Information for parents

Last updated: 20 Jul 2021
Speaking out in sport

Parents play an important role in their child’s sporting life, both when things are going well and by supporting them if something's wrong.

Your child might come to you with concerns about something that’s happened to them or something they’ve witnessed, in which case it’s important for you to address these concerns and raise the alarm with the right people.

If you're worried that your child is being abused or put at risk during sports activities, it's vital that you talk to someone.

  • If you’re worried about your child or something they’ve witnessed, talk to them and listen to any worries or concerns they might have. Try not to be dismissive, judgemental or blame anyone. Have an open mind.
  • Don’t panic, however small or large the worries or concerns may be, someone is available to help you.

  • if you’re unsure who to speak to, the NSPCC helpline can support you and advise you on what to do next - call 0808 800 5000
  • every club should have procedures in place for dealing with concerns, and you can ask to see these. This will help you to follow the processes in place and feel confident to make a report

  • speak to the club’s child protection, safeguarding or welfare officer and discuss your concern, ask what happens next and how your child will be supported going forward
  • let your child know that you’ve acted on what they’ve told you and that they can come back to you again if they need to

If you think a child is in immediate danger of abuse, contact the police on 999

The idea of speaking out about abuse or poor practice in a club can be daunting but the services above are designed to help you if you have any concerns at all.

By taking action, you'll be safeguarding the child concerned as well as helping to prevent other children being harmed or put at risk.

Related information for coaches and clubs

Advice and resources to help coaches and clubs engage with parents in sport can be found on our Parents in sport topic page.

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How to spot abuse

Knowing when something is wrong

Sometimes spotting abuse or poor practice might not be as simple as your child telling you about something that’s bothering them and that’s why it’s vital that all parents are aware of and can spot the signs of abuse.

These are just some of the common signs children might display if they are experiencing abuse or there’s poor practice taking place in their sport.

There might be:

  • unexplained changes in behaviour
  • a change in the way they talk about their sport or a member of staff
  • anxiety about taking part in a sport they once enjoyed or attending practice
  • mention of negative things they’ve seen or heard happening to other children in the team
  • changes in diet or a sudden concern about their weight or appearance
  • frequent communication, either online or in person, with a coach or other member of staff outside of the sports setting that isn’t about practices or competition planning
  • unexplained gifts or favours from coaches or other staff members
  • increased levels of stress to achieve or perform well

Is this abuse or poor practice?

Sometimes spotting poor practice or abuse in sport can be tricky. There’s some common misconceptions that certain practices are part and parcel of that sport’s ethos and might be the key to success.

Poor practice

Poor practice refers to behaviour from a coach, volunteer or member of staff that causes a child distress or harm but might not meet the threshold of abuse.

Poor practice can be subtle or happen over a long period of time, making it less noticeable and difficult to decide whether it’s something that needs to be addressed.

Some examples of what poor practice might look like are:

  • pushing a child to train or perform on an injury or whilst unwell
  • shouting, berating, humiliating or bullying
  • not providing adequate or safe equipment or spaces for children to use
  • pressuring a child to drastically change their diet, lose or make weight, or follow an unhealthy diet plan
  • excluding a child, or failing to make reasonable adaptions for them to participate
  • setting unrealistic expectations for a child
  • failing to safely supervise or support a child

As a general rule, if your child is distressed, in physical pain or in danger, these kinds of practices are not acceptable and although they may not cross the line into abuse, they’re examples of poor practice and should be addressed before further harm is caused.

Abuse

When poor practice steps over the line into abuse, it can become a criminal offence and the appropriate agencies may need to become involved to address it.

There are 4 main types of abuse. Detailed information about these are available on the NSPCC website by clicking these links:

On the CPSU website, we also cover what abuse in a sports context can look like and give examples of how these types of abuse might occur.

If you suspect any of the above instances of poor practice or abuse are taking place in your child's sport, follow the advice on our Speaking out in sport section. 

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Making sport safe

Supporting your child in sport can mean lots of different things, washing kits or being their personal cheerleader or taxi driver. But it also means making sure their sport is a safe place for them to enjoy.

Choosing a sports club should be similar to choosing a nursery place or school. You’ll need to think about whether you and your child feel comfortable there and that the right things are in place for them to attend.

Any good club or activity should have certain things in place to make sure they’re taking care of children during sessions, practices and any away trips and competitions.

You should feel confident asking a club about any of the points below. Remember, you have a right to know these things and any good club will be happy to let you know what they have in place.

Quick checklist

Every club should:

  • let you see their policies and procedures on how they deal with any concerns raised about poor practice or abuse
  • give you the name of a welfare or child protection officer in case you have any concerns
  • show you written standards for good practice, such as a code of conduct for staff and volunteers
  • ask you to provide essential medical and emergency contact information, and get your consent for your child to participate
  • be able to let you know about what they have in place to make sure their staff are safe to work with your child

What clubs should have in place

A safeguarding policy

Clubs should have a safeguarding policy, which outlines their commitment to protecting children and a clear procedure for dealing with concerns of abuse or poor practice. You should be able to see a copy of this policy.

A club welfare officer

Every club should have a welfare or child protection officer who you can contact if you have a concern about how your child or any other child is treated during their time at the club.

This person should not only be able to help you if you have a serious concern but should also be able to advise you on other issues like bullying, discrimination, other parents’ behaviour or poor practice.

