Technology is moving very fast in this area. There are now many ways for people to communicate. Online communication can be by email, texting or social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
The risks posed by such methods of communication arise from a variety of issues: the privacy provided, the wide range of content that can be transmitted, including content of a violent,sexual or hateful nature, the ease with which images can be forwarded on to others and the difficulty in knowing exactly with whom you are communicating.
In sport there are additional risks: inappropriate pressure can be exerted by adults, particularly coaches, on children or inappropriate criticism of a child’s performance. An official position or role within a club, such as a coach, can carry with it a level of authority and develop a level of trust that facilitates the control of a child.
Against this background, a club needs to establish rules covering how adults connected with that club communicate with children involved with that club. They need also to have rules how adults communicate with each other.
It is therefore recommended that:
- When communicating by phone, where possible, club officials and coaches should always speak to the parent or guardian of a child or vulnerable adult
- Club officials and coaches should not communicate with individual children by text or on-line at any time, on any matter, unless there is an immediate risk to the welfare of that child which can be lessened by such contact
- If a club needs to communicate club related information to children by email, such as training or match details, it should use email groups comprising email addresses given by parents or guardians. It is inadvisable for a coach to communicate by email on a one to one basis with a child. When replying to an email from a child, the parent should be copied in to the response
- Coaches and club officials should not communicate directly with children through social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter. Coaches should not be ‘friends’ with the children they coach and they should not comment on their status as this can open a coach up to allegations. Social networking group pages where all communications are open, visible to parents and transparent may be acceptable, where appropriate
- When using an official club website or any other form of club communication members must not use aggressive or abusive language directed at either club members nor anyone outside the club including referees and players from another club. This also includes e-mails,texting and when using social network sites including Facebook and Twitter. This also applies to the parents or guardians of children involved with the club.
It is impossible to address every issue or cover every scenario a club or coach might encounter when communicating with children and it is appreciated that different ages need to be treated differently. However, in all cases, the above guidelines should be considered when determining the most appropriate method of communication in any given circumstances.
In order to address these issues, it is recommended that, if necessary, clubs produce written policies which cover its own particular circumstances and meet its particular needs. It must then ensure that the policies are widely published and fully complied with by all those involved with the club, including parents.