Athletes: Be Aware and Recognize the Grooming Behaviors of Sexual Predators.

The following information was adapted Spoilsports: Understanding and Preventing Sexual Exploitation in Sport by Celia H. Breckenridge (Routledge, 2001)

Recognize the Gradually Escalating Steps to Cultivating Athlete Receptivity:

Protecting Yourself from Sexual Predators

It is an unfortunate reality that some coaches are sexual predators who become involved in sport to have access to young athletes. While your sports team has developed policies to minimize the conditions that pedophiles seek (I.e., being alone with an athlete, socially engaging athletes outside of team activities, etc.), the truth is that such pedophiles are “artful” in grooming athletes to be receptive to their improper advances. They are patient and may take years to develop an athlete’s trust. Isolating and entrapping the athlete involves carefully creating situations that are enveloped in secrecy and avoidance of exposure to others. They also cultivate relationships with athletes’ parents to the point where parents trust the coach in traveling alone with the athlete or accepting inappropriate trespassing of athlete boundaries. Thus, the athlete’s first line of defense is his or her own awareness of improper coaching behavior and immediately reporting such behavior to club officials or parents.

Step one

  • Picking out a vulnerable athlete – someone who is trusting, admires the coach and respects the coach’s authority in an unquestioning way.
  • Recognizing when an athlete is most susceptible to the coach paying special attention – when they are insecure about their skills or position on the team, when they might be having problems with boyfriends or friends, drinking or drugs and similar circumstance when the coach inquiring about these personal situations might be interpreted as caring and wanting to help.
  • Testing the athlete’s receptivity to secrecy and reliability. For example, the team may have a rule prohibiting coaches from texting athletes except for official team business. But the coach might do it and ask the athlete not to tell anyone because he/she is doing it only because the coach is worrying about the well-being of the athlete – and then waiting to see if the athlete reports the coaching misconduct.
  • Striking up a friendship outside of the team – through phone calls, seemingly accidental meetings in stores or places typically frequented by the athlete but actually these are well scouted and planned events.
  • Simply being nice.

Step two

  • Making the athlete feel special – spending more time with the athlete listening to your personal stories or social gossip – adults don’t normally do this.
  • Giving the athlete small gifts…or nice and simple text messages like “hope you have a good day” or “you did well at practice today” or “have a great birthday."
  • Having consistent and regular daily interactions – remember, adults and especially teachers and coaches should not be socializing with students or athletes – adults normally go out with and spend time with people their age.
  • Establishing basic conditions for each private meeting – time, place, not telling anyone the coach is spending extra time with you because other players or parents would get jealous.
  • Beginning to “bargain” – “You have to do this because I’ve done that.” “I told you what I did today, now you need to tell me.” I told you something personal, now you need to tell me.”

Step Three

  • Demeaning other people you may depend upon for support and private conversations – friends, boyfriends, parents who “don’t understand you.”
  • Stopping you or discouraging you from accessing significant others for friendship or support.
  • Encouraging doubt and fragility – by building you up one minute by making you hopeful and joyful and then punishing or shunning you the next – making you desperate for a return to warmth and attention.
  • Continuing to check on your commitment to secrecy – not revealing your relationship to others…consistent questioning of your loyalty.

Step Four

  • Gradual incursion into physical boundaries – from accidental and inadvertent “excuse me” touching…to hugs “I hope you are feeling better” or to say goodbye…to holding hands and “I like you”…”you’re special.”
  • Inappropriate touching and then withdrawal … and even “sorry, couldn’t help it … I apologize.” And then the next time, closing the “trap” with “you didn’t mind last time.”
  • Invoking guilt. “Now look at what you have done” – making you think it is your fault.
  • Invoking cooperation for being nice or treating you specially, “you owe me … just a little touching.”
  • Offering protection … “I won’t tell – it’s our little secret.”
  • Discrediting you as a mechanism to maintain secrecy – “Others won’t understand.” or “Nobody will believe you.”
  • Threatening you – “If you tell anyone, I’ll hurt you/tell others what you have done/hurt someone you care about/drop you from the team.”

