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GUIDELINES: THE ATHLETE WELFARE ADVOCATE (AWA)

Download AWA Guidelines 

You are an important person for any athlete who needs help thinking through and talking about a distressful situation.  Our club cares about the safety and welfare of all participants and hopes that any athlete who may be the victim of abuse -- whether it is sexual, bullying, harassment or other improper misconduct by a coach, peer, parent, volunteer or staff member -- feels safe enough to contact you. The athlete should feel as though they have come to a person who will provide athlete-centered, supportive help.  With this athlete assistance focus in mind, the AWA must be open to gaining the confidence of the athlete and developing a trusting relationship that will encourage factual, honest, and open dialogue.  Keep in mind that you are the advocate for the athlete and your purpose is to hear the concern and then act on behalf of the athlete by working with others in the club to develop a resolution.

Feel free to call or email Safe4Athletes (855-723 3422 toll free or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) to discuss the best way to handle certain situations or if you have questions about good process.

What Kind of a Person is the Athlete Welfare Advocate?

  • A person who genuinely cares about children and young adults and enjoys helping them think through situations that cause them concern
  • A good “listener”
  • Someone who understands the need to support and validate a child’s feelings and perceptions
  • An individual who will act in ways that will make athletes feel confident that someone cares,  that they will be heard, and treated fairly

Overview of Club Policies and the Complaint Process

Key to performing Athlete Welfare Advocate duties is thoroughly familiarizing yourself with the Club’s athlete protection policies and the complaint process.  Review the following documents:

  • FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:   HOW YOUR CLUB CAN CONDUCT AN OPEN AMATEUR SPORT PROGRAM THAT IS SAFE FOR ATHLETES
  • MODEL POLICY:  CLUB PHILOSOPHY AND POLICIES GOVERNING PROFESSIONAL COACHING CONDUCT AND THE CONDUCT OF ALL ATHLETES, EMPLOYEES AND VOLUNTEERS
  • COACH, EMPLOYEE, VOLUNTEER CODE OF ETHICS AGREEMENT
  • COMPLAINT FORM 

Initial Meeting with the Athlete (or the athlete and his/her parents)

WHERE DO YOU MEET?

  • Provide a safe and confidential environment away from the abuser or other members of the Club
  • Pick an environment that makes the athlete feel comfortable

PRELIMINARY COMMENTS

  • Reinforce for the athlete that your actions and discussions are confidential and will not be relayed without the consent of the athlete.  This includes not reporting to parents if requested by the athlete.
  • Abused athletes or athletes reporting the abuse of another athlete frequently ask for an assurance of confidentiality.  Explain that you will be able to honor the request for confidentiality except if there is a danger to other members of the Club.  Explain your obligation to ensure that all athletes are safe, so sometimes confidentiality cannot be honored.    
  • For example, if an athlete asks for a promise of confidentiality, then tells of themselves or another athlete being raped or abused, you have a duty to disclose this to the police. 
  • If an athlete does not want their parents informed, this request should be honored.  It is unlikely that many athletes will come forward if they know their parents will be informed.
  • Validate the athlete’s feelings and let them know that you will stand up for him/her throughout the incident as if you were the athlete and that it is the job of others (the Fact Finder and Ethics Panel) and not you to determine the veracity of the complaint.
  • Assure the athlete that you understand that standing up to report abuse or unfairness or bullying is intimidating for a young person and you are there to support the athlete in this process.
  • If the athlete comes with a parent, explain to the parent that you want to hear what happened directly from the athlete, but that the parent will have an opportunity to speak afterwards.
  • Let the athlete (and his/her parent) know that you will be taking notes by filling out a complaint form or adding facts they tell you to the complaint form they bring to the meeting.  Explain that what is on the complaint form will be reviewed and approved by them and that you just want to be sure all the facts of the situation are recorded.

LISTENING

  • Be a good listener without any preconceptions or biases
  • Allow the athlete to fully tell his or her story
  • Then go back through the explanation to ask questions to clarify what happened or why the athlete is distressed

DETERMINING NEXT STEPS

  • When the athlete is finished, try to articulate the problem back to the athlete in language appropriate to the age of the athlete so the athlete is able to validate that you understand what happened.
  • Be able to understand that, due to the age and mental strength of the athlete, they may not be mature enough to recognize inappropriate conduct or may not know what to do when confronted with extreme personal attention or touching and may be afraid that reporting it will have a negative impact on instructional attention, her/his relationship with coaches, the support of teammates, or personal credibility.  You may have to educate or reassure the athlete about right and wrong relationships with coaches.
  • If appropriate, ask the athlete what he or she would like you to do to resolve the issue.
  • If the parent is present and if appropriate, ask the parent how he or she thinks this issue should be resolved.
  • Explain that the athlete does not have to confront the abuser at all under any circumstance because the AWA will meet with the alleged abuser if necessary, acting on the athlete’s behalf.  

