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Over Training Objectives

Learning Objectives

This activity will provide you with information about:

  • Coaching behaviour that could be considered child abuse.
  • When and where report suspicions of harm.
  • Guidelines for managing an external investigation.
  • Steps for implementing reccomendations arising from an investigation.

Note:
The level at which child abuse investigation is carried out will depend on the seriousness of the allegations. In this scenario the state sporting organisation is conducting the investigation therefore the role of the club is to manage the situation until the outcome of the investigation is known.

 

Over Training

02 March 2012
Published In:

Overtraining or Suspicion of harm?

Welcome to this short scenario where a coach's methods prompt the club to consider the issue of player harm.

Start Lesson

Setting the Scene

Sport, particularly for young people, should be about having fun, keeping fit and developing skills. Sometimes, however, the methods employed by the coaches or promoted by parents may put children at risk.

This scenario explores issues that can arise if there is a suspicion that a player has been harmed.

As you read through the material, think about what you'd do in this situation. If you'd like more information, click on the Resources button.

View Learning Objectives

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Scenario

Mike the coach of the under 16 Sharks Football team and his team has won the most games over the last six years. For Mike, rigorous training methods are essential to building stamina and strength of character. He believes that players need to be pushed to their physical and psychological limits in order to learn what they're capable of - only then can they really give their best.

Mike's known throughout the club for his ability to spot players with talent. Harry, a boy in the under 16 team, shows great potential and Mike believes he could be an exceptional state player. Today, however, Harry has failed to complete the training program.

Continue to Scene 1

Scene 1.1: Inappropriate behaviour?

Mike: " Harry, what the hell is wrong with you? If you're going to make the under 18s you need to be able to play hard and go the distance. Now get back into it and do another five laps."

Harry: " I can't do it Mike. I'm totally buggered and I feel sick."

Mike: "Don't be such a girl Harry! No pain, no gain, you know that. Get back out there!"

Harry: "Really Mike, I can't! Last week after training I threw up and my muscles still hurt from the weight circuit. And I'm feeling really sick again."

Mike: "Don't argue with me! Go back out there and show me that you've got what it takes."

over-training-s1 1

Continue

Scene 1.2: Inappropriate behaviour?

Harry completes three laps before he starts vomiting and collapses.

Mike's behavious is:

over-training-s1 2

A) To be expected given the level of fitness and skill required by players who want to pursue an elite pathway.

Harry may have potential but he is in the under 16s team and, as such, should be engaged in a training program that is appropriate to his age, stage of development and skill level. His immediate best interests need to be the basis of all decisions. If coaches are accredited they should better understand appropriate coaching techniques, clubs should encourage their coaches to undertake training.

Advice should be about sport pathways and progression of players to the elite junior level.

Resources:

Australian Sports Commission: Training level and intensity

Play by the Rules: Child protection

Australian Sports Commission: Coaching Education and Accreditation

Try a different response

B) Acceptable given that Harry has chosen to be in Mike's team and Mike's training methods are successful.

We shouldn't assume that Harry has chosen to be in Mike's team. It may be that there was only one under 16 team, or that the training schedule, rather than the coach, was the factor that led Harry and his family to register with this team.

The other issue to consider is Mike's training methods. Mike's emphasis on pushing players to their physical and psychological limits is inappropriate and potentially harmful. If coaches are accredited they should better understand appropriate coaching techniques, clubs should encourage their coaches to undertake training.

Resources:

Australian Sports Commission: Training level and intensity

Play by the Rules: Child protection

Australian Sports Commission: Coaching Education and Accreditation

Try a different response

C) Inappropriate given that Harry has told Mike he doesn't feel well.

Harry has clearly told Mike that he feels sick and that he can't finish the training session. Mike's dismissal of this information and his insistence that Harry continue training is inappropriate.

Pushing athletes to (and beyond) their physical limits is seen by some sporting personnel as an acceptable part of sport, particularly in pursuing state or national representation. Mike should not use his position of power to force Harry to do something that may cause him harm.

Forcing a child or young person to train until they are sick or pass out from exhaustion may constitue abuse and be notifiable depending on the circumstances. If coaches are accredited they should better understand appropriate coaching techniques, clubs should encourage their coaches to undertake training.