This is called “grooming” and it is never the athlete’s fault or something an athlete should be ashamed about telling others.

The coach has a responsibility not to use his/her power or status to take advantage of a student or athlete. The behaviors described above happen when the coach has cultivated the athlete as his/her victim and thinks that he/she has successfully trapped you into silence. It’s never too late to ask for help. Please don’t let this happen to you or any of your teammates. The affection and caring is not real. You have been set up to be a victim of sexual abuse.

What the Safe4Athletes Team Program Will Tell Your Coach

Know that all coaches also receive annual education sessions reviewing prohibited conduct and receive information about recognizing grooming behaviors. Coaches are responsible for reporting concerns if they observe violations by other coaches.

Coaches are not allowed to:

  • Communication: Text message, tweet, email, telephone, or otherwise socially engage individual athletes. Text and email messages related to official club business such as changes in practice and competition times or locations, or travel plans, etc. are permitted but must go to all athletes and be copied or go through parents.)
  • Bodily Contact: Have any physical bodily contact with athletes outside of the practice or contest environment or within the practice or contest environment except under the following specific conditions: (1) when the coach asks for permission first to touch an athlete for the purpose of correcting physical form or placing a body part in a correct mechanical position; (2) giving a congratulatory “high five” or pat on the head or back to congratulate an athlete for a good performance; or (3) “spotting” or any protective coaching intended to reduce the risk of practicing or performing a skill that may cause harm with such “spotting” techniques explained to athletes beforehand. In general, if anyone touches an athlete, they should ask the athlete’s permission before doing so.
  • Intimate Relationship: Have a sexual, intimate, romantic or similar close personal relationship with individuals over which a person has an instructional or service responsibility, even if a consensual relationship between adults. Our coaches are even prohibited from having such relationships for two years following a coaching relationship. A coach who engages in such activity even following this two-year period still bears the burden of demonstrating there has been no exploitation of the coach-athlete relationship if faced with allegations of impropriety. This prohibition and obligation to demonstrate no exploitation is consistent with the United States Olympic Committee Coaching Ethics Code.
  • Contact: Perform back rubs or massage on an athlete even if the coach is a licensed allied health professional (must be performed by a non-coach who is a licensed allied health professional hired for this specific purpose and approved by the Club.)
  • Kiss an athlete.
  • Touch an athlete for instructional/mechanical instructional corrections without prior consent.
  • Other Actions:
  • Comment on athletes’ or employees’ bodies or appearance in a sexual manner.
  • Comment on bodily changes and attire of the athlete that is unrelated to the athlete's athletic performance.
  • Exchange or give gifts.
  • Engage in romantic communications with athletes.
  • Show athletes obscene or suggestive photo.
  • Videotape or photograph athletes in revealing or suggestive poses.
  • Discuss with athletes or write about sexual topics and share such with athletes.
  • Make sexual jokes, sexual gestures, and innuendos or engaging in inappropriate sexually oriented banter.
  • Ask about an athlete’s dating behavior.
  • Share sexual exploits or marital difficulties.
  • Intentionally invade the athlete's privacy outside of regularly scheduled practice and competition.
  • Use email, text-messaging, instant messaging, or other social media to discuss sexual topics with athletes.
  • Travel alone with an athlete. Parents and athletes should never ask a coach to drive a Club participant home or to any other site after an event. If emergency transportation needs to be arranged, another parent should be contacted. This policy does not prohibit a coach from participating as a driver in normal club group transportation arrangements to and from practice and competition sites.
  • Be alone with an athlete in any facility (locker room, storage room, etc.)
  • Accept social invitations from parents. Parents should avoid inviting coaches to dinners, family gatherings or non-team social events. As much as we like and appreciate our coaches, special treatment and benefits could be perceived by others as buying special treatment for Club participants. However, it is appropriate for coaches to be invited to attend events when the entire team is invited (i.e., weddings, etc.).


Lost your password?