June 2019

Kids being coached football

What would sport do without them? Coaches provide players with the skills and knowledge needed to develop, improve and succeed in their sport. But perhaps more importantly, they also have a major influence over participants’ enjoyment of sport.

It is not surprising then that sport is often characterised by close relationships between coaches and players, whereby coaches are in positions of trust and able to assert authority and power over players. The proper use of this power is vitally important in all coach and player relationships.

While the vast majority of coaches are ethical, competent and safe, unfortunately some abuse their power, authority and the trust held by those they coach. Some cases are clear cut, but in other situations it is not always so obvious, as the line between appropriate and inappropriate behaviour is often a matter of intent, perception and context.

Do any of the following seem familiar?

  • If there’s no pain there’s no gain. The coach who believes improved performance comes with a tough coaching style which includes unreasonable physical tasks as well as constant verbal put downs when mistakes are made.
  • “I’m only doing it because I love my son.” The father who lives his life vicariously through his child and who screams and yells every time his son misses a goal.
  • “Young people shouldn’t umpire as they just don’t have the experience.” The spectator who abuses the young learner umpire who is doing her best but is losing confidence and self esteem with each outburst from the sidelines.
  • “I didn’t mean any harm. I was only having a bit of fun.” The ex-student coach who thinks it’s fun to embarrass a young girl by touching her inappropriately while demonstrating a physical skill.
  • “But we won’t win if we put those kids on.” School teams that play as if they are playing for sheep stations. Kids who are not the best players are made to feel bad and unwanted and the coach does not give them fair playing time.

All of the above scenarios are inappropriate and disrespectful and should have no place in sport. Young children must be able to participate in a sporting environment that is fun, safe, fair and inclusive.

Coaches need to protect themselves and those that they coach from behaviour that could be viewed as discrimination, harassment, and in particular, child abuse. It is important they:

  • understand what are appropriate boundaries that enable safe and healthy relationships
  • treat all players fairly, particularly children, in relation to issues such as team selection and time on the field
  • do not abuse or harass players as a form of discipline or motivation
  • use positive and age-appropriate language when talking to and in the presence of young players
  • ensure any physical contact with players is relevant and appropriate to the development of the skills required for the activity
  • avoid unaccompanied and unobserved activities (i.e. being alone with an athlete)
  • understand club expectations about behaviour (codes of conduct, guidelines and policies) and do not be afraid to ask questions and seek advice.

The good news is that there are practical resources that can assist you meet your roles and responsibilities as a coach. Play by the Rules has free information and training tailored to coaches on how to prevent and respond to discrimination, harassment and child protection issues, including:



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