Keeping Your Child Safe in Sport…why it matters to me?

This week is Keeping Your Child Safe in Sport Week (3rd to 9th October), a national campaign run by The Child Protection in Sport Unit & NSPCC. In previous years it has been called ‘Parents in Sport Week’ and is one of my favourite campaigns to support in the year, I’m passionate about lots of issues but this is right up there! The new name for the campaign is to better reflect the mission of supporting and informing parents & carers about the crucial role they can play in encouraging their children to take up sport/activity and to stick at it.

North Yorkshire Sport’s work with the Child Protection in Sport Unit

One of the reasons I love supporting the campaign is because it comes from an organisation I really enjoy working with and getting support from – The Child Protection in Sport Unit (CPSU) who have children and young people and their best interests, at the heart of their work. This has always been really important to me professionally but even more so since having my own children 11+ years ago… (yes, I know I don’t look old enough for that age children 😊). The team at the CPSU are amazing professionals with a dedication to helping children enjoy their sport and physical activity free from harm, in safe settings and to the best of their abilities.

North Yorkshire Sport have been supporters of the campaign since its inception, where we have tried to focus on the positive aspects of parental involvement in sport, the different and crucial roles that parents/carers play (kit washer, taxi driver, physio, coach and their biggest fan), to the positive influence we can have on their enjoyment, talent pathway progression and how long they take part in that activity throughout their life.

As with anything, there are negatives to this, many parents /carers are not supportive of their children playing sport, some try to live their sporting careers through their children and some pile so much pressure on their children to succeed that they ultimately drive them to giving up ☹. Focussing on the positive influence always felt the right way to go for me, given that in my experience, most parents are in this space and doing an amazing job.

My own experiences as a parent of children in sport

Personally, I was really determined to do what my parents did for me… and more. Neither of my parents were hugely ‘sporty’ in their own experiences, but they did recognise how important it was for me, how being active when I was young improved my confidence, self-esteem, resilience, and a range of other aspects to my life, for example; how I gained new friends with similar interests and how happy I was playing sport. They supported me as much as they could, encouraged me to try new things and it all contributed to me making a career in sport & physical activity.

Those that know me, know I have two children who really enjoy taking part in sport, a daughter who commits a huge amount of her time to Gymnastics (a huge passion on hers) as well as playing football for a local team for the last six years, Netball at school and having tried everything from Judo to Rugby League. My younger son loves playing football for a brilliantly supportive local football club, enjoys learning new strokes & skills in swimming every week and this last 12 months has really taken to tennis each week. Each sport does different things for my children, some of their enjoyment comes from personal challenge, some from the teamwork and the sense of belonging they get from being part of a team, some from learning new life skills (e.g. swimming) and some from the sheer thrill of competing & winning. I would go as far as saying that if you made it illegal to play sport, my children would still be doing it. A common thread across all of their activity is how safe they feel taking part an in environments where they feel supported, and their welfare is paramount.

My role in my children’s sporting endeavors

I would like to think that I’m a dad that wants the very best for his kids, a dad that sees all the positive things being active does for their mental and physical wellbeing, a dad who knows that the skills they are developing in sport now will help them grow and develop throughout their adult life and ultimately a dad that is enabling and helping my kids to enjoy themselves as much as possible with their chosen sports and hobbies.

Is it easy playing this role? No, is it cheap?… absolutely not (I appreciate the opportunities that we are able to give our children that many parents are simply not able to give theirs). Its time consuming, hard work, costly and often impacts other aspects of family and social life, from arranging a Sunday lunch to booking holidays to arranging a social night out with friends. But… I see and hear on a weekly basis the positives it’s all having on my children’s lives and how much they enjoy taking part in sport, how safe they feel and how supported and encouraged they feel…. It also makes me feel like I am doing all I can for my children and that is a great feeling to have.

Different roles you can play as a parent

Changing focus slightly, the different roles parents can play in their children’s sporting activities extends beyond the taxiing and paying for things, into roles that are essential to keep clubs going and to run them on a week-to-week basis. At one-point parents were thought of a person to get their coaching badge to help out while their child progressed though the age groups, (which is still essential and happening very regularly) but parents have so much more to offer a club. The skills they have from their working life of accountancy, legal support, planning, fundraising, marketing to name a few, are all valuable skills that can be used to help grow and sustain sports clubs. The clubs I see that can develop, provide more opportunities for people to participate and thrive as organisations are those that embrace parental involvement, make it clear what roles and skills they need them to fulfil, and they make sure they contribute to a positive environment for their children and for others.

Keeping your child safe in sport e-learning course for parents

Positively engaging parents helps bring clarity to the behaviours that a club expects them to display and sign up. They can be really powerful in turning a paper ‘Code of Conduct’ into values that people abide by which in turn helps to create a positive, safe environment for young people. When parents know what’s acceptable and what isn’t, often we see fewer welfare incidents and happy children expressing themselves on the pitch/court/pool etc. There is lots of advice and guidance by the CPSU on this, including a great Keeping your child safe in sport e-learning course for parents, highlighting knowing when something is wrong, poor practice vs abuse in sport, recognising the signs, listening to children and speaking out in sport.

You can support the Children in Sport Unit’s campaign

It’s important to me to support and amplify the CPSU Keeping Children Safe in Sport campaign to help other parents & carers get involved if they are not already, to help clubs and settings realise how beneficial it is to have parents involved across aspects of club life and to help spread the word about keeping children safe in sport and how to raise concerns if there are concerns. Have a look at the CPSU Keeping Your Child Safe in Sport Campaign if you haven’t already, a brilliant campaign to add your support to 😊

Damien Smith
Head of Development

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