A few months after CHEER! Netflix came out with another flipping hit-sensation documentary, this time following USA Gymnastics. Acrobatic sports are certainly making a wave on the world-popular streaming channel, but not always in a positive light. Athlete A was a sad, shocking wake-up call to the sporting community: that nothing like this should ever happen again in sports. If you haven't watched it yet - stop everything you're doing and watch it NOW! The bravery of these young gymnasts in coming forward so publicly has been critical in helping us understand that PREVENTION is key. To achieve this, we need a thorough procedure in place, including a robust Safeguarding Policy document which will be used as a basis for staff training and running our teams safely.
This document is vital, but what does is look like and what do we need to include?
Our job as coaches and gym owners is to intentionally create a culture that makes everyone feel physically and emotionally safe: from children all the way to staff. We can do this by creating a clear Safeguarding Policy, staff training and open communication with our athletes and parents.
Insuring this will help protect your athletes and staff, as well as reassure parents and newcomers that the safety of the child is paramount to your community.
What is a Safeguarding Policy?
A Safeguarding Policy is a document designed to protect the children and young people in your care, by creating a mechanism to:
Identify possible signs of abuse
Deal appropriately with a report of abuse
Outline the full process of how to report complaints to authorities
Describe how confidential information and reports will be stored securely
Outline a code of behaviour for the staff and adult members (including how to interact with minors on social media and bullying)
Describe how you recruit your staff (background checks and references), and how you will deal with any accusations of abuse against staff
If you are based in the USA, you might be wondering how this document differs from the requirements laid out in the “Legal Duties of a Coach” (such as the Duty to Warn). The way to think about these two different documents, is if your “Legal Duties of a Coach” is the WHAT you should do… then your Safeguarding Policy is the HOW.
All gyms should have a Safeguarding Policy that is distributed to staff and available for athletes and parents to view.
Training for Staff
A Safeguarding Policy is not designed to gather dust on a bookshelf: it's there to be put into action! It's written to be a practical guide that coaches and staff will be familiar with and have the confidence to implement the procedures and policies when a situation arises. It's also written to give staff the gym’s expectations of professional behaviour, and how to coach in a way that keeps them and their teams safe.
Online training for individual staff members is a positive step in the right direction. Even better, your staff can book a yearly team training specific to your gym. This is a great time for coaches to chat together about any concerns they may have, to share knowledge and expertise, and for the entire team to be collectively clear on the gym's specific procedures and expectations. This training should be led by an experienced Safeguarding Officer or facilitated by an external trainer.
For example the Squad Safe training course is delivered as part education and part facilitated discussion. Delivered by a specialist Safeguarding consultant, it helps staff understand what needs to be done in the event of a concern and how you can imbed a culture that promotes open and honest safeguarding values.
Appointing Your Staff
We recommend designating 2 members of staff with specific responsibility for Safeguarding:
Safeguarding Officer: the first port of call for concerns brought by participants and coaches. They are responsible for any necessary reporting to the authorities. They ensure they are up to date with any changes in the law and communicate any policy updates to the rest of the staff.
Deputy: A member of staff that helps athletes know who to talk to. A deputy is very helpful in case an athlete or coach feels they cannot speak to the main officer, there is someone else available.
Share With Parents and Athletes
Making Safeguarding your gym’s top priority, and talking openly to your parents and your team about their safety is a smart choice. It will reassure them and help promote a culture of trust where people feel more comfortable to speak up. It shows you value your community as much as you value their business.
Joanna Gamper-Cuthbert is a freelance consultant offering safeguarding training, policy writing and consultancy for cheerleading programmes and competition event providers across the world
She is a former cheer athlete, coach and gym owner, and currently sits as the chair for SportCheer England, the National Governing Body for Cheerleading in England.