skip navigation

So Much More than “Checking the Box”

05/03/2017, 10:15am CDT
By Suzie Riewald, USA Fencing Safe Sport Coordinator

In March 2017, Suzie Riewald joined USA Fencing as our new Safe Sport Coordinator. In this role, Riewald is responsible for overseeing the Safe Sport reporting process as well as implementing educational programs for USA Fencing members, parents, clubs and coaches. A former NCAA Division I Cross Country Champion, Riewald received her doctorate from the University of North Carolina – Greensboro and has worked as a sports psychologist for the U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Swimming and the University of Miami, among others.

As part of a series of educational initiatives for the USA Fencing Community, Riewald will be posting articles, blogs and other materials at on a variety of topics. In this first piece, Riewald discusses her own experience becoming Safe Sport certified while working as a parent volunteer for a local youth hockey team. 

A few years ago, I was asked if I would be willing to serve as the team manager for my son’s hockey team.  After learning about the role of team manager (and what I was getting myself into), I agreed.  But, before I could begin any managerial duties, I was told to go through a background screen and complete the Safe Sport Training – just like USA Fencing Professional and +Professional members are required to do.  My tasks as manager were piling up, so I was anxious to complete the Background Screen and the Safe Sport Course – to ‘check off the box’, so to speak – and get on with business.  

Sound familiar? Everyone leads busy lives so it is easy to get caught in the trap of checking off boxes, jumping through hoops to enable us to coach, ref, volunteer or support the sport of fencing in some capacity. But we need to stop and reflect for a minute on the why behind the Safe Sport Training.  Doing so will hopefully provide the incentive to approach it with more intention, purposefulness and a sense of responsibility rather than just wanting to “check the box.”

First, think for a minute about why athletes choose to participate in sports.  

Reasons across sports include having fun, learning new skills, socializing with friends and competing. To keep athletes involved and enjoying the experience, we need to structure the environment so these motives are being met in a safe and healthy environment. Safe and healthy – what exactly does that mean?  

Initially, we think of a safe environment as one where the athlete is safe from injury and physical harm.  That is only part of it. The sport environment also needs to be emotionally and socially safe and healthy for our athletes, free of harmful, hurtful words or actions. The environment should be structured not to “win at all costs,” but to nurture the development of athletes and to allow each athlete to experience the positive benefits of sport. It is the responsibility of coaches, referees, parents, clubs and athletes to create and monitor this environment to ensure that it is emotionally, physically and socially safe; that it is an environment conducive to having fun, learning skills, socializing with friends, competing. 

So, how does Safe Sport tie into this? As some of you may be aware, in 2012, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Movement launched the Safe Sport program to improve athlete safety across the U.S. Olympic Committee’s (USOC) 47 sport National Governing Bodies (NGBs). Since its adoption, the program has provided education and prevention resources related to emotional, physical and sexual misconduct, including bullying, hazing and harassment. 

Safe Sport training aims to raise awareness and educate. It is focused on educating those individuals that work with athletes about misconduct in sport and how to prevent it or how to recognize misconduct and take action against it. Safe Sport training and policies also provide education on how to minimize risk and how to create a safe and healthy environment – where athletes can grow and experience the benefits of sport.

Safe Sport training and accompanying best-practices policies, when approached with intention, can provide you with the knowledge and tools that can be used to help our athletes thrive. In addition, you should work to purposefully seek out and soak up the resources and materials that can further enhance your awareness and understanding of safe sport concerns, policies and means of prevention.  

So, as you sit down to take the Safe sport course for the first time or renew your previous certification, think about the athletes that will benefit from not only the knowledge and information you are acquiring but from the action you take based on this knowledge. You are the eyes and ears that can play a primary role in creating and monitoring the environment where our athletes train and compete to help ensure it is an environment that places athlete development, safely and enjoyment as a priority. Take the course and seek out resources with this intention in mind.

Tag(s): Blog