Click here for information on types of child abuse in sport.

Resources:

Australian Sports Commission: Coaching Education and Accreditation

Continue to Scene 2

D) Physical abuse given that Mike's actions have resulted in Harry suffering actual harm.

Harry has clearly told Mike that he feels sick and that he can't finish the training session. Mike's dismissal of this information and his insistence that Harry continue training is inappropriate.

Pushing athletes to (and beyond) their physical limits is seen by some sporting personnel as an acceptable part of sport, particularly in pursuing state or national representation. Mike should not use his position of power to force Harry to do something that may cause him harm.

Forcing a child or young person to train until they are sick or pass out from exhaustion may constitue abuse and be notifiable depending on the circumstances. If coaches are accredited they should better understand appropriate coaching techniques, clubs should encourage their coaches to undertake training.

Click here for information on types of child abuse in sport.

Resources:

Australian Sports Commission: Coaching Education and Accreditation

Continue to Scene 2

Scene 2: Responding to an allegation

Chris, coaching nearby, witnesses Harry being sick and Mike's response. He decides to talk to Simon, the Club President.

"I want to have a word about Mike. He's really riding Harry Harpas in the under 16s team. I saw Harry vomiting during training last week. He was in really bad shape but Mike just kept telling him to keep moving. The poor kid was really struggling and obviously in pain. It took Mike a while to realise that Harry couldn't go on.  And it's not the first time he's pushed the kid like that either. Do you reckon you could have a word with Mike?"

How should Simon respond?

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A) "Mike's a damn good coach Chris. We've won more finals with him than we have with anyone else and I've never had any complaints."

To paraphrase an old saying, 'The ends do not justify the means.' Junior sport should be safe and enjoyable not directed towards winning at all costs.

The fact is that no one has complained to the club President shouldn't be seen as a sign that Mike's coaching is appropriate. It's not. Pushing children and young people this way can result in players dropping out or moving to other clubs; it may also attract parents who share a belief that winning is more important than enjoying the game. This creates an unhealthy and potentially harmful culture and does little to promote a positive image of sport. Additionally, the club has a duty of care to ensure the safety and wellbeing of children and members and Simon sould ensure Harry has not been seriously harmed.

Resources:

Australian Sports Commission: Junior Sport Framework

Australian Sports Commission: Motivation

Try a different response

B) "I'll have a chat to Mike and ask him to ease off a bit. Maybe Harry was mucking around."

Simon's response implies that pushing players beyond their limit is acceptable. Such an approach is both inappropriate and potentially harmful. Additionally, the club has a duty of care to ensure Harry has not been seriously harmed.

The issue Simon needs to address is Mike's coaching and that requires more than having a 'chat'.

Resources:

Australian Sports Commission: Junior Sport Framework

Australian Sports Commission: Motivation

Try a different response

C) "I'll have a chat with both Harry and Mike. Perhaps it's time we reviewed our approach to training."

Talking to Harry and his parents is a good place to start. Harry needs to feel supported and the club has a duty of care to ensure the safety and wellbeing of children and members.

Mike, on the other hand, needs to know that pushing players to the point of physical exhaustion may constitute abuse depending on the circumstances. The discussion with Mike needs to occur within the broader context of the club's approach to training. The club needs to have clear, consistent guidelines for everyone involoved with the club e.g. codes of behaviour and an incident like this provides a good opportunity to review how those principles are reflected in the club's training program.

If the behaviour was to continue, despite intervention by the sport, Simon should seek further advice from the state child protection authority.

Resources:

Australian Sports Commission: Junior sport Codes of Behaviour

Play by the Rules: Child safe environments

Continue to Scene 3

D) "This sounds serious. I think we're required to report this to the child protection agency."

It is a serious complaint and if Simon is unclear as to how to proceed or confused as to whether it is a reportable offence, he should contact the child protection agency to discuss his concerns and whether a report should be filed. In some states you are required by law to report any suspicion of harm. Additionally, the club has a duty of care to ensure Harry has not been seriously harmed.