NOTETAKING

  • Use the “Athlete Complaint Form” to take notes and be sure you have an accurate record of the meeting
  • Use the “Athlete Complaint Form” to record all the actions you take in response to the issue
  • Have the athlete read and sign the complaint form to be sure it is accurate

RESTORING A SAFE ENVIRONMENT

  • Determine if immediate action must be taken on the behalf of the athlete to ensure the athlete’s safety, recognizing the imbalance of power between athlete participants and adults who are in positions of authority.
  • Feel free to ask the Club President for assistance in confronting any employee who is alleged to be an abuser.
  • Feel free to ask for the coach’s assistance in confronting any athlete who is alleged to be an abuser or bully.
  • This may mean temporary suspension of alleged athlete or coach abusers or placement of the athlete victim in a participant group where he or she will not be under the direction of or be with the alleged abuser.  Ask for the Club President to take action to accomplish this.
  • Generally, every effort should be made not to disadvantage the reporting athlete in restoring the safe environment or to permit the alleged abuser to remain in a situation in which other athletes might be endangered.

Pursing a Resolution without a Full Complaint Proceeding

DETERMINING IF THE AWA CAN RESOLVE THE SITUATION WITHOUT A FORMAL INVESTIGATION AND HEARING

  • In minor situations only (i.e., bullying, initiation rituals not posing a physical danger to participants, etc.), the complainant (and/or parents) should be asked or may suggest whether a resolution would be acceptable in lieu of the formal complaint process.
  • The incident should be investigated with discretion by the AWA who would communicate with the involved party(ies) without placing the athlete in a compromising position.
  • Determine if the resolution discussed with the athlete and/or parents is a good resolution and whether it can be achieved without a formal full investigation and hearing, discussing the situation with the Club President if necessary, or, in the case of an athlete who is the alleged abuser, with that athlete’s coach and parents.  Resolutions are usually achievable in cases of bullying and disrespectful behaviors that are first time offenses and where athlete perpetrators might be required to apologize to their victims and participate in an education session.
  • With everyone you speak with who may be involved in a resolution, the AWA should deliver a warning that any repeat of the misconduct or retaliation against victim or person who reported the violation will be termination of employment or expulsion from the Club.
  • The resolution is not fair if the athlete must continue to be subjected to or be under the control of the alleged abuser and the athlete does not want to do this.
  • Involve the parents or other significant individuals in the discussion and investigation only if requested by the athlete complainant.
  • Resolve the issue after thorough scrutiny of all parties and in concert with the athlete and/or the Club President endeavoring to keep the athlete unidentified. If there are to be legal ramifications or the media is involved, your purpose is to protect the athlete.
  • Implementing the solution should be preceded by a private conversation with the athlete (and parents if appropriate) to:
  1. reinforce what is appropriate behavior in athletics by coaches, peers, volunteers and parents;
  2. the details of the proposed solution;
  3. assure the athlete that if he/she feels uncomfortable with the actions of any person included in the remedy, the athlete should contact the AWA immediately; and
  4. if necessary, discuss guidelines on how athletes should  protect themselves in certain situations if abuse or retaliation is encountered (by leaving the area, contacting an adult, etc.).

When Resolution is Not Possible or Appropriate

WHEN THE SITUATION IS SERIOUS – MOVE TO FORMAL ACTION

  • In the case of any situation that involves criminal behavior (rape, assault, etc.), immediately contact the police after ensuring restoration of a safe environment (by the Club removing the alleged abuser through suspension or termination of employment or club membership), asking for the help of and informing the Club President.
  • Explain the complaint process to the complainant and confirm that the complaint form is complete and accurate.  Determine if the name of the complainant is to remain confidential except in situations where there is a danger to others.  Make sure all witnesses are identified.  Make sure the complainant reads the complaint form and signs it to verify its accuracy.
  • Present a completed complaint form to the Club President and ask him/her to appoint a “Fact Finder” to begin the formal process. 
  • At this point, the AWA passes all preliminary investigation and complaint details to the appointed “Fact Finder” and ceases involvement with regard to resolution or preliminary investigation to focus on the support needs of the athlete and his/her family.
  • Supporting the needs of the athlete victim may include making sure he/she is not confronted by the abuser, retaliated against, assuring the athlete and family that action is being taken, and keeping the athlete and family fully informed through each step of the process.  
  • If the athlete does not wish to participate in an interview with the “Fact Finder” (accompanied by the AWA and his/her parents), the AWA should represent the athlete in a meeting with the Fact Finder.  The AWA should go back to the athlete for answers to any questions that could not be answered on behalf of the complainant. 
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Every athlete deserves a safe and positive sports environment. SPEAK UP if the way you are being treated feels wrong. 
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