Online safety

Last updated: 06 Feb 2017
Potential risks and steps to address them

Online technology continues to advance and change the way people communicate and interact on a daily basis.

Sports organisations, coaches and others involved in providing activities for children and young people are increasingly using the internet and social media to promote sport and communicate with them. 

These forms of digital media and communication can provide great benefits. However, they can also pose potential safeguarding risks to children and young people. 

Potential risks for young people

Online safety risks for young people can include, but are not limited to:

  • posting personal information that can identify and locate a child offline
  • potential for inappropriate relationships between adults in positions of trust and the young people they work with
  • sexual grooming, luring, exploitation and abuse, or unwanted contact
  • exposure to inappropriate content, including pornography, racist or hate material or violent behaviour
  • glorifying activities such as drug taking or excessive drinking

Take a look at the NSPCC website for more information about the types of abuse that can happen online.

What online safety means for sport

Communicating with children and young people online can have great benefits for an organisation, from encouraging a team ethos, to gaining new club members.

Unfortunately, having negative experiences online can affect a young person’s enjoyment of sport as well as their performance. Organisations should make sure they put appropriate safeguards in place to protect children from potential risks whilst in their care or communicating with them online.

Creating a safer online environment

Follow these steps to help ensure a safe online environment for children and young people:

  • have an online safety policy and an acceptable use statement which includes the use of social media for staff and young people
  • have specific procedures and specific codes of conduct for young people and staff to follow that outline what’s acceptable behaviour online and what’s not
  • ensure that everyone involved – including coaches, volunteers, administrators, parents and children – understands and complies with their responsibilities within these policies
  • address any instances of misconduct online in accordance with your online safety and social media policy

Related resources

  • see our online-safety resources by clicking on the tab above left (or below, on mobile devices)

Advice for children and parents

Using social media

Social media sites allow users to create their own content and share it with a vast network of individuals.

When young people set up profiles on websites and apps such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, they share information about themselves. If things such as their name, photographs, social activities or hobbies and interests are publicly available, they can be used by strangers to identify individual children.

Find out more about the types of social media networks children and young people are using on the NSPCC's Net Aware website. This website also lists the age restrictions in place for social media platforms. 

Potential risks to young people

The same potential risks that are found online– see the tab above-left (or below, on mobile devices) – apply to social media.

Remember that due to social media’s 24 hour nature, it’s much easier for young people to be subjected to or become involved in negative behaviour and it may be more difficult to get away from.

Additional risks include:

  • cyberbullying or berating by peers and people they consider ‘friends’ – in sport this can include negative comments or reactions to their performance or achievement
  • being encouraged to create or share inappropriate or harmful material of themselves or others, including sexting (sexual images or video)
  • making themselves identifiable by posting personal details on social media such as they school they attend or their home address
  • encouragement to take part in violent behaviour or harmful trends
  • communicating with people they don’t know, including potentially dangerous individuals
  • communicating directly with staff or other adults in an inappropriate way
  • risks of online grooming

What social media means for sport

Social media provides unique opportunities for sports organisations to engage and develop relationships with people in a creative and dynamic forum where users are active participants.

It's widely used to promote sports activities, campaigns and events. Groups, clubs and other sports organisations also use it to communicate with coaches, officials and participants (including young people) regarding club news.

Just like other online platforms, experiencing negative behaviour on social media can have an impact on a young person’s performance and desire to participate in sport.

If not used appropriately, it’s easy for sports organisations to open young people’s identities up to the wrong people and make them vulnerable online.

How to minimise the risks

Organisations should put practices in place to ensure young people are kept safe online. As an organisation you should:

  • be open and transparent in all communications, whether online or by traditional means
  • make sure your use of social media as an organisation is in line with your aims and values
  • ensure staff and volunteers who manage the organisation’s online presence have appropriate training on the types of technology, sites and applications young people use – NSPCC Learning's Keeping Children Safe Online course offers an overview of the platforms used by young people and the risks associated with them
  • address the safeguards that affect young people through clear guidelines for them to follow, as well as informing them of who they can contact if they have any concerns by developing an acceptable use statement and writing online behaviour into your codes of conduct
  • equip young people with knowledge about the risks to them and how to deal with and report any concerns by referring them to Childline’s resources
  • develop guidance and advice for staff and volunteers that include guidance on how to behave online when representing your organisation and how to respond to inappropriate behaviour – you can include this guidance in your online safety policy and in codes of conduct for staff
  • think about how social media is used in your organisation both during activities or events and outside of normal ‘office hours’ and make sure that’s reflected in your policy and procedures
  • reference your online safety policy in your safeguarding policy and make sure staff are aware of your reporting procedures for online abuse

Related documents


The digital world is rapidly evolving – here, we highlight sport-specific resources for safeguarding children online, and point you towards the parts of the NSPCC website where you can keep up with what you need to know about online safety.

Help for young people

  • Online and mobile safety – Childline's advice for children and young people on using the web
  • Report Remove - Childline tool to help young people report a naked image of themsleves online
  • Zipit app – Childline have developed a free app to advice young people what they can do if they're asked for nude photos

Information for parents and carers

CPSU resources

Further NSPCC resources

  • Keeping children safe online course – an online introductory course for anyone working with children, developed by the NSPCC and CEOP
  • Online abuse – guidance on identifying abuse, and where to access relevant support and resources to help
  • Online safety advice – helpful advice and tools you can use to help keep children safe whenever and wherever they go online
  • Sexting – advice on talking to children about the risks of sexting and what you can do to protect them

Other useful resources and websites