Navigating the MAAPP: Potential Solutions For Common Complaints

This spring, USA Swimming announced its Minor Athlete Abuse Prevention Policy (MAAPP), which governs interactions between adults and minors to help curb the flood of coaching abuse situations coming to light. We reported on the MAAPP yesterday – you can see the story here – to a pretty divisive response from readers.

We’re still getting clarification from USA Swimming on many of the finer points of the new rules, but the policies essentially work to avoid private interactions between adults and minors that could lead to abuse situations – particularly the interactions that have led to abuses in the past.

A contrast between two of our stories this week makes the generally-critical response to the new MAAPP a bit surprising. A few hours before our story on the MAAPP, we covered an Australian swim instructor now accused of sexually abusing 10 girls, including having sexual intercourse with a seven-year-old girl on multiple occasions. The comment section was, as it usually is in stories like this, filled with calls for justice, proponents of harsh justice, and questioning why swimming organizations can’t better protect athletes from these types of situations.

Yet our coverage of the MAAPP – ostensibly a program designed to do exactly that – instantly garnered 50+ comments, most of them harshly critical of the policy and the effect it would have on coaches.

We don’t get to have it both ways. The outrage at atrocities committed against minors and athletes is justified. To prevent such atrocities from happening in the future will require a change from the way things are. But we can’t have change if we refuse to let go of the way things are.

What’s most important is that we continue to press for all stakeholders to weigh in on creative solutions that will protect athletes and coaches, and will still allow the sport and its athletes to continue to grow and thrive.

The MAAPP is a step in the right direction. And being wholly resistant to change – even imperfect change – cannot coexist with a genuine desire to make the current system better and safer for athletes.

The new policies aren’t perfect, of course. We doubt even USA Swimming would consider them perfect – there will almost certainly be some tweaking to the rules moving forward, some additions, some clarifications, some niche scenarios that currently aren’t covered, or currently are prohibited, while not being inappropriate or ban-worthy. We’ve been told that USA Swimming is working on forming focus groups to hear from coaches on better solutions, or modifications to these policies. We need open discussion of where these changes need to happen in the current MAAPP, but we also have to be willing to accept that a drastic change to protect athletes is probably going to force us all to change the way we do certain things, even if we’re not currently doing anything wrong.

Yesterday’s comment section was full of criticism, and very, very sparse on constructive feedback. With that in mind, we’re taking it on ourselves to compile some of the most common objections to the new MAAPP and brainstorm potential solutions. We’d love to hear your feedback and especially your own constructive solutions in the comment section.

The issue of athlete abuse is too real, too destructive and too heartbreaking to stand pat. Change is needed. And change will undoubtedly be uncomfortable to all of us at certain points. Let’s focus on making the best changes we can, rather than clinging to the idea that things can stay the way they are.

Policy Notes

First, a couple of clarifications to get out of the way for any discussion that follows. You’ll want to read yesterday’s story for a more full breakdown of all the policy points, but these are a few applicable notes that will apply to the discussion below:

Objections & Solutions

Objection: Including parents/guardians on coach/swimmer communication will encourage parents to hover.

Specific policy wording: Absent emergency circumstances, if an Applicable Adult with authority over minor athletes needs to communicate directly with a minor athlete via electronic communications (including social media), the minor athlete’s legal guardian must be copied. If a minor athlete communicates to the Applicable Adult (with authority over the minor athlete) privately first, said Applicable Adult must  copy the minor athlete’s legal guardian on any electronic communication response to the minor athlete.

Objection: New rules regarding electronic communication will make college recruiting incredibly difficult.

Specific policy wording: A telephone call is similar to a one-on-one interaction. Therefore, a telephone call between an Applicable Adult and a minor athlete must be observable and interruptible by another adult. (from the MAAPP addendum on Social Media and Electronic Communications)

Combined Solution: Our combined solution for these two issues is an app that could strike the appropriate balance between communication directly between a coach and athlete (without overly involving parents), while making that communication “observable and interruptible.” In theory, the app would allow coaches to communicate directly with athletes, but all communication would be visible to parents and guardians.

We’ve received a clarification that the electronic communication policy governs texting, IMing, DMs on social media, etc., but does not include phone calls. Those are considered “one-on-one communication,” and have to be “observable and interruptible,” but don’t need a guardian specifically looped in to the conversation (though looping in a parent/guardian would officially make the conversation “observable and interruptible”). We’ve asked what else would make a recruiting call fit under the new policy, but haven’t yet received a response with specifics. It seems conceivable, though, that having another adult (an assistant coach, a manager or a school official) on the line would fit that criteria. Perhaps recording recruiting conversations for another adult to review might also make the call “observable,” though “interruptible” is still a little gray there. Building on our app idea, a WhatsApp-type application that does text messaging and voice calls could govern this whole area – with parents/guardians able to tap in to read messages or even play back phone calls after the fact. Parental controls could allow parents a window into the communication, but could also allow parents to give their minor children as much agency and freedom as they feel the child can handle.

