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Coaching Education and Fear

As I have thought about my last newsletter of the year, I have tried to think what the biggest sports stories of the year were about. The answer to me was simple. It has been the accusations of sexual abuse that have been disclosed over the past two months regarding coaches at Penn State University and Syracuse University. The accusations against former football coach, Jerry Sandusky, at Penn State and former assistant basketball coach, Bernie Fine at Syracuse have brought to the surface topics that for a long time have been either ignored, avoided or pushed aside by most. In my opinion, these are the stories of the year, not just because of the alleged abuse these individuals have been accused of, but because it has finally brought this topic to the mainstream. Over the past several years, I have read about coaches all around the country at all levels of sport and in all kinds of sport who have been accused of abuse, verbally, emotionally and sexually. However, because it has mostly occurred at youth or high school levels of competition, it has not been a major story. Now, because it has happened at two very prominent universities, it is a major news story. I am sensitive to these topics for several reasons. First, as a sport psychologist, I have counseled several families who have been victims of these issues. I have seen the damage these horrible behaviors have done and the pain these individuals have experienced. Second, my youngest son swam competitively on a very prominent club swim team. One of his coaches was caught attempting to get involved sexually with a teenage female swimmer. He has been in jail ever since this was discovered. It caused a great deal of anguish for the entire swim team, parents, coaches and swimmers alike. Third, I have personally experienced what happens when you discover a colleague guilty of sexually manipulating a patient. After finding out that a psychiatrist was getting involved sexually with a patient, I turned him in to the licensing board. As a result of this action, I have been physically and verbally assaulted by this individual for the past 7 years. Why? Because I did the morally and ethically correct thing.  What I have discovered is that many are afraid to turn someone over to the authorities, most commonly because that person is usually someone they know and trust. Just look at both of the situations at these universities. Fear cannot and should not be a barrier to do the right thing. A statistic that shocked me was that 1 out of 6 boys and 1 out of 4 girls are sexually abused before they turn 18. Needless to say, young athletes are prime targets for this type of behavior. I feel the exposure these two incidents have had can be beneficial. There should be a requirement for all coaches to not only be trained in the X’s and O’s of their respective sport, but also trained in psychology and abuse issues. Canada has several programs that have been developed because of abuse in hockey. I feel the United States should do the same. If we can save one young person from this abuse, we have done a tremendous service to everyone. Don’t be afraid to speak up. Happy Holidays and Happy New Year.

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