Following up on the votes made at the USAS Convention in Greensboro last month, USA Swimming has released their “model action plans” to tackle the newest initiatives under the umbrella of their SafeSport program.
At the convention, it was voted that within 90 days of USA Swimming sending out these models (with a specific deadline of January 14th, 2013), each club would establish their own anti-bullying policy, as well as their own electronic communications policy to govern interactions between swimmers and coaches on the internet. The other major “SafeSport” legislation from the convention involved relationships between adult athletes and their coaches, where the House of Delegates decided against prohibiting them if an athlete was of legal age.
305.6 Clubs shall establish their own action plans for implementing USA Swimming’s anti-bullying policy. USA Swimming shall provide a model plan as an example which shall serve as the default for any club that fails to establish its own plan. Club anti-bullying plans must be reviewed and agreed to annually by all athletes, parents, coaches and other non-athlete members of the club.
305.7 Clubs shall establish their own electronic communication/social media policy. USA Swimming shall provide a model policy as an example which shall serve as the default for any club that fails to establish its own policy. Club electronic Adopted Amendments to Rules & Regulations communication policies should be reviewed and agreed to annually by all athletes, parents, coaches and other non-athlete members of the club.
Rather than having these policies come down as a mandate directly from USA Swimming, it was instead decided that a SafeSport committee would develop a baseline model that clubs could use as a foundation for their own policies. Clubs were allowed to alter these models to fit their own needs, but these model policies would default to their actual policies if no action were taken by the clubs. The only real guidance on the policies is that all athletes, parents, coaches, and other non-athlete members of the club must agree to them (which could be easier said than done).
Read the communications from USA Swimming here:
Introductory letter from Chuck Wielgus.
USA Swimming Anti-Bullying model policy.
USA Swimming Electronic Communications model policy.
Though it’s not explicitly stated here, bringing these policies down to the club level, in at least one regard, highlights an important concept in many sexual abuse prevention courses (specifically the Virtus class offered in the Catholic church). Many courses, rather than putting out specific rules on “you can do this, you can’t do that” to cover every conceivable situation. Rules can always be broken. This is a general thought, though: It is important that rules are in place both to protect the children and the adults. Whatever these rules are, the key is that if a person in a position of authority over childrencannot follow them, regardless of what they are, it is a sign that there is a problem.
With that in mind, USA Swimming has put forth their idea of what they feel these policies should include.
The anti-bullying model begins with a broad definition of bullying that is unlikely to meet much resistance, though some litgiously-minded clubs might seek to further the definition of bullying. Where we would be likely to see the most variation from club-to-club comes in the sections labeled ‘REPORTING PROCEDURE” and “HOW WE HANDLE BULLYING”. Those sections are pasted below (read the full document above, as they break into more specifics about these topics
An athlete who feels that he or she has been bullied is asked to do one or more of the following things:
- Talk to your parents;
- Talk to a Club Coach, Board Member, or other designated individual;
- Write a letter or email to the Club Coach, Board Member, or other designated individual;
- Make a report to the USA Swimming Safe Sport staff.
There is no express time limit for initiating a complaint under this procedure, but every effort should be made to bring the complaint to the attention of the appropriate club leadership as soon as possible to make sure that memories are fresh and behavior can be accurately recalled and the bullying behavior can be stopped as soon as possible.
HOW WE HANDLE BULLYING
If bullying is occurring during team-related activities, we STOP BULLYING ON THE SPOT using the following steps:
- Intervene immediately. It is ok to get another adult to help.
- Separate the kids involved.
- Make sure everyone is safe.
- Meet any immediate medical or mental health needs.
- Stay calm. Reassure the kids involved, including bystanders.
- Model respectful behavior when you intervene.
Not that any of these are poor guidelines, but with a renewed nation-wide focus on bullying, there are lots of theories on how to handle it, so different clubs may prefer some changes to these procedures. That, in itself, is the purpose of giving clubs the power to make changes in the first place.
This section, in initial response, has carried a bit more of a controversial weight with clubs and coaches, specifically because of the difference in ages between different coaches, as well as other members of the sport (parents, board members). These age differences affect how they might view social media and email communications.
One thing is clear about electronic communication in the modern era: it absolutely gives predators easy access to potential victims, and is especially an outlet for those trying to “groom” or “lure” children into sexual actions. The challenge then becomes how to limit those things without stifling the internet revolution that has increased both the ability to communicate and the global knowledge base.
It would seem wise for clubs to address their definition of a “minor” as is in place in the model, as these definitions vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
USA Swimming’s model policy specifically addresses sites like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter. The model, with regard to the first two sites, outlaws coaches from “friending” any of their minor swimmers, or communicating with them via any “Instant Messaging” service. These policies make a lot of sense, because those sites are very personal in nature, with information and communication being limited.
The second specific section goes into Twitter, and offers both a “best practice” suggestion and an “Alternative Option”.
In the first best-practice option, coaches and swimmers are not allowed to follow each other, and are not allowed to “Direct Message” each other. The Direct Messaging ban is logical, again with sensitivity to openness of communication, but the “following” has already heard quite a bit of pushback.
Consider, for example, that coaches on the USA Swimming National Team staff already follow and are followed by minor swimmers on Twitter. If this were truly a “best-practice,” one would think that USA Swimming would place such restrictions on their own coaches.
The alternative option recommends that coaches and swimmers be allowed to follow each other, but coaches not be allowed to “Retweet” their athletes. It’s not exactly clear what the intent of the restriction on Retweeting would be.
The important discernment in all of these electronic communication policies is “openness,” and that is the difference between Facebook and Twitter. On Facebook, things are very protected. On Twitter, things are very open. This extends beyond social media, though. When you email an athlete, copy their parent or another coach to protect both parties. The more openness there is in electronic communications, the safer everyone becomes.
The policy also emphasizes professionalism in all coaching communications, both to swimmers and parents.
These models are a solid foundation to both anti-bullying policies and electronic communication policies. At the same time, I would encourage each club to make sure several sets of eyes pass them over to make sure that the policies fit their needs, their wishes as parents, and what they want to enforce. At the end of the day, no policy can trump parenting.
That’s something very important in the USA Swimming electronic communication model that USA Swimming has presented: if a parent wishes for greater restrictions to be placed on an athlete than that which is outlined in the policy, then that parent’s wishes become as binding as the policy is. Having that explicitly stated will hopefully help parents feel more comfortable in communicating their wishes for their specific child.
Ultimately, the point to take away is to read the models, consider them carefully, and make changes. There is a reason why each club was given the option to develop their own policies, and that’s because there’s no “one-size-fits-all” to combat bullying or inappropriate communications between coaches and athletes.