The other upside of an app – particularly in the college recruiting realm – is that it could make it easier for the NCAA to track compliance with recruiting rules, like how often a coach can call a specific athlete, when they can call, how long they can talk for. The idea isn’t without downsides, of course. Minor athletes without smartphones (they do still exist, believe it or not) would be harder to contact while remaining under the rules, and that could hurt their college prospects. Most apps don’t roll off the assembly line without bugs, and coaches would certainly bristle if a technical glitch interrupted their communication with a top recruit. But there are probably workarounds there, with enough thought and conversation.

Objection: Prohibiting electronic communication between 8 AM and 8 PM will hurt a coach’s ability to communicate – especially informing athletes of schedule changes or updates.

Specific policy wording: Electronic communications must only be sent between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m., unless emergency circumstances exist, or during competition travel.

Solution: It seems likely that schedule changes (‘practice cancelled’ or ‘meet moved to 6 PM’) would fall under “emergency circumstances,” and the exception for travel addresses another potential unintended consequence. It’s certainly possible that this rule could undergo a tweak – maybe allowing group communication (i.e. from a coach to multiple athletes, with another adult and/or parent/guardians included). A mass email to all swimmers and parents at 9:30 PM after a swim meet ended probably doesn’t qualify as a dangerous interaction that needs to be policed. But we’ve also covered plenty of situations where a coach continues texting an athlete late into the night as part of the grooming process.

The verdict: this piece could probably use an exception or two to allow for logistical updates to a whole team during the 8 PM to 8 AM hours. It also definitely needs some clarification on time zones: does the 8AM-8PM restriction apply to the adult’s time zone? The athlete’s? Both? (These mostly affect recruiting e-mails or messages, but again, shouldn’t apply to phone calls, which are considered “one-on-one interactions” and not “electronic communication”). But the rule really isn’t as restrictive as it sounds.

Objection: Requiring clubs to monitor locker rooms will lead to more dangerous situations (i.e. an adult alone with a minor in a locker room)

Specific policy wording: Except for athletes on the same team or athletes attending the same competition, at no time are unrelated Applicable Adults permitted to be alone with a minor athlete in a locker room or changing area, except under emergency circumstances. If the organization is using a facility that only has a single locker room or changing area, separate times for use by Applicable Adults must be designated.

Specific policy wording: The club must regularly and randomly monitor the use of locker rooms and changing areas to ensure compliance with this Policy. Locker rooms and changing areas may be monitored by use of the following methods:
a. Conducting a sweep of the locker room or changing area before athletes arrive;
b. Posting staff directly outside the locker room or changing area during periods of use;
c. Leaving the doors open when adequate privacy is still possible; and/or
d. Making occasional sweeps of the locker rooms or changing areas with women checking on female locker rooms and men checking on male locker rooms.
Every effort must be made to recognize when a minor athlete goes to the locker room or changing area during practice and competition, and, if the minor athlete does not return in a timely fashion, to check on the minor athlete’s whereabouts.

Solution: The wording on this policy isn’t hard-and-fast – in other words, clubs aren’t required to do all four of the monitoring options, the rule just notes that these can be used to fulfill the monitoring requirement. The rule is clearly in response to offenders placing cameras in locker rooms or changing areas, which has been the basis of a number of coach bans, arrests and convictions in recent years. We’d wager most of these monitoring methods are already in place for most clubs, even if they’re not on the books as requirements.

It doesn’t seem like a bad requirement to have a coach (or even a facility staff member) make a pass through the locker room before athletes arrive to check for obvious safety threats. The first policy piece we quote about an adult being alone with a minor in a locker room does even appear to have a built-in exception for athletes who turn 18 but have minor teammates: “except for athletes on the same team or athletes attending the same competition.”

Objection: The definition of “applicable adult” includes 18-year-old athletes communicating with their teammates who are 17 and younger. This will put 18-year-old athletes (and many team leaders/captains) in a tricky situation to communicate with their teammates under the new rules.

Specific policy wording: THIS POLICY APPLIES TO: All USA Swimming non-athlete members and adult athlete members

Solution: This is a big objection, and one about which we’ve asked USA Swimming for more clarification. As the policy reads today, it appears that a minor athlete falls under these MAAPP rules the day they turn 18, which does create some issues in their communication with teammates who are still minors.

Perhaps there’s a clarification to the definition of “applicable adult” that could solve this issue? The definition could be expanded to include some form of a “Romeo and Juliet” law, used in statutory rape laws to make exceptions when both parties are teenagers. The exception could also reference one party being, or not being, in a position of authority over the other – that would still require 18-19-year-old coaches to behave as coaches and hold to the rules on private communication, but would still allow teammates (relative equals in authority) to interact as teammates.

Objection: Requiring parents to be copied on communication between a college coach and a minor who is already enrolled in college appears to be a violation of FERPA rights, which say that privacy rights transfer to students when they turn 18 or when they attend a school beyond the high school level.

