When I was thinking about starting Squad Safe, a coach told me he thought clubs might view my training offer as a “bougie extra”. If all clubs need for insurance purposes is to complete a $25 online course, your staff are good people, your kids are happy and you’ve been running your gym or studio for years without a problem, why bother? Organisation specific training just sounds like a time-sucking luxury.
Here are 5 great reasons why training your staff to have a practical understanding of your gym or studios' specific safeguarding policies and procedures is an essential, not a luxury, for your business.
1. A proactive approach is always preferable to a reactive one
When running my safeguarding courses, I always ask "Does your organisation have a designated safeguarding lead?" The owner will often quickly pipe up "Yes!", relieved they've got one in place. My next question is always then "...and does everyone know who that is?" More often than not, the answer from staff will be a sheepish "No". The same goes for questions like "do you have a Child Protection Policy?" ...."Have you all read it?" and so on and so on. Having the right policies, processes and a safeguarding lead in place is only half the job. Ensuring your coaching staff understand and can implement those policies and processes is what makes your business ready to respond, rather than react to a situation when it arises. As a business, a proactive approach is always the better position to be in.
2. Children don’t just need us to speak up for them, but speak up in the right way
Coaches are in a unique position of trust and authority, working in an environment where they are regularly interacting with children in an informal setting. Children are far more likely to approach someone like a coach for help than they are a parent or school teacher. Children in abusive situations are looking for adults to advocate for them. When doing this its important coaches know how to do so in a way that helps, rather than hinders their situation. Court cases have been known to collapse where adults have failed to report appropriately. Nobody wants to be the gym or studio responsible for that type of failure. Coaches need to be confident in understanding how to handle these types of situation appropriately.
3. Sometimes children’s parents are also vulnerable people. Supporting them is an authentic way to demonstrate you value your customers
We've all had that parent who sends their child to class improperly dressed, with poor personal hygiene and no water bottle or money for a drink. You suspect they may not be that well looked after at home and it's clear the parent is struggling. Often coaches don’t want to act on these types of concerns because they fear reporting situations of neglect may result in splitting up a family. Unless the child is in serious danger, authorities will usually work to provide additional support for a family, rather than remove the child.
Post-Covid, you are likely to see more families in your gym/studio in financial crisis. It may be that a situation requires you to contact social services, but it may also be that providing them with other means of support, such as the ability to delay or pay their fees in installments, the option to buy second hand uniforms, connecting them to local community services, is enough to help improve the home life of a family and keep an athlete in your gym/studio . Ensuring staff are trained to be sensitive, discerning and compassionate to these types of situations is another way of providing great customer service.
4. Personal reputation if you could have done something and failed to intervene
Almost every legislative review of a serious child abuse case concludes that there were failings to report by adults who had the opportunity to do so. A fear of doing the wrong thing, or wrongly accusing someone can sometimes stop people from doing anything at all. Knowing you could have stopped abuse but didn't act, is not a position anyone wants to be in, but unless coaches feel confident with their organisation’s Child Protection procedures and policies, they might inadvertently find themselves in that situation.
5. The reputation of your organisation if something goes wrong
Nobody wants a situation of abuse in their organisation, but if it happens, you can be sure your customers will be watching to see how you handle it. Fear of negative media coverage can also sometimes discourage organisations from speaking out about abuse, but there is no doubt press will be critical regarding the failings of your organisation if poor practice is revealed. Prioritising safeguarding is not only a moral and legal duty, but it’s also smart for business – you’re demonstrating you value the children in your care, as much as you value their fees, and customers with children are looking for organisations they feel they can trust.
Sending your staff on an individualised training course is a great start to helping them understand the basics of safeguarding, but ensuring coaches know how to practically apply their knowledge within your organisation’s specific cheerleading, gymnastics or dance context is critical to keeping children safe. Training (whether with an external company like Squad Safe or internally with your Safeguarding Lead) should form an annual part of your staff’s continued professional development.
You can find out more about Squad Safe's Sport Specific Staff Training for Cheerleading, Dance and Gymnastics here: www.squadsafe.org/training
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