Depending on the circumstances it might be investigated by a child protection agency or the police but most probably it will be referred back to the club to deal with. If the behaviour was to continue, despite intervention by the sport, Simon should seek further advice from the state child protection authority.

Resources:

Play by the Rules Child Protection

Play by the Rules Quick Reference Guide

Try a different response

E) "We can't put up with this sort of behaviour. I'll sack him."

While the club has a duty of care to ensure the safety and wellbeing of children and members, sacking Mike is an over-reaction that denies him natural justice. Simon should ensure Harry has not been seriously harmed, and also give Mike the opportunity to tell his side of the story.

If, however:

  • the type of behaviour witnessed by Chris has been ongoing
  • Mike has received prior warnings
  • players have been injured

the club has a code of behaviour/guidelines for coaches that recommend removing Mike from his position while the complaint is investigated, then Simon could consider suspension but should seek further advice before taking this action.

Resources:

NSW Ombudsmen: Investigating complaints - A manual for investigators.

Try a different response

Scene 3.1:Managing the situation while an investigation is underway

Simon approaches Mike to discuss the incident but the conversation doesn't go well.

Simon: "Mike, I hear that Harry Harpas was sick during training last week. What happened?"

Mike: "Has he complained? Typical. The kid's got great potential, but he's a wimp. He has to toughen up. I've told him that."

Simon: "No, Harry hasn't complained but I'd like you to tell me what happened."

Mike: "I told you. The kid's a wimp. He said he was feeling ill but I thought he was trying one on. Turns out he was unwell after all. But that's all there is to it. And who the hell has been talking about me behind my back if it's not Harpas? I'm a damn good coach and you know it. Who's been to see you?"

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Scene 3.2:Managing the situation while an investigation is underway

After reviewing the sport's policies Simon seeks the support of the State Football Association. They decide to investigate as part of their complaint handling process.

Simon is keen to assist.

over-training-s3 2

Which of the following acts would be appropriate? (There is more than one correct answer.)

A) Have another talk with Mike and document the discussion for the State Association.

The State Football Association are conducting the investigation. If Simon were to interview Mike it might seem as if he were undertaking a seperate inquiry. Furthermore, he could actually say or do something that would influence the outcome of the investigation.

Try a different response

B) Meet privately with Harry to ask if he did anything to provoke Mike's behaviour.

If the club were investigating the matter it would be quite appropriate for Simon to interview Harry and other boys in the under 16 team. But this is not the case. The matter is in the hands of the State Football Association and they are responsible for talking to the individuals involved. If Simon were to intervene it might seem as if he were conducting his own inquiry. Furthermore, he could actually say or do something that would influence the outcome of the investigation.

Try a different response

C) Meet with Harry's parents to ask what they would like to happen.

Although it's important to keep Harry's parents informed, it would be inappropriate for Simon to talk to them about their wishes. The matter is in the hands of the State Football Association and they will make a judgement based on the information they receive. It will then be up to the club to decide what action to take. Any path the club decides to pursue must adhere to their documented policy and procedures.

Try a different response

D) Meet Harry and his parents and let them know a complaint has been made and is under investigation by the State Association.

It's important that Harry and his parents know that a complaint has been made and that the state football Association is conducting an investigation. They should be given information about the timeframe and the process abd assured that they'll be notified of the outcome.

At the same time, however, it's important that Simon emphasise the confidential nature of the inquiry. Not only should he refrain from providing specific details about complaint, he should encourage Harry's family to treat the matter in a confidential manner.

Simon, as club president, must remain objective and not be seen to be taking sides.

Explore other options

Continue to Scene 4

E) Provide the state association with a copy of the report describing his discussions with Mike and Chris.

Keeping accurate records and documenting discussions about incidents and complaints as they occur is extremely important. Simon should provide a copy of this information to the State Football Association. The original should remain in his personal files.

If your club doesn't have an incident reporting template, you can access versions developed by Queensland and NSW through the Resources listing below.

Resources:

Queensland Incident Reporting Template

Note: This template is not an official document. please feel free to modify so that it meets your organisation's specific needs.

NSW Commission of Children & Young People: Managing complaints

Explore other options

Continue to Scene 4

F) Let club members know that action is being taken to address a complaint against Mike.