Specific policy wording: Absent emergency circumstances, if an Applicable Adult with authority over minor athletes needs to communicate directly with a minor athlete via electronic communications (including social media), the minor athlete’s legal guardian must be copied. If a minor athlete communicates to the Applicable Adult (with authority over the minor athlete) privately first, said Applicable Adult must  copy the minor athlete’s legal guardian on any electronic communication response to the minor athlete.

Solution: This is a very good question, and one that will probably require some sort of tweak to the MAAPP. First of all, FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) laws specifically refer to student educational records. It’s hard to say how much communication between a coach and an athlete would fall under “educational records,” but there are likely conversations that would: a coach talking to a student-athlete about grades, class schedules or academic requirements, for example.

Similar to the objection above, this one probably calls for its own class as well: perhaps athletes who are attending college are no longer treated as minors under the MAAPP. They could even be classified as “applicable adults,” to try to draw the line less at “under 18/over 18” and more between “high school/college.”

 

Objections already addressed by the policy

Objection: New travel restrictions will prevent college coaches from transporting minor athletes to and from the airport on recruiting visits.

Specific policy wording: A legal guardian must consent in writing, in advance, for every instance in which their minor athlete travels alone with an Applicable Adult.

Solution: It appears this caveat should allow parents to sign a release allowing a college coach to give their athlete a ride to or from the airport on recruiting trips. If the release isn’t an option, things are a bit more complicated, but not impassable for college coaches: they’ll either need two adults in the vehicle, or more than one minor prospective student-athlete. Booking recruiting flights to leave at similar times would allow coaches to ‘carpool’ minor recruits to the airport in groups and remain safe under MAAPP rules.

Objection: The new rules will criminalize parents who coach their kids.

Specific policy wording: Unrelated non-athlete Applicable Adults must not share a hotel room.

Solution: The policy already includes “unrelated minor” in almost every policy piece, meaning that family members will not be under all of the same rules for adult-minor interactions.

Objection: The new rules won’t allow minors to stay in dormitories or with college swimmers while on recruiting visits

Specific policy wording: When a minor athlete and an adult athlete share a hotel room or other sleeping arrangement, the minor athlete’s legal guardian must provide written permission in advance and for each instance for the minor to share a hotel room or other sleeping arrangement with said adult athlete. 

Solution: Schools could get written permission from a minor’s parents/guardians before a recruiting visit – a lodging waiver, or something similar.

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Another Swim Mom

I posted this on the other thread as well…Under the Prohibited Electronic Communication section, it says “Applicable Adults with authority over minor athletes are not permitted to maintain private social media connections with unrelated minor athletes…”. Maybe the “with authority over minor athletes” excludes the 18-yr-old high school athlete from being an Applicable Adult in this case, and allows them to continue social media communications with their younger teammates?

Is an 18&O athlete automatically an adult athlete member, and therefore an Applicable Adult? Obviously, USA Swimming will need to clarify this, but I’m wondering if there might be some other criteria involved (such as authority over minor athletes).

Another Swim Mom

Also…I understand that the coaches at the recent National Team Coaches Conference were told that 18&O athletes would be required to take the Athlete Protection Training, by June 23, in order to maintain their valid USA Swimming memberships. This did include high school athletes and not just athlete members with authority over minor athletes.

Another Swim Mom

According to the FAQ page on USA Swimming…
Q: How is “adult athlete” defined?
A: An adult athlete is an athlete member age 18 and over.

So that makes 18&Over athletes Applicable Adults.

Logical swimmer

I think some aspects of this proposed plan sadly would not have prevented what happened in Australia at all… severely limiting electronic communication would not have stopped a 7 year old from being raped.

Rick Paine

NIce article Jared. You have some great ideas. I have spoken with or received emails from 35 college coaches about their concerns. One of the big ones is the time constraint for contact between 8am and 8pm. Coaches with families usually don’t start making calls until 8pm so this will really hamper recruiting. I assume these rules won’t affect a coach or swimmer who is not registered with USA Swimming. If this is the case, a number of coaches said they will simply start recruiting more international recruits because it will be easier and we know there are plenty of international kids who would love to come to the states. Keep up the good work and hopefully there can be… Read more »

Betty

Also, for recruiting, whose time zone? The coach’s or the swimmer’s? I assume the latter, but this probably should be spelled out nonetheless.

We’ve been told by a coach who was in a presentation that this question was asked, and it’s based on the athlete’s time zone. I will presume this will be spelled out in a future iteration of the policy or an FAQ.

SwimParent

But Rick, I believe from Jared’s explanations and from a direct read of the MAAP that phone calls are not considered Electronic Communication and it is only Electronic Communication with the 8p-8a prohibition. So one-on-one interaction can apparently occur at any hour as long as it is observable and interruptible and that is the rule that would govern phone calls. Won’t claim to be an expert but that is how I would read it.

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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