Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Praise for USA Swimming's Education Program

If you've read the title, I can understand how you'll be a little startled. Over the course of writing this blog I've been very critical of USA Swimming in regards to their attitude towards child protection. Yesterday, as is now required of me to be a USA Swimming coach, I completed an education program regarding child protection that USA Swimming has set up with it's partner, Praesidium. And guess what? I thought it was pretty good.

Before I get into what I liked about it, I do have a few quibbles. The education program has six components. The first one feels utterly out of place and pointless. It educates you on the history of swimming and has a bunch of fluff about USA Swimming. It feels tacked on to create what I've heard referred to as the "sandwich". Said sandwich is a technique for delivering really bad news. If you put something really positive before and after something really negative, maybe it won't sound so bad. In much the same way as putting some putrid meat product between two slices of heavenly bread. But the entire section has literally nothing to do with educating coaches about protecting children and feels like it was written by public relations.

What follows is sorely needed and valuable. The presentation is fairly detailed, going through and overview of child sexual abuse, then following a more detailed progression. The presentation talks about the reasons abuse may occur, how the abuse may develop (grooming), and steps you can and should take to prevent and report it. Interspersed are interviews with what I assume are actually people convicted of sexual crimes against minors, although some seemed more authentic than others. Victims of crimes were also included but seemed more like actors, which is understandable and probably appropriate.

The program also had some nifty design features to mitigate a coach mindlessly skipping through the presentation. A lot of the video presentations were not optional- they played with no recourse to skip over them. When text was displayed on screen, you were forced to stay on screen for enough time to actually read the text before moving on. Now, if you really desperately didn't want to participate you could get away with it, but I appreciate this little detail.

Now, the other end of the aforementioned sandwich was actually valuable. It talked about the really positive impact coaches can have. Some may argue that it distracts from the child protection message, but I would argue that giving examples of good coaching is an essential part of the program. The acting in it was a little painful, but I'll get over it.

Overall, it's a little step but one that makes me hopeful. I don't know how similar the education program is for athletes but I am hopeful that it will provide same level of information I received so that they can know what behaviors are beyond reasonable boundaries. There is still a lot of work to do, but this is one very positive step in the right direction.


  1. I agree, Chris. I was actually pretty impressed with it, but I was afraid to do a write up because I thought you would fire me from blogging and my family needs the income. haha.

    In my opinion, this was a HUGE step in the right direction, simply because making this such an informative MANDATORY program shows signs of the level of ownership and leadership that we all have hoped for.

    Another thing I have been thrilled about is the new Pre-Employment Screening Program, simply because when they tried to make the point that USA-S has little to do with it and it is the individual clubs who do the hiring, while they made a valid point on some level, as a guy who started a club from scratch and had to do the hiring I felt that they had some responsibility to get us set up in that regard. The Pre-Employment screen initiative at least gives us some tools and some direction.

  2. I liked the course too. I took it right away (while I was in a boring committee meeting at the USAS convention) and I felt like it was pretty much spot on as far as what we need. Having said that, my only issue with the course shows up right after you sign in:

    "Failure to complete the athlete protection training course will result in your membership privileges being suspended."

    It is true, but I think maybe I am too sensitive. I feel like:

    "The athlete protection course must be completed prior to your 2012 membership registration being accepted."

    would be a much better tone. And I guess that has been my issue right along. It is the tone with which the athlete protection committee has set from the onset.

    I was in their committee meeting, and if you ask one question, it is as if you are against athlete protection. It's like the old saying "If yer not fer us, yer agin us!"

    With all this said, I approve of the APT and the pre-employment screenings. Anyone else think we should have started with these in the first place?

  3. As a parent, I think this is all heading in the right direction. It's good news.

  4. Cliff,

    Unfortunately, the pre-employment screenings are only applicable to NEW employees and the clubs are not required to hire an outside agency to conduct the screening. Therefore, members will continue to vouch for family and friends, loopholes will be used, "this is a returning coach and not a NEW coach", "this coach has substituted for us in the past", etc.

    Unfortunately, unethical people exist who will sign the mandated form.