Although the club's managment committee needs to be kept informed - and Simon can provide them with an official overview at the next meeting - there is no need for general club members to recieve information about the investigation.

In the interests of confidentiality and natural justice it is important that Mike not be named.

Try a different response

G) Move Mike to a senior team where more rigorous training methods are acceptable.

Mike's belief that players should be pushed to their physical and psychological limits is inappropriate for juniors and seniors alike. No athlete should be forced to train to the point where they vomit, collapse or sustain harm or injury.

Resources:

Australian Sports Commission: Training level and intensity

Play by the Rules: Child protection

Try a different response

H) Provide an assistant coach who can supervise Mike, Harry and the team.

Although some clubs may choose to suspend Mike whilst the investigation is underway, most are likely to provide Mike with an assistant who can supervise his interactions with the players. Whilst this is a very positive step, it's important that the person appointed to work with Mike is appropriately skilled.

Explore other options

Continue to Scene 4

I) Organise a meeting with the coaches to remind them of acceptable codes of behaviour and discuss training methods.

One way of building a strong supportive club is to regularly organise sessions with all coaches to:

  • discuss and review methods and programs
  • remind them about the club's Code of Behaviour
  • assess and update the organisation's child protection risk managment strategies.

There is no need to mention Mike or the investigation in the planning or delivery of this session. From a management perspective, it is simply good practice.

Resources:

Australian Sports Commission: Junior sport Codes of Behaviour

Play by the Rules: Child safe environments

Explore other options

Continue to Scene 4

J) Not take any action until the state association have completed their investigation.

A complaint has been made about Mike's approach to coaching and a young player has experienced emotional and physical distress. If the club were to adopt a 'do nothing' response during the State Football Association's inquiry, they would be negligent in their responsibilities to the young people in their care. The situation needs to be managed and Mike's behaviour supervised while the incident is investigated.

Try a different response

Scene 4.1: During the investigation

Although Simon and the club's managment committee had hoped that the investigation would be conducted as quietly and confidentially as possible, rumours spread.

Within two weeks of the event a parent with a child in the under 14 team approaches his daughter's coach in the car park after training.

"Hey Sara, what's this I hear about Mike being investigated?"

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Scene 4.2: During the investigation

How should Sara respond?

A) 'It's best if you speak to Simon about it - he's the Club President.'

An investigation can be a distressing experience for those involved. It's therefore important that it doesn't become the subject of gossip and speculation and that confidentiality is maintained.

In this type of situation, one person - e.g. the club president - should handle member queries. Not only does this ensure that people receive a consistent message, it allows the president to focus the discussion on the investigative process rather than the people involved.

Explore other options

Continue to Scene 5

B) 'Come on. Harry's the only one. Mike can be a bit hard at times and sometimes he pushes the kids to their limits but he means well. This whole thing will blow over soon, although Mike will have to pull his head in for a while.'

The coach may mean well however it's important that anyone asked about an ongoing investigation remain objective and not express an opinion. To make matters worse, the coach not only confirms that an investigation is underway but reveals Harry's identity.

Coaches represent the organisation and anything they say - either for or against someone involved in an investigation - can harm the integrity of the club or the inquiry's outcome.

If you're ever in this situation, either explain the investigative process or refer the person to the club's president or nominated contact person.

Try a different response

C) 'I shouldn't be talking about it but Mike's being investigated at the moment. But don't worry, the club is keeping a really close eye on him.'

The coach is right in one respect, she shouldn't be speaking about the investigation.

This response is likely to make matters worse. On the one hand, the coach is telling the parent not to worry. On the other, she's saying the club is keeping a really close eye on Mike. The latter is guaranteed to increase parental anxiety.

Try a different response

D) 'The State Football Association is looking into his behaviour and not before time. The way he treats the kids is just not on. We've all seen how he pushes them and it's not because he wants the best for them or the club. It's all about his team winning and his players making the state team. The club President is thinking of sacking him when the investigation is over.'

This personal opinion could result in both the coach and the club facing court for defamation of character, particularly if the State Football Association finds that Mike has no case to answer.

