I find in my work as a SafeSport coordinator that I spend a lot of time discussing and communicating with others what NOT to do: don’t harass, don’t bully, don’t throw fencing equipment, don’t yell at the referee, don’t have closed door one-on-one meetings, don’t send private electronic messages to athletes or coaches. And, I often have to address consequences for such behaviors. Such a focus, while necessary at times, places a spotlight on the negatives – that is, what not to do.
Conversely, in my prior work as a sport psychology consultant, the dialogue with athletes focused on what one needs to do and/or think to manage behavior in practice and competition. The focus was NOT on what not to do (don’t get nervous) but instead the focus was on what to do (work on controlled breathing prior to the event). I would remind coaches to recognize and reinforce the things an athlete is doing well, whether it be physical, technical or emotional. Let’s think about how we can infuse such a perspective in our dialogue about SafeSport to have a balanced approach.
So, while correcting inappropriate, unprofessional behavior is important, we can tip the scale towards the positive by reinforcing and recognizing appropriate, positive behavior and providing education on what to do – just like a coach corrects mistakes but also reinforces correct execution.
During a conversation with a member at Summer Nationals, we were talking about SafeSport and he commented that we need to get members to ask themselves “What can I do to be part of the solution?” Perfect. We are on the same page, just phrasing it differently. That is, along with education on policies and what not to do, we can and should place an emphasis on reinforcing positives and talking about what members can DO to create a SafeSport environment.
What can you do to be part of the solution? There are surely a multitude of things, big and small, you can do or say to have a positive influence on our SafeSport efforts. Some suggestions include:
- “See something, Say something.” Parents, coaches, club personnel, athletes, referees and volunteers – we can potentially “nip in the bud” situations to prevent them from escalating. As an example, at a recent hockey practice for my son, I observed a 10-year-old leave the locker room and come to his mom who was sitting next to me. “Mom, they are not saying nice things in the locker room.” Speak up. Not only did the young athlete speak up but his parent then spoke up to get the appropriate person address the situation in the moment.
- Educate yourself. Have an understanding and awareness of the USA Fencing SafeSport Policy and what it means to you, given your role as coach, parent, club owner, volunteer, etc.
- Recognize when a fencer is being a good teammate. We know bullying, hurtful or mean behavior, inappropriate behavior and we ask members to monitor and report such negative behavior. Do we also know what it looks like to be a good teammate? Do we educate our athletes and recognize such good behavior when it occurs? Let’s start doing do. As a coach or Club, identify the behaviors you want to see from your fencers and parents such as being supportive, encouraging and inclusive. And, reward or reinforce these behaviors.
- Walk away. Sometimes, negativity or inappropriate comments will end when we stop feeding them. Refuse to take part in such dialogue by walking away.
- Turn off your computer. It is tempting to make negative, disparaging comments online as we are not facing our target and there is a vast audience who are listening. I have a general rule of thumb: “If you don’t have anything kind to say, best to keep it to yourself.” Exit the online discussion.
- Put a SafeSport filter in place. When making decisions about travel to competition, how to communicate via electronics, meetings and lessons with athletes, etc., have SafeSport policies at the forefront. Know the policies and make decisions that align with them.
- Support SafeSport efforts. Change is hard and some of the SafeSport policies may require change in how things have been handled in the past. Remember, SafeSport policies and guidelines are in place to create a safe, healthy, positive environment for our fencers so it is well worth the effort.