This is a tough post for me because it is about an emotionally charged topic. The recent allegations of hideous hazing incidents at Conestoga High School have really hit close to home. As a parent, I feel sick to my stomach that incidents like this occur and that every day we continue to see examples of how vulnerable our children are in today’s society – vulnerable to egregious behavior on the part of their peers (often other minors), strangers, and adults in their lives – and yes, coaches.
But are coaches always at fault when athletes behave badly? While again, I am sickened by the alleged incidents at Conestoga, I am also keenly aware of this particular coach’s character. I know John Vogan because I coached for more than 10 years at Conestoga High School. As a rowing coach, I often crossed paths with Coach Vogan during winter land training and I know him to be a man filled with care and concern for every one of his athletes. An article written about Coach Vogan a few years ago, describes the coach I know.
The thing is, as the general public, we are angered that there was no locker room supervision. I get that, but as a coach, I know I would rarely enter the locker room and now more than ever, coaches have to be very careful about being in a locker room with minors. It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation for coaches.
As coaches we have an opportunity to be the second most influencing person in our athlete’s lives after their parents. We need to take this seriously and protect the athletes from the varying types of abuses they may encounter throughout their lives. Every day in the news we read about coaches sexually or verbally abusing athletes, athletes hazing each other, bullying as well as sexual harassment taking place in our programs. These types of behaviors take place at all levels of sport.
I believe we can best help our athletes by educating them on inappropriate behaviors and what to do about it if it happens to them or to a teammate. The USOC has developed a SafeSport plan for use in the Olympic community as well as other levels of sport. The material developed by Malia Arrington, Director of Ethics and Safe Sport for the USOC, and included in this website can help reduce misconduct and abuse in sport. It includes a handbook that can be edited and used by your program with sample policies, forms, and documents. There are also videos that can be shown to coaches and staff to help everyone “recognize, reduce and respond” to any type of abuse.
We have a responsibility to help protect our athletes and coaches in our programs. Taking time to review this website and downloading some of the material may be some of the best time you have devoted to coaching your athletes. Education is the key for athletes and parents. Make it happen with your team!