What can we as youth football coaches take away from the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal at Penn State University?
While not all of the charges have been proven, the sheer number of accusations and the eyewitness accounts from several reliable sources seem to point to Mr Sandusky being a child predator. If you haven’t read the details of the case, they are shocking and nauseating to say the least. The damage to these poor kids is simply terrible.
Unfortunately not all child molesters come with a sign on their head saying “Child Molester.” They aren’t always the loner single guy with the weird clothes and a merry-go-round in his front yard, they can be the married with kids well respected football coach, businessman, teacher or preacher that lives right down the block. Unfortunately these creeps often times try to put themselves in a place where they can get access to kids, like youth sports. As coaches and league organizers you must make sure everyone is background checked. You would be amazed at the number of volunteer coaches that get rejected by background checks for having inappropriate contact with children, they think they won’t get caught. There are many reasonably priced services that provide background checks and if you coach in Pop Warner, AYF or UYF, they have a process you can use.
But not every child molester has been caught yet, predators like Jerry Sandusky can often times go undetected for decades. As an organization you must have a code of conduct and contract with your coaches that spells out boundaries for coaches. These boundaries can include things like forbidding a coach from being alone with a player, no overnight stays with a coach, no touching in the private areas and no non-football related calls or texts.
Make sure to alert your coaches to be on the lookout for inappropriate behavior and for other signs. Signs could include a player who has had a close relationship with a coach, all of a sudden souring on that coach or that player now missing a lot of practices or acting out in school or at home. Make sure and have “the talk” with your own children. While it’s never a positive conversation, your kids need to know not to be alone with another adult that isn’t their guardian. They need to know an adult is never to touch them in a private area or force them to touch the adult in a private area. Kids need to know that they can always come to you and share if someone is possibly treating them in an inappropriate manner. They need to know you trust them and that these abusers can come from any walk of life.
As a coach, you have to protect you and your family as well. As much as we might want to help a player with a ride or staying late to make sure every player has a ride, you can’t always do that. In todays environment, never be in a position where you are alone with a player. That means if you are waiting for that last player to be picked up, you make the next to last kid stick around with mom until that last player is picked up. We have our team moms- who also are background checked, perform that task. Let your parents know the policy so your team moms and other parents won’t be stuck waiting late into the night so that last kids can get picked up.
Just this year there was one player on my team who needed a ride to the game. He wasn’t gong to play because he had a broken arm. His mom dropped him off at my house about 5 minutes before I was ready to leave. While I was going to the game with my daughter and the player, I made the mom wait in the driveway with her son until I was in my car and ready to leave. I didn’t want him to be in the house with just my daughter and I, since my wife and other kids were not at home. You have to protect yourself in these situations to guard against any appearances of impropriety.
Unfortunately this is the world we live in, the unthinkable does happen. Protect your program, protect your team, protect your children, protect your players and protect yourself.
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