Abuse Prevention Training has resulted in increased safety and participation for young athletes.
Safety is a tenant woven into the fabric of youth sports. Whether it’s concussion awareness, overuse injury prevention, or mental health, proponents of safety have established these aspects as integral to ensuring youth athletes are able to maximize the well-established benefits of sports participation.
Yet in February 2018, SportsEngine embarked on a partnership with Abuse Training Prevention Systems to help guarantee an additional component of athletic safety: A child’s ability to participate in sports free of the risk of sexual abuse.
“There’s all kinds of benefits and values in sports that don’t occur in any other setting,” said Gregory Love, Co-Founder of Abuse Training Prevention Systems. “What our challenge is and what SportsEngine wants to embrace with us is to make sure that sports include as healthy and as safe of an environment for kids to experience these benefits."
Started in 1998, by Love and his wife, Kimberly Norris, Abuse Training Prevention Systems owns a unique five-part safety system which includes on-demand awareness training targeted at stopping sexual abuse before it starts. The one-hour video series aims to equip adults involved in youth organizations to recognize “grooming” behavior by sexual predators and to subsequently report that behavior.
Love and Norris began integrating this training into the sports community in 2011 through a partnership with the United States Olympic Committee, and eventually progressed to youth sports through the United States Youth Soccer Organization. Today, including all youth organizations, across sports, churches, and camps, 12,723 organizations worldwide have viewed the training series, including roughly one million unique individuals.
“What we’re doing is giving the 35 million people involved in youth sports new eyes and new ears,” said Love. “We want them to see the warning signs and the small things that should have alerted them that there was a problem.
Additionally, we want to give them the mouth to speak. Under new federal legislation, every adult involved in youth sports organizations is a mandated reporter.”
The partnership between SportsEngine and Abuse Training Prevention Systems became official in 2018 following the passing of 2017 federal legislation mentioned by Love.
In addition to the initiative regarding mandated reporting from adults participating in youth sports organizations, the 2017 bill also called for applicable sports organizations to “offer and provide consistent training to all adult members… regarding the prevention and reporting of child abuse.”
After an introduction from mutual contacts in the US Soccer Organization, the partnership was born.
“I’d been discussing abuse prevention training for the last few years,” said Josh Opiola, Director of Risk Management and Safety at SportsEngine. “We knew we needed to partner with someone who wanted to circulate this information and to do it from a prevention standpoint. Greg and his team have put together a very easy, yet fulfilling and hard-hitting training program.”
Since adding the training material to the SportsEngine platform, Opiola touted impressive adoption.
“The number of individuals and organizations that have utilized abuse prevention training through SportsEngine has been one of our biggest successes and quickest adoption rate of any product on the safety side that we’ve ever done,” Opiola said. “We are close to 250,000 people who have done the training through SportsEngine and the feedback from organizations, parents, and coaches has been nothing but positive.”
In total, Love and Norris’ training program includes nine segments. The ultimate goal is to convey the risk posed by sexual abuse and the early warning signs to prevent it from occurring.
According to Love and Norris, “When [adults] understand the risk, [they] can see the risk unfold.”
Throughout the sections, Love and Norris define sexual abuse methods, provide insight and examples of grooming behavior, present methods of risk, and establish viable reporting methods among other items.
One of the major tasks the duo addresses are common misconceptions surrounding sexual abuse including:
Following the completion of 9 sections, the training culminates with a quiz that is accompanied by a certificate of completion that can be saved and distributed to organization leadership.
Outside of the content, Love offered a piece of advice for parents of young athletes.
“The one thing I would tell parents is the more you understand how someone wants to place your child at risk, the more you understand what to do, what to see, and what to say,” said Love. “The other thing I would tell parents is no secrets. Secrets are the playground of the abuser. Creating a culture of no secrets in your family is a proactive step every parent can take to mitigating risk.”
For organizations and parents interested in levering the Abuse Training Prevention Systems content, Opiola stated that SportsEngine Account reps and a league’s web master provide easy access points.
Today, most sports organizations implement the training concurrently with background checks for coaches, officials, and volunteers. Although all parents aren’t legally required to participate in training, many leagues distribute the training through email links and allow parents to complete it at their convenience.
While leagues who have adopted the training have principally benefited from the additional safety and training, Opiola and his team have found league participation growth as an additional byproduct.
“What we try to present to leagues is this,” said Opiola. “By implementing the SportsEngine strategy of safety, you’re going to protect your brand and organization, and by doing so you are inherently protecting your athletes.”
“Since implementation, [these leagues] are realizing growth in volunteerism, and growth in athlete participation as well. They are getting more athletes and the coaches that they truly want. They’re also getting the coaches with the appropriate character to be watching over their kids.”
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