By: Reach for the Wall Staff
Unfortunately, the topic of athlete abuse has dominated the headlines in our area (as well as nationally) the past few months, with incidents at the University of Maryland athletic program and the recent incidents at Damascus High School. It is evident that abuse can and does occur at all levels, from coaches and administrators down to the athletes themselves. Establishing a system that fosters a positive, non-abusive culture which emphasizes the mental and physical safety of our youth (athletes), not only within sports, but also the community is imperative. Stigmatizing the rituals of hazing and ensuring that the athletes, coaches, parents and peers all understand that it is not ‘ok’ to put down, degrade or abuse their peers, teammates, or other athletes would aid greatly in this effort.
We all need to be pro-active in the identification of the abuses of power and notice the use of demeaning words in the guise of ‘motivation’ and in turn, speak up/speak out to support each other.
USA Swimming and more specifically the independent US Center for Safe Sport has received much criticism from the community as well as press/bloggers for their inability to effectively implement controls for the swimming community (swimmers, coaches, parents, etc.). One of the most prominent writers, Scott Reid from the OC Register, has done a great deal of investigative journalism to ferret out the stories of abuse and make individuals accountable for their actions (See his numerous OC Register articles on abuse). Swim coach and blogger Chris DeSantis, in an effort to hold individuals accountable, has published pieces related to the topic on his website as well as SwimSwam. (Who are we protecting, and Safe Sport needs Absolute Transparency) USA Swimming has acknowledged their role/responsibility to provide a safe environment for coaches, athletes and supporters. In April 2018, USA Swimming President, Tim Hinchey, sent out a letter to the swimming community to address changes being implemented. Below is an excerpt of those changes:
Based on the Working Group’s presentation and subsequent review, the Board endorsed the following priorities:
- To evaluate existing policies and procedures regarding the handling of Safe Sport violations to ensure that we are meeting and exceeding the needs of our membership
- To seek out and obtain feedback and engagement from survivors of abuse
- To evaluate USA Swimming’s current Mission and Vision Statements, to ensure that our position on safe sport is a key component of our mission and who we are
- To finalize and implement a “Training the Trainers” program, to build a diverse group of facilitators who are equipped to deliver Safe Sport education and enhance in-person Safe Sport training to the sport’s grassroots, i.e., the clubs, parents, coaches and athletes
- To increase awareness of SwimAssist funding and revisit its effectiveness
- To enhance existing education, on-boarding training and reference checks across all levels of the organization from individual members, to clubs, to LSCs, to staff, to the Board of Directors
In support of the 4th bullet item above, USA Swimming has initiated a Safe Sport recognition program for club teams. Per their promotional information, “The Safe Sport Recognized Club program allows clubs to demonstrate their commitment to creating a safe, healthy, and positive environment for all their members through the development and implementation of Athlete Protection Policies, Safe Sport Best Practices, and Safe Sport education. ” Further, “Using an online assessment, clubs will detail their procedures, upload their policies and verify their educational efforts in order to achieve a Safe Sport Recognized status.”
An email was recently sent to all PVS members detailing a new committee focused on Safe Sport as well, encouraging all PVS member clubs to participate in the recognition program.
In case that email went to your ‘Spam’ folder, here it is:
Dear all members of PVS Swimming,
Potomac Valley Swimming is committed to making our LSC the safest and most athlete-friendly league in the nation. We are undertaking a number of steps to spread the message of Safe Sport more broadly, and connect with the community. Consistent with these goals, we announce the following updates:
(1) We have now created a PVS Safe Sport Committee, consisting of several coaches, administrators, athletes, and parent volunteers from our LSC, including:
- Mike O’Shaughnessy – Safe Sport Chair
- Greg York -York Swim Club Coach and PVS Safe Sport Coordinator
- Rob Green – DC Wave Coach, PVS Diversity Chair
- Cindy Cruzado – Machine Coach
- Leslie Tomlinson – NCAP Coach
- Spencer Ugast – NCAP Director of Communications and Athlete Services
- Caroline DeLuca – York Athlete
- Tori McCollough – NCAP Athlete
- Bridget O’Shaughnessy – FISH Athlete
- Eliza Jacobs – NCAP Parent Volunteer
- Steve Van Beek – NCAP Parent Volunteer
- Chris Wertzler – Machine Parent Volunteer
- Tracy Evans – NCAP Parent Volunteer
We held our first meeting on October 1, and will be meeting regularly to discuss issues relating to athlete protection. Please let me know if you have any items to add to our agenda.
(2) The athletes from our Safe Sport Committee have recently created a PVS Safe Sport social media campaign. We currently have an Instagram account, “PVS.Safe.Sport.” Please follow us and tag us, and please send us any content you would like us to post. For example, if you have any pictures or items reflecting good sportsmanship and teamwork (or any other issues relevant to Safe Sport), please send them to PVSSafeSportSocialMedia@gmail.com. We will gladly share items for you.
(3) We are calling on club members AND ATHLETES to serve as Club Safe Sport Coordinators. These coordinators will serve as a liaison with the PVS Safe Sport Committee and help spread the message of Safe Sport to their club. We have received a number of volunteers, but still need people to help. Please reach out to your coaches/team administrators and inquire if your club has a coordinator. If not, please jump in and let me know that you have volunteered. Notably, we still need lots of Athlete Coordinators. We are particularly interested in athletes that can serve as a good role model for sportsmanship and teamwork.
(4) USA Swimming has announced a new Safe Sport Recognized Club program. This program will reward clubs for their commitment to implementing Safe Sport policies and procedures. They will be calling on each of you to view a short parent/athlete training video. You can find these videos here: Parents and Athletes. We are calling on each club to strive for Safe Sport Recognized Club award, and they can only achieve this award if you participate!
(5) We are open to suggestions and comments. Please let me know if you have any thoughts about Safe Sport and how our LSC can better address issues relating to athlete safety. We welcome your feedback. Please email me at PVSSafeSport@gmail.com.
(6) Concerns. If you have any concerns about any potential Safe Sport violations (e.g, misconduct, bullying, harassment, improper communication, etc.), please do not hesitate to email PVSSafeSport@gmail.com. PVS Safe Sport can help mediate issues or refer issues to the appropriate places. PVS Safe Sport is here for you!
The timing of the communication comes at the tail-end of October, which was the National Bullying Prevention month, and the beginning of November, which is the National Child Safety month. In recent press and publications, we’ve seen calls to USA Swimming to become more transparent with the consequences for violators of Safe Sport policies. Taking steps to institute culture change at the lowest level of the organization (club/age group swimming).
We (Reach for the Wall editors) are in support of this effort to promote these values as athletes get started in the sport. Exposing age group swimmers and clubs (coaches, parent volunteers, boards and administrators) to the ideals of Safe Sport at the outset of their swimming careers is a good step toward creating a positive culture as they grow individually and with the sport. Civility and Sportsmanship should be the norm, not something that needs to be taught after a harmful event has occurred. We look forward to the recognition of PVS Clubs for their efforts in promoting Safe Sport initiatives and support USA Swimming for their efforts to promote the Safe Sport ideals as well as the positivity that should grow within the swimming community.