Penn St., Paterno, Give Us Real Reasons to Better Protect Kids in Sports
Today’s disturbing report about how Penn State officials, including the late Joe Paterno, covered up and ignored the horrific reports of kids being sexually abused by Jerry Sandusky gives us all that much more of a reason to view this scandal as a watershed moment, and more importantly, a teachable moment. No child should ever have to endure the terrible crimes Jerry Sandusky committed against innocent victims, yet we are still witnessing these kinds of crimes — especially with respect to the coach-athlete dynamic — at a terribly alarming rate. If you don’t believe me, try googling some key words related to sexual abuse and you will soon see more stories about coach-athlete than you ever expected.
My goal today is to continue to raise awareness, but also prompt those involved in youth sports, including parents, coaches, and administrators, to begin to take more appropriate, responsible, and dedicated action toward better coach selection, better controls over coach-player relations, and more punitive and aggressive measures toward those adults who sexually assault kids. Unfortunately, as we have seen at PSU, when these crimes occur most people still either look the other way or deny they actually came into the information they just learned — this needs to stop.
There shouldn’t be an “elephant in the room” any longer for when we come in to information pertaining to an adult in a coaching capacity who uses his or her authority position to coerce, mislead, and abuse the kids that they coach. It’s 2012, and we have enough evidence today that reveals these crimes do occur, and that most victims of these crimes never come forward (as we saw with the Sandusky case where nearly all of the victims remained silent until being subpoenaed).
This past spring I teamed forces with Championship Productions to create an educational video (Tough Topics, Practical Solutions) in an attempt to provide theory and applications for schools and youth leagues looking to better train and equip the coaches they hire to more safely and responsibly work with the kids they coach. Interestingly, even though this is a white-hot topic (mostly due to the PSU scandal), the idea of introducing this type of training has still been astonishingly difficult. In other words, it still appears as though it is easier to look the other way, ignore, or deny that these problems exist — rather than step up the training requirements for coaches who work closely with kids.
For years coach training has lagged behind with respect to the psychosocial aspects of sport (issues commonly found in sport psychology, philosophy, and sociology). Coaches have always been great about finding information on sport skills training and strength development, but haven’t been as lucky finding educational materials pertaining to things like hazing, establishing healthy and safe boundaries, and keeping an eye out for other important issues – like sport burnout and performance enhancement supplement abuse. Instead, far too many leagues and schools have done the minimum with respect to hiring guidelines and ongoing coach training — two areas that need immediate upgrades if we are truly going to look out for the safety and well-being of kids who choose to compete in sports.
Please check out Tough Topics, Practical Solutions, and be sure to let your school or youth league know about it, too. Raise the bar by showing your concerns about these types of topics, and work with your league or school to make sure positive action steps are being taken rather than simply ignoring potential problems. Protecting kids shouldn’t be couched in a conversation that ends with “it’s a money/time issue,” but should instead be the starting point for every youth/school sport league.
Kids have the right to be protected, and this only occurs through better hiring measures, combined with ongoing professional development. Do your part today by raising awareness and making sure that your school and youth sports leagues are doing their part by taking responsible training action!
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Dr. Chris Stankovich is a Professional Athletic Counselor and Sport Performance Scientist and studies the psychosocial variables impacting human performance and success. He is the author of 5 books and has had his work featured in numerous national media outlets, including USA Today and ABC World News. Dr. Stankovich is known as "The Sports Doc" for his regular television feature on Ohio News Network and NBC 4 Columbus (OH). For more information on peak performance products, speaking engagements, training seminars, and free education downloads, please visit http://www.drstankovich.com.