The Definitive Guide to Abuse Prevention Training in Youth Sports

Have all adults in your youth sports organization completed abuse prevention training? It’s the duty of any youth-serving organization to care for and protect its participants, and abuse prevention training is an essential piece of the puzzle. 

Prevention is the key word here. It’s all about taking a proactive approach by training staff members and volunteers on how to recognize and respond to potential threats.

If you’re not sure what abuse prevention training is all about, why you need it, or (most importantly) where to access it and how to ensure all your staff comply, then you’re in the right place. 

In this guide, we’ll take you through:

Why Is Abuse Prevention Important?

It’s a parent’s worst nightmare — their child being physically, sexually or emotionally abused. Not only does it hurt us to see children suffer, but the effects can be long-lasting, rippling through to their adult lives and impacting their future.  

The CDC states: “Over the long term, children who are abused or neglected are also at increased risk for experiencing future violence victimization and perpetration, substance abuse, sexually transmitted infections, delayed brain development, lower educational attainment, and limited employment opportunities.”

Child abuse is a serious issue, and it’s crucial that any youth-serving organization emphasizes protecting minors and preventing maltreatment before it happens. 

In youth sports, sexual abuse is a particular concern due to the intimate nature of coach-player relationships.The good news is that there are things we can do at an organizational level to prevent abuse and protect children from harm. 

Strategies To Prevent Abuse

Now that you understand all the ins and outs of abuse prevention training, here are some key strategies for preventing abuse in your organization:

  1. Carefully screen staff and volunteers. Criminal background checks are a must when engaging any sports coach, staff member or volunteer. On top of that, be sure to implement a thorough applicant screening process with personal interviews, identity checks, reference checks, etc.
  2. Offer formal abuse prevention training. All coaches, volunteers and youth sports employees should be trained to recognize red flags that could signal abuse or grooming behaviors

As well as undertaking training, all staff should maintain access to training materials and resources they can refer to.

  1. Maintain a Code of Conduct. Every youth sports organization should have a Code of Conduct that outlines how staff, parents and players are expected to behave and how they should treat each other. For example, it should define what kind of physical contact is considered appropriate and what kinds of language can and can’t be used.
  2. Limit one-on-one interactions. Make it part of your organization’s policy to limit one-on-one interactions between children and adults as much as possible. The fewer opportunities there are for abuse to occur, the better.
  3. Set clear reporting policies. You should have clear policies about how and when to report suspicious behavior or suspected incidents of abuse and ensure that everyone in the organization is aware of them. Reporting channels should be clearly defined and accessible to all. 
  4. Foster an environment of open communication. The culture of the organization plays a huge role in how comfortable people are speaking up about their concerns. Encourage people to discuss behaviors they’re unsure about and give ample opportunity for them to ask questions and raise issues.

These are some of the key strategies for abuse prevention, but they’re not the only ones. This document from the CDC is a great resource for digging into more detail on setting policies and procedures around abuse prevention. 


Abuse Prevention Training in Youth Sports: Who, What, Why & How

Now that you understand the importance of abuse prevention, let’s answer all the most common questions about abuse  training your staff. 

How Effective is Abuse Prevention Training?

A common (and very reasonable) question is whether abuse prevention training actually works. The short answer is yes. Although effectiveness is sometimes tricky to quantify, research suggests training makes a significant difference in organizations.

For example, this 2018 study published in Children and Youth Services Review, found that although behavior changes were mixed, results suggested “that training improves coaches' knowledge and boosts their confidence level.” And a 2014 evaluation of one abuse prevention program found it “impacted knowledge, attitudes, and preventive behaviors” with no differences found between training delivered online or in person.

While abuse prevention training is no magic bullet, knowing what to look for and how to respond to suspicious behavior helps us all play our part in minimizing abuse. 

Who Needs To Complete Abuse Prevention Training in Youth Sports?

Any adult working in a youth-serving organization — paid or voluntary — should complete abuse prevention training. 

Abuse can happen anywhere. If we look at sexual abuse, there’s no reliable profile for offenders. They come from all backgrounds, ages and socioeconomic groups, and the majority of offenses are committed by someone the victim knows. The best way to spot an offender is to learn how to recognize behavioral patterns and warning signs. 

We’ll look more at the legal requirements of completing training below, but in general, requiring all adults to complete abuse awareness training on a regular basis is the best way to protect the children in your care.

How Often Should Abuse Prevention Training Be Renewed?

Abuse prevention training isn’t a one-and-done requirement. The training should be renewed regularly to remind staff members what to look for and review your organizational policies. It’s best practice for all staff members, volunteers and coaches to retake the course annually. 

