Online safety

Last updated: 04 Feb 2021
Online safety

These days when we talk about the internet or ‘being online’, we’re often talking about the use of social media.

Sports organisations, coaches and others involved in providing activities for children and young people are increasingly using social media, as well as their own websites, to promote sport and communicate with members.

What online safety means for sport

Using websites and social media platforms to promote your sport or organisation can have great benefits, such as encouraging a team ethos, sharing information or news to participants, listening to the voices of children and young people and attracting new club members.

However, when young people set up profiles on websites and apps such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok, they share a wealth of information about themselves. If things such as their name, photographs, social activities or hobbies and interests are publicly available, they can potentially be used by adults to identify individual children, gain their trust or groom them for abuse.

Organisations should make sure they use online platforms responsibly, by putting appropriate safeguards in place to protect children from potential risks whilst in their care or communicating with them online.

Potential risks for young people

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

  • making themselves identifiable by posting personal details on social media such as the school they attend or their home address
  • communicating with people they don’t know, including potentially dangerous individuals
  • potential for inappropriate relationships between adults in positions of trust, or influence 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
  • being encouraged to create or share inappropriate or harmful material of themselves or others, including sexting (sexual images or video)
  • glorifying activities such as drug taking or excessive drinking
  • cyberbullying or berating by peers and people they consider ‘friends’ – in sport this can include negative comments or reactions about their performance or achievement
  • access to inaccurate and therefore potentially harmful information
  • encouragement to take part in violent behaviour or harmful trends

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

The below video details some of the potential risks to young people whilst using specific popular platforms and apps. This clip has been taken from our 2018 webinar - Keeping children safe online and is presented by Sam Slemensek, Cyber Crime Adviser at Warwickshire County Council.

Related resources

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

Advice for children and parents

Creating a safer online environment

Creating a safe environment can help keep children safer online whilst keeping in touch and staying up to date with the goings on in your organisation. 

Follow these steps to help ensure a safer online environment for children and young people at your club or activity:

  • create a clear tone for your online content which is welcoming and accepting of young people and their differences
  • have an online safety policy and an acceptable use statement which includes the use of social media for staff and young people
  • reference your online safety policy within your safeguarding policy and make sure staff are aware of your reporting procedures for online abuse
  • 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

Social media best practice

There are a number of ways in which sports organisations can reduce the risk of harm to young people whilst using social media platforms to communicate.

  • develop guidance for staff and volunteers that includes guidance on how to behave online when representing your organisation, adopting professional and personal boundaries and how to respond to inappropriate behaviour. You can include this guidance in your online safety policy and in codes of conduct for staff
  • agree parameters for staff and volunteers on accessing and communicating with young people on online platforms – will this be limited to normal office hours or outside of this? Work devices and/or personal? Parameters may also be different when events are held.
  • develop systems that ensure the transparency of staff’s use of platforms at least 2 members of staff should have access to an account
  • put procedures in place for using video conferencing platforms such as Zoom or Skype (more guidance below). This could include ensuring young people use these platforms with a parent present, and having two members of staff dial in to the session, even if one is only observing
  • ensure young people are kept safe from exposure to inappropriate content by password protecting sessions delivered by video conferencing platforms and ensure only the presenter can share their screen. Meeting invites should not be shared publicly on social media platforms
  • 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 clear guidelines on social media use for young people. This should include an acceptable use statement, writing online behaviour expectations into your codes of conduct for children
  • inform young people who they can contact if they need help on have any questions or concerns about social media

Video conferencing platforms

Video streaming and conferencing platforms such as Zoom and Skype are increasingly being used by sport to deliver online sessions to young people since the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic hit. If this method of delivery suits some coaches, trainers and sports, it’s likely that this kind of delivery will continue in some form long after the pandemic comes to an end.

So, it’s important that organisation and clubs thinks about such platforms when writing their online safety policy and procedure and addresses any additional safeguarding concerns it might bring.

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.

Instant messaging apps

Online messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp pose an increased risk to young people due to their private nature. Like text messages, content, images and videos can be shared privately, or in groups set up by users. These private messages could be used to bully or intimidate young people, expose them to inappropriate content or groom them for abuse.

Sports organisations need to think about how they use these apps alongside public pages and profiles and how there use differs from those on public platforms. Messages should never be sent privately by a staff member to a young person.

It’s important that clear boundaries are set for adults on how they can use these apps to communicate with young members, and also how to respond to reports of bullying from other children. This guidance should be written into your online safety and social media policy and your acceptable use statement for children.

Resources

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

Publications