Does effective safe sport culture start with educating volunteers?
From coaches, mentors, supervisors, officials and other important roles, volunteers are the lifeblood of sports.
In such a vital role, it is crucial that volunteers are equipped with the skills and knowledge necessary to ensure athlete safety said panellists in our recent webinar exploring the challenges and opportunities to improve Safeguarding in Sport.
You can rewatch the webinar here.
“Without volunteers, sport doesn’t take place,” said safeguarding experts. “We need to value our volunteers and invest in training and awareness.”
Policies and procedures are essential, but they are insufficient to guarantee athlete safety alone. They must be enforced by knowledgeable and trained individuals who have the necessary knowledge and skills to identify and report any potential safety risks effectively.
“It’s paramount that everyone – from volunteers through to the board, and athletes themselves – can identify those signs [of abuse] early,” said Dion Raitt, reflecting on his experiences of child sexual abuse in youth football.
“Many in my story would have seen indicators but chose not to challenge or check on my welfare. If I’d received such an education on the indicators, I may have been able to break away earlier before the damage was done – or know how and where I could share things.
“[…] it was the adults that I needed to stand up for me and know how to do this because I was just a child.”
Coaching with ‘kindness and consent’
Safeguarding training for volunteers should cover a range of topics, said panellists, such as recognising and responding to abuse, reporting concerns, and maintaining appropriate boundaries with athletes.
Volunteers should also be trained in how to communicate effectively with athletes, including how to use positive and supportive verbal and non-verbal language, how to actively listen to athletes, and provide feedback in a constructive manner.
By actively investing in volunteers’ safeguarding training, organisations can help to embed a culture of safety and support. Volunteers who have received safeguarding training can advocate for athlete safety, promoting awareness and understanding of safeguarding policies and procedures among their peers. This can help to ensure that all members of the sports organisation are aware of their roles and responsibilities in safeguarding athletes and have the confidence to report concerns.
Ultimately, sports organisations have a responsibility to ensure that coaches are not just focused on winning but also on creating a safe and nurturing environment for athletes. Training coaches to “coach with kindness, with empathy, and with the consent of the participant” is critical to achieving this goal.
Volunteers are central to sports. By investing in and prioritising safeguarding training, sports organisations can help protect athletes from harm and promote a stronger safe sport culture.
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