Inflammatory comments of this nature must never be made by anyone who is seen as representing their club (e.g. coaches, officials, committee members).

If a parent asks about an investigation, either refer them to the Club President or nominated contract person, or explain the general steps that will be undertaken during the inquiry.

Try a different response

Scene 5.1: Implementing outcomes of an investigation

The State Football Association's investigation finds that Mike's training methods resulted in Harry vomiting and collapsing and being pushed beyond his limits on more than one occasion. Furthermore, the investigators state that Mike's coaching style is inappropriate and contrary to the sport's principles. Mike responds angrily, accusing members of the club of defamation and threatening to quit unless he recieves an apology.

The management committee are not quite sure how to handle this. They don't want to lose Mike, nor do they want to face legal action.

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Scene 5.2: Implementing outcomes of an investigation

What actions do you believe would be appropriate?

A) Not discipline Mike but appoint an assistant coach to help him.

Appointing an assistant is a positive step but it doesn't address the key issues. The club also needs to follow the state association's recomendations.

The club has an obligation to provide a safe training environment for all its members. It therefore needs to ensure coaches adopt appropriate methods and that everyone understands the club's Code of Behaviour. Because it hasn't acted on these responsibilities, Mike has been able to adopt unacceptable practices (it therefore needs to ensure that coaches adopt appropriate training methods and that everyone understands the club's Code of Behaviour). The club may be able to do this by supporting its coaches to undertake coaching accreditation.

If Mike threatens to leave, he should be allowed to do so. If he decides to stay, he should recieve appropriate instruction and support and be required to comply with the club's Code of Behaviour.

A club should not be intimated by one of its members. If all club members have behaved in a respectful and ethical manner then the risk of Mike successfully pursuing legal action is small.

Resources:

Australian Sports Commission: Junior sport Codes of Behaviour

Play by the Rules: Child safe environments

Australian Sports Commission: Coaching Education and Accreditation

Try a different response

B) Officially warn Mike and monitor his behaviour.

Warning Mike and monitoring his behaviour is a start but if the club doesn't support him in changing his coaching methods then he's likely to leave as a result of what he will regard as the club's punitive reaction. A good start would be for the club to support Mike to undertake coaching accreditation. It's important to note that although Mike has been found to be at fault by the State Football Asscoiation, the club has to take some responsibility in that they allowed him to employ inappropriate training strategies.

Resources:

Australian Sports Commission: Coaching Education and Accreditation

Try a different response

C) Encourage and support Mike in undertaking coaching training.

Mike has been a member of the club for a number of years. Unfortunately no one provided adequate advice and oversight in relation to the club's coaching philosophy, training methods and Code of Behaviour. If they had, it's unlikely this event would have occurred.

In this type of situation, the State Football Association would probably recommend Mike undertake coaching training - in addition to receiving an official warning. If Mike is willing to alter his approach and adopt a less rigid and demanding style, then he has great potential. If he's not, then he will need to leave. In this type of situation the State Association would probably recommend Mike undertake coaching accreditaion training in addition to recieving an official warning.

If Mike leaves and applies for a coaching position at another club, someone from that organisation may contact you. If this happens, you need to provide honest feedback about Mike's involvement and the reason for his departure.

Resources:

Australian Sports Commission: Junior sport Codes of Behaviour

Australian Sports Commission: Coaching Education and Accreditation

Explore other options

Continue to Scene 6

D) Talk with the parents of children in Mike's team and have them sign a form indicating that they understand and agree to Mike's training technique regime.

All training needs to be appropriate to a young person's age and stage of development. Furthermore it needs to be guided by the club's philosophy, the Code of Behaviour and the organisation's Duty of care. The latter is not something that can be waived by the signing of a document. Although some parents may think it's okay to push their child to extremes, it's not. This type of behaviour is contrary to child protection policies and guidelines.

One thing clubs should do to encourage understanding (and avoid situations such as has occured here) is to explain their approach to coaching to parents and children at the beginning of each term. Additionally the club may wish to support its coaches to undertake coaching accreditation.

