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Elite Child Athlete Welfare Handbook

The Symposium on which this book is based took place at Brunel University, UK on 17 and 18th June 2010. Participants included researchers from sociology, psychology and sports medicine, policy makers from national and international sport and welfare organisations, and practitioners from various national and international sport governing bodies. All are committed to promoting the best in sport and preventing the worst, and to ensuring that young athletes realise their own potential in the safest possible environment. The purpose of this introductory chapter is to set the scene for the other contributions in the book and to offer some potential frameworks for devising research and policy agendas in this field.

Recent reviews of talent identification and youth sport in the sport science literature are summarised and critiqued in relation to athlete welfare. In particular, it is argued that the ‘time-economic motive’ (Vaeyens et al., 2009) has undermined the prospects for delivering children’s rights in elite sport. The work of Coté and colleagues (2003) is used to illustrate a wider approach to welfare in sport that opens up some possibilities for re-balancing both the discourses and the practices of elite sport for children. The case of Tom Daley, child Olympic diver, is used to highlight some of the welfare challenges facing sport organisations, support staff and others in their attempts to scaffold talented young athletes.  Contradictions and tensions are set out that are intended to guide thinking on how best to cater for the welfare of the elite child athlete.

This study investigated associations between the use of maintenance strategies and relationship quality within coach-athlete dyads. A total of 251 participants (146 athletes and 105 coaches) were administered the Coach-Athlete Relationship Maintenance Questionnaire (CARM-Q) to measure the use of conflict management, openness, motivational, preventative, assurance, support, and social network strategies and the Coach-Athlete Relationship Questionnaire (CART-Q) to measure closeness, commitment, and complementarity.

The investigation of relationship maintenance strategies has received considerable attention in various types of dyads including romantic, marital, and familial relationships. No research, however, has yet investigated the use of maintenance strategies in the coach-athlete partnership. Thus, this study aimed to investigate coaches’ and athletes’ perceptions of the strategies they use to maintain relationship quality.

Written by: Elaine Raakman1, Kim Dorsch2 and Daniel Rhind3

1Justplay Inc., Burlington, ON, Canada E-mail: 2University of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada 3Centre for Youth Sport and Athlete Welfare, Brunel University, UK

Coach/Employee Conduct Policies for School and College Athletics Departments

Every educational institution that is a recipient of federal funds must comply with a federal law, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which includes a prohibition against sexual harassment and include the obligation to have a Title IX Coordinator and widely distributed sexual harassment policies and procedures.  This is an area in which the athletics department cannot see itself as operating in isolation.  If anyone in the athletics department becomes aware of sexual harassment, sexual abuse or sexual violence of any kind, the case should be reported to the institution and handled according to established Title IX policy and procedures.

Safe4Athletes Handbook revised March 2013

The purpose of this publication is to provide any local sports club with a turnkey program containing the basic policies, procedures, forms, guidelines and educational materials that will enable the club to immediately install a management system that advances athlete safety and welfare.  Each document contained in this Handbook is available as a free download in Word format on the Web site, so it can be customized with the name of the club and appropriate club staff and contact information.

Complaint Process. The Club recognizes how difficult it may be for an athlete or parent to report a coach or staff/volunteer offense because of fear of retaliation against the athlete or his/her family or subjecting a young athlete to an adversarial or hostile examination process.  Similarly, coaches and staff must be assured of notice of allegations, a fair hearing and protection from frivolous complaints. Thus, the following mechanisms have been put in place to establish an appropriate fact-finding and hearing process to be utilized for any complaint.


Childhood sexual abuse (CSA) is a persistent and widespread social practice (Gilbert et al., 2009) predominantly perpetrated by men. In considering the sexual abuse of male children, one is faced with a number of explanatory accounts that say little about the experiences of boys. These can broadly be divided into those that focus on the individual and those that focus on society. Thus, over the last three decades feminist perspectives have challenged individualist accounts (see Ward et al., 2006) that construct the perpetrators of CSA as somehow weak or ill and fundamentally distinct from the wider male population (Cowburn and Dominelli, 2001) whilst ignoring the gendered aspects of sexual exploitation and abuse (e.g. Kelly, 1988; Rush, 1980). According to Seymour (1998: 422) ‘it is evident that the nature of gender socialization in our patriarchal society predisposes males toward child sexual abuse.’

However, both positions are problematic (Brackenridge, 2001) and according to Liddle (1993) there is a missing ‘theoretical linkage’ between the micro (psychology) and the macro (sociology) that frustrates a satisfactory account of this social problem. Cossins (2000) has argued for a sociological theory of CSA but still presents abuse as a pathological response to childhood trauma, albeit prompted by the demands of masculinity.

A:·       Coach/athlete abuse is a foreseeable risk of harm to participants, and as such, the Club has the responsibility to protect athletes against the occurrence of such harm.

·       The failure to have policies or prevention systems is, in itself, an action by the Club to take no action.  In other words and for example, if sued by the victim or her/his family, a court would most likely say “The athlete was harmed by the Club’s failure to exercise reasonable care on behalf of the athlete by failing to adopt and administer policies that would have prevented the abuse suffered.” 

  • Parents want to know that a sports program is safe for their children.  Having specific policies that address these issues will increase parent trust and confidence in club leadership, coaches, or ownership.
  • Athletes can concentrate on their sports, without second-guessing their “gut feeling” that someone’s behavior isn’t right.
  • Clear rules and a fair process reduce the Club’s risk from lawsuits that may be filed by dismissed coaches or the abused victim or her/his family.  
  • Many national sport governing bodies (NGB) do not yet require their Club members to have comprehensive athlete protection policies, and if they do, these policies may not address bullying or coach/peer athlete conduct that falls short of criminal behavior. 
  • Even when NGBs have processes that are applicable in cases of athlete sexual abuse, reporting and investigation procedures take a considerable amount of time and because the NGB is not the employer, the NGB in not in a position to address immediate suspension of an employee in the case of serious misconduct.

The local Club is responsible for the safety of its program participants and is obligated to take immediate action to remedy a hostile environment.

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