then lead on to concerns that could be identified as abuse. Unfortunately, children are harmed often deliberately, usually by an adult they know and trust. Harm may be inflicted as a result of not protecting a child.

Category Explanation Sports example
Physical abuse

Physical abuse occurs when someone causes physical harm or injury to a child. Physical abuse in a sport situation may be deemed to occur if the nature and intensity of training and competition exceed the capacity of the child’s immature and growing body.

A tennis coach over-training one of the junior players because they show potential.

Neglect

Neglect occurs when adults fail to meet a child’s basic physical and/or psychological needs, and is likely to result in the serious impairment of the child’s health or development. Neglect in a sport situation could include a coach failing to ensure children are safe and comfortable, or exposing them to undue cold or unnecessary risk of injury.

A cricket coach failing to ensure children are safe in their sessions by not adhering to the safety recommendations of the sport (eg children wearing cricket helmets when batting).

Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse is the emotional ill treatment of a child, resulting in severe and persistent adverse effects on their emotional development. Research shows that children who experience an emotionally abusive environment are at a higher risk of suffering other forms of abuse. Examples in sport include children being subject to constant criticism, name-calling, sarcasm, bullying, racism or unrealistic pressure to perform to high expectations (this may be from parents or coaches).

A football coach constantly criticises the children during training.

Sexual abuse

Where adults or other young people use children to meet their own sexual needs. This includes sexual intercourse, masturbation, oral sex, anal sex and intercourse or fondling, as well as showing children pornographic videos or magazines or taking photos of children for inappropriate use.

A coach not adhering to the code of practice and inappropriately touching children during their coaching session.

Bullying

It is now recognised that, in some cases of abuse, the abuser may not always be an adult, but could be a child. Bullying may be seen as deliberate, hurtful behaviour, usually repeated over a period of time, where it is difficult for those being bullied to defend themselves.

A teammate sends abusive text and social media messages to another child in their team.


 

The impacts of abuse can last a lifetime for some individuals, particularly if they are unable to access support from people or organisations that can help them cope.

A child may have a range of different reactions to being abused; for example, develop behavioural difficulties, eating disorders and body image concerns, suffer depression or self-harm, or in extreme cases of abuse, they could die. It is important that you as a positive role model know what to do if you have concerns.

There is no simple checklist for recognising signs and symptoms of child abuse. Often this can be made more difficult if you know the child outside of your coaching sessions. If the concern is related to poor practice by a friend or coaching colleague, you may not want to believe it is happening.

As the regular coach of a group of children, you are in a position of trust creating a dynamic environment in which children learn and develop. However, you are also in a position where you may notice something about one of the children; for example:

  • has there been a change in behaviour?
  • has the child recently become introverted?
  • has the child lost his or her confidence?
  • does the child lose his or her temper quickly or shout unnecessarily?
  • has the child said something to you that has caused you concern?
  • has another adult or child told you their concerns about a child or another adult?
  • does the child have unexplained bruising or injuries?
     

Remember that you are not an expert in child protection and it is not your responsibility to investigate. However, it is your responsibility to pass on your concerns.

It is really important if you do have a concern about a child or the behaviour of an adult that you:

  • reassure the child (if appropriate, you do not want to make a situation worse so it may not always be appropriate) and listen to the child. But do not make any promises you cannot keep (eg telling the child you will not tell anyone)
  • appropriately challenge the behaviour of the adult, link their poor practice to a breach of the code of practice
  • pass your concerns to the club welfare officer (CWO) or the designated child protection officer (DCPO) in your organisation. Do you know who this person is?
  • if you believe the child is at serious risk of harm, then call the police or children’s social care immediately but also inform your CWO or DCPO (to keep them in the loop)
  • make a note of your concerns as you will need to pass these to your CWO or DCPO (eg What is your concern? When did it happen? Where did it happen? Who did it involve?).

By ensuring the children in your coaching sessions are safeguarded and protected it will not only develop their ability and enjoyment for the sport, but will provide you with a fantastic opportunity to pass on your skills and love of your sport.

Next Steps

Attend the UK Coaching 'Safeguarding and Protecting Children’ workshop to develop some of the themes introduced in this Quick Guide

Find out more information here

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UK Coaching Team