Resources:

Australian Sports Commission: Junior sport Codes of Behaviour

Australian Sports Commission: Training level and intensity

Australian Sports Commission: Coaching Education and Accreditation

Explore other options

Continue to Scene 6

Scene 6.1: Reflection and prevention

After two weeks of hostile discussions, Mike decides to leave the club. His threat to sue the managment committee for defamation is dropped due to lack of evidence - no one has spoken publicly about him or made negative comments.

The managment committee, however, are severely shaken and there is a great deal of debate within the club about the situation and its outcome.

Simon: 'I think we should sort out our approach to coaching particularly with our junior teams. This issue has shown us that we're way out of step with the State Association's expectations.'

Jenner: 'Look, let's be honest here. If Chris hadn't complained we wouldn't be having this discussion. We've lost a great coach because of one person's interference. What I want to know is - are we still a club that makes champions and wins premierships?'

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Scene 6.2: Reflection and prevention

Almost half of the committee nod their heads in agreement. How should Simon respond to the mood of the meeting?

over-training-s6 2

A) 'Let's talk about what we believe our club stands for and the type of club we want to be.'

The situation with Mike arose because the club didn't communicate it's philosophy or direction. If it had been committed to creating a child safe environment then Mike's behaviour wouldn't have been allowed to continue. Focusing the management committee's attention on the club's culture and what it wants to achieve is a great way of moving forward. Requiring all coaches to undertake coaching accreditation is also a positive step.

The club should also use this opportunity to re-evaluate its risk managment strategy. Part of this process could entail making sure that it has mechanisms in place to gather feedback from children, young people, parents and other interested parties on actions for improving child safety and comfort.

Resources:

Play by the Rules: Child safe environments

Explore other options

Continue

B) 'Of course winning is important but rather than rely on one coach who uses inappropriate methods, let's do this properly and get some advice about high performance training programs - that way we'll still be able to attract and develop talented players and coaches and adhere to State Football Association policies.'

Simon's reply touches on two key points: the need to have pathways for talented players and the importance of following state/territory policies and guidelines. What he doesn't address however, is the club's culture. The managment committee need to be clear about the type of club they want and the emphasis they place on winning,  skill development and the enjoyment of young players.

Coaches should be encouraged to undertake coaching accreditation and training to improve their skills and knowledge of appropriate methods and techniques.

Resources:

Australian Sports Commission: Junior Sports Framework

Australian Sports Commission: Junior sport Codes of Behaviour

Explore other options

Continue

C) 'The best thing to do in this situation is to get the coaches together and ask them to tone it down a bit. We need to make sure we're not putting the kids at risk.'

Getting the coaches together is a very good idea if the opportunity is used to review coaching teachniques, promote the club's philosophy, Code of Behaviour and Duty of Care. It also provides coaches with a chance to raise issues, share ideas and develop a sense of responsibility.

The meeting is not such a good idea, however, if its sole purpose is to tell coaches to 'tone it down'.

Resources:

Australian Sports Commission: Junior Sports Framework

Australian Sports Commission: Junior sport Codes of Behaviour

Try a different response

D) 'That's a good question Jenner but we need to make sure that our coaches have guidelines. I think we need to advise them about the outcome of this complaint and let them know that this type of behaviour will result in immediate suspension.'

It's true that coaches need to have clear guidelines but that information should be provided when they first join the club and then updated regularly. There is no need to provide them with specific details about the complaint - in fact, to do so breaches confidentiality. Threatening coaches who adopt more aggressive training methods - such as that adopted by Mike - is also inappropriate. The club should have the process in place to deal with complaints of this nature and they need to be followed.

Resources:

Australian Sports Commission: Junior sport Codes of Behaviour

Try a different response

Review

Every club is responsible for creating a child safe environment and every club member has an obligation to ensure children and young people are protected from harm.

If you have concerns about the treatment of a child or young person on or off the field - raise the issue with your Club President or contact your state/territory child protection agency.

For further information about child abuse or suspicions of harm, view the resources menu, next to the exit button.

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Feedback

You have now completed the scenario, we hope it helped you develop a better understanding of how to deal with these issues is they arise in your club.

Your feedback would be appreciated to assist us in continually improving our resources.

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For a summary of key learning's from this scenario click here.

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