My mission is a difficult one. I have been assigned with the task of being a positive influence in the lives of young people through coaching. The sport that I coach is a predominantly female sport. As a cheerleading coach there are quite a few challenges that are faced on a daily basis. Most of those challenges come from being a male coach in a mostly female sport. Recently, Sports Illustrated published a story about two outstanding pro athletes and their brave stand to speak out as victims of sexual abuse by their coaches as young athletes. These stories both disgust me and bring me great anxiety.
One of the reasons why I coach is because of the opportunity to use the sport I love to help young people not only develop into athletes who share my passion, but develop character for life that one gains in being a part of a competitive sport. I have written before about the great responsibility that comes with coaching and the fact that coaches WILL, whether they like it or not, influence those who are being coached. It is up to the coach whether they will be a positive catalyst for the growth and development of young people into functioning members of society and the possible impact through future coaches who model their styles and practices after the coach that impacted them the most. We coaches impact the lives of not only those being coached directly by us, but also those who will be coached by those we have coached. Long after we are gone, our impact, good or bad will reach through generations of coaches.
It is a great thing that the above mentioned article in Sports Illustrated’s December 17th 2012 issue entitled “The Year’s Inspiring Performers” did in bringing to light some of the “disease” that plagues our world in order to make parents aware of what to look out for as their athletes progress. The reality is that athletes and coaches sometimes have a closer relationship than that of a student might have with a teacher. The shared passion and the fact that coaches help their athletes reach potential that the athlete seldom knows that he or she has builds a bond that will leave an imprint for years to come. Unfortunately, just as the stories of fathers struck with this illness reach the surface, there are coaches out there who have used their influence for their own sick gain, preying on those who look up to them.
Due to this bond that is formed, boundaries must be set. Sometimes, especially based on the dynamic of the family in today’s society, the coach can be seen as a “father figure” in the lives of some young people. This is where the responsibility of the coach to embrace the challenge but in so doing define boundaries. These boundaries are in place to not only protect the athlete, but also the coach. With the recent development of major university coaches being imprisoned for life due to their “disease”, the spotlight – as it should be – is on coaches. Young people struggle to see the boundaries that need to be in place to protect both parties involved. It is the responsibility of the coach to make sure that the relationship is defined and the boundaries are clear so that no false accusations can be made.
The struggle as one whose sole purpose in life is to impact the lives of young people, to help build strong self esteem, to aid in the development of self confident people who are protected from the attacks of the illness that plagues our world the boundaries must be there so that the relationship is not questioned. My heart is broken, not only for those abused by the people they trusted, but by the fact that I too am in the spotlight. As a coach it is becoming more and more difficult to actually care about the individuals who are being coached by me, due mainly to the sick individuals who victimized young athletes. Part of my strategy of coaching is to make sure that I am open for conversation. I let them know that I do care about their personal struggles, that I do care about their concerns and pains, and sometimes someone needs a hug or a pat on the back, or maybe someone to listen to them, because in reality, some people just don’t get that at home.
It pains me to see that because of the poor choices of the “diseased” individuals out there who hold the title of “coach” I constantly have to walk on eggshells and try not to care as much. Young people spend their lives feeling rejected and under appreciated. Society and other people’s bad choices make it harder to allow those feelings to be changed. My quest is to find ways to continue to empower young people through cheerleading, letting them know that someone values them and believes in them, while walking on eggshells to make sure that parents can also be sure that their child is in a safe place.