This keeps what they’ve learned top of mind and also ensures they’re up-to-date with any new information, policies or best practices around abuse prevention. Many organizations require an updated certificate of completion around the same time each year to make it easier to track who has completed their training.

Is Abuse Prevention Training Required by Law?

The legal requirements for abuse prevention training depend in part on the type of organization and where it’s based. State laws around child protection differ, including definitions of what constitutes child abuse and neglect and who is required to report it. 

Depending on state laws, athletic coaches and sports staff may or may not be classified as mandated reporters — people required by law to report suspected or known instances of abuse.Oftentimes this status will dictate whether or not they’re legally required to complete training. Check your state’s specific legislation about mandatory reporting to determine what’s required for your staff. 

You can search for state definitions and policies related to child abuse and neglect on the SCAN Policies Database (State Child Abuse & Neglect Policies Database). It includes information for all 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

You can also compare data for up to five different states at a time, including whether or not sports staff and coaches are considered mandated reporters. This is a good starting point for determining compliance at the state level. 

At a federal level, you can consult the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017 — aka, the Safe Sport Act

Here is a helpful series of videos that explains the Safe Sport Act is further and takes you through who is impacted by itthe Safe Sport Act and what is required by both national governing bodies (NGB)NGB and non-NGB sports groups. 

Where To Access Abuse Prevention Training

There are a number of abuse prevention training programs and which one you choose depends on your organization’s needs. Although in-person programs are an option, online abuse prevention training has several advantages: it’s flexible, easy to implement and track, and delivery costs are low.

Here are some of the most popular training providers:

  • US Center for SafeSport – This training is mandatory for youth sports organizations governed by an NGB. 
  • Abuse Prevention Systems – One of the most well-known and comprehensive programs out there, this system is easy to use and meets all the requirements established by the Safe Sport Act. This training is integrated into Ankored’s compliance management platform, so it’s easy to offer, complete and track.
  • Darkness to Light – Another leader in child sexual abuse prevention, their Stewards of Children program is highly regarded and includes many great resources.

How Much Does Abuse Prevention Training Cost?

Costs differ depending on the program and provider. For an online program, such as Abuse Prevention Systems, you can expect to pay about $10 per participant. 

What Does Abuse Prevention Training Cover?

Abuse awareness and prevention training must be proactively focused. The whole idea is to give people the knowledge and tools to spot abusive behaviors before they escalate and cause lasting harm. 

As such, abuse prevention training will cover topics like: 

  • Myths and misconceptions about child abuse
  • Types of abusers and their characteristics
  • Sexual abuse “grooming” and how it applies to youth sports, including the stages of the grooming process and what to look out for 
  • Other types of misconduct, such as physical abuse, emotional abuse, bullying, hazing and harassment, including definitions and when to report them
  • Peer to peer abuse
  • Strategies for reducing the risk of abuse
  • What to do if a child reports misconduct
  • Signs and symptoms of abuse
  • Reporting requirements, including what a mandatory reporter is and how to report suspicions of abuse

When regularly reviewed by all adults in your organization, this information can help build a safer, healthier environment for the children in your care.

How To Track Training Delivery & Completion

One of the challenges youth sports organizations face is how to ensure all relevant staff are up to date with their abuse prevention training. Here are a few administrative tips that can make managing and tracking training easier.

  • Set clear policies.Make it clear in your organization’s written policies who needs to complete training, where to access it, and how often. Imagine your administrative staff changing from one day to the next: Would a new admin be able to easily find the necessary documentation? Would they be able to clearly identify training requirements and processes? All of this should be well documented and clearly laid out in your organization's policies and procedures. 
  • Track compliance with digital tools. We live in the digital age, so let’s face it: leveraging online tools is the smartest and surest way to streamline your processes. Using a compliance management system like Ankored saves hours of time and effort manually tracking who has completed their training and when. Simply invite staff to the training via the platform and when they’ve completed it they’ll get a big green check next to their name. This way, you can see at a glance who has completed requirements. 
  • Talk about it. As we said above, fostering a culture of communication is an important part of your abuse prevention strategy. So, open the lines of communication around abuse awareness. Encourage people to ask questions around anything that wasn’t clear to them in the training and to discuss or report any situations that seem suspicious. Though training may only occur once per year, it’s worth regularly reminding everyone that if they see something, they should say something. Protecting the children in your care depends on it.

Further Resources

* The information provided in this blog is for general informational purposes only. It is not intended as legal, financial, or professional advice and should not be construed as such. The content of this blog may not be accurate, up-to-date, or applicable to your specific situation. Always consult with qualified professionals or experts for advice relevant to your circumstances. Reliance on any information provided in this blog is at your own risk.