If a welfare officer can’t help you, they’ll hold the contact details for services that can, and will point you in the right direction.

You should receive this person’s contact details when you join. If you don’t, their details should be available from any coach, or be displayed on the club’s website or in their venue for everyone to see.

Codes of conduct for staff, children and parents

There should be a written code of behaviour (or conduct) showing what is required of staff, volunteers and participants.

The club should also have clear rules on what's appropriate and inappropriate when it comes to the relationships they build with your children.

Clubs should use these codes to address any poor behaviour but you can use them too. If you witness something that makes you uncomfortable, it's always advisable to check your club's code of conduct to see if any specific rules might have been broken and raise these with the club. 

Safeguarding training for staff

All staff working with your child should have had some level of safeguarding training as well as some technical training to make sure they have the knowledge to instruct others in that sport.

The level of safeguarding training they need depends on the type of role they have and the frequency of involvement they have with children. 

Safe ways of recruiting staff,  including criminal records checks

All staff should be subject to something called 'safer recruitment processes', which means that they’ve been interviewed, the organisation has seen references, and Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) or criminal records checks for working with children have been carried out where applicable.

Consent and emergency contact details

We advise that any child under the age of 16 requires a parent's consent to join a club or activity.

Part of giving your consent should mean that you’re aware of the kind of club you’re sending your child to and that you’re comfortable letting them attend.

As part of your child's registration, you should also be asked for emergency contacts, key medical information (allergies, asthma, and so on) and whether there is anything else the club needs to know about in order to help your child get the most out of taking part.

Rules on how many adults there are per child

The number of adults in charge at an activity can vary, depending on the age of the children and the type of activity. Whoever oversees that particular sport or activity, such as a National Governing Body or Active Partnership will have recommended supervision ratios in place. If you're not sure there's enough adults leading an activity, you can always check with these organisations. 

It's always recommended that more than one member of staff or volunteer is present when in charge of young people.

Arrangements for away games and competitions

The club or organisation running the event should let you know about the event arrangements in advance, including transport to and from the venue and any hotels or accommodation.

If it's a long way from home, you should be given a contact number to use in emergencies.

In these instances, you can expect the same level of information about any trips away as you would when your child goes away with school.

Basic levels of health and safety

Make sure that the premises are safe and look well kept. The organisation should have guidance on first aid (and ideally a qualified first aider) and should have the following available if an accident happens:

  • first aid box
  • a way of reporting and responding to injuries or accidents
  • arrangements to administer medication to children if that’s been agreed with you beforehand
  • If your child needs help with using the toilet, changing, feeding or their medication, you should discuss and agree how these personal care needs will be taken care of 

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Supporting your child in sport

Parents play a big role in encouraging children to take part in and stay in sport, which is important if we want our children to live healthy and active lifestyles.

We know that it can sometimes be hard to know how to best support your child in sport, especially during tough times like competitions, so we’ve written some pointers to help.

How you can support your child emotionally and practically:

  • make sure your child has the kit and clothing they’ll need for sessions, practices and competitions
  • children often need some help to get to and from their sport; if you can’t provide this all the time, speak to relatives or other parents in the sport to see how you can support each other
  • you might want to help out at the club as a volunteer or by taking part in fundraising activities
  • put forward any helpful suggestions about how to improve things at the club as well as voicing any concerns
  • make sure you’re only shouting encouragement from the sidelines, not criticism
  • respect officials’ and referees’ decisions – they’re often volunteers themselves and need your support too
  • ignore or, better yet, report any negative behaviour from other parents or spectators – keep the atmosphere positive
  • have confidence in coaches and staff, stay off the pitch and let them help your child develop their own skills
  • remember that winning isn’t everything – encourage your child to be there to have fun as much as to win
  • listen to your child – if they’re not happy, ask them why and what you might be able to change together to make them feel better about taking part
  • let them know you’re proud of them for many different reasons, not just what spot in the team they’ve got or what time they’ve beaten
  • understand that children may feel stress or anxiety regarding sports training or competitions. Let your child know that you understand this, and that it’s ok.
  • A child should not be forced to participate in any sport if this is causing them high levels of stress or anxiety. Remember that a child should have a choice, and always talk to them about what they feel able or want to do.

Challenging times

Competitions and elite sport

If your child is more serious about their sport, they may be on their way to becoming a rising young athlete.

Whilst involvement in sport is usually a positive experience, there may be times when children feel the pressure to perform to achieve their goals and might need your support a bit more than usual.

Before, during and after competitions, it’s a good idea to reinforce those positive messages about how proud you are or about the importance of just taking part.

Ask your child is there’s anything specific they’d like or need before or during competitions to help them, such as quiet time or time out to relax.

Make sure you’re taking time out too; competitions can be just as stressful for parents as they can be for children. Try to stay calm and help out where you can.

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Further information and resources

Here we provide leaflets and videos to give you more information, as well as links to organisations for further help.

Services that can help support you and your child

  • NSPCC – safeguarding advice, guidance and resources for parents and families
  • Childline – support and information for your child on a range of different topics from managing emotions to staying safe online
  • Young Stonewall – a branch of Stonewall UK designed to offer support and advice to LGBTQ young people
  • Anti-Bullying Alliance – an anti-bullying charity with advice and tools for parents
  • Gendered Intelligence – support for trans young people and their parents
  • UK Anti-Doping - support for parents with children on the talent pