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Safe sport at every level - how do we protect our children?


Coach Kenneth Rippetoe



Kenneth is the founder and head coach of One with the Water, a nonprofit swim school that offers need-based scholarships to children with special needs, adults, low-income families, and service-disabled Veterans. He is a certified US Paralympic Disabilities Swim Coach and a strength and conditioning coach.

The Southern California News Group just published a devastating indictment of USA swimming and their inaction in keeping children safe from abusive coaches. On the heels of the Larry Nassar trial and a similar culture at USA Gymnastics, it can be daunting and scary to know you are making the right decision for your athletes. As parents, how do you choose a swim program (or any athletic endeavor) and trust that your children will be safe?


The answer is education and advocacy. Educated parents, educated athletes, and educated coaches. First, talk to your children about the range of behaviors that constitute verbal, physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Make sure they understand what to do in an uncomfortable or threatening situation and the process for reporting an incident.


Second, ask your athletic team/club/organization if they have a written policy in place concerning the safety of children and prevention of abuse. Make sure it includes at minimum, the following policies: (Adopted from Safe4Athletes Handbook)

All coaches, volunteers, and staff undergo criminal background checks and/or previous employer reference checks before they are hired and allowed to work with children.

The Club’s written policies (1) clearly define coach misconduct, (2) prohibit romantic or other nonprofessional relationships between coaches and athletes, (3) define and prohibit emotional, verbal, and physical abuse, bullying, hazing, initiation rituals, and (4) prohibit all forms of sexual harassment, abuse, and violence.

The Club has an independent “athlete welfare advocate” who athletes know they can go to in complete confidence to help them address concerns.

The Club conducts education sessions for coaches, staff and volunteers regarding professional behavior and prohibited behaviors that they must stop if observed by anyone.


Just a note here: As club owners, teaching and modeling ethical coaching practices is a must to ensure a safe, professional environment. Focus on core issues like competence, integrity, professional responsibility, and respect.


Finally, make sure, as parents and guardians, that YOU know the procedures in place for reporting incidents. Don’t be afraid to advocate for your child, and to follow-up after reporting occurs to ensure action is taken. Institutional change starts at the grassroots level. 


Taking these simple steps to ensure your child’s safety does two very important things: it makes your child a less likely target for abusers, and as mentioned above, ensures an institutional culture bent on protecting athletes. Remember, education and advocacy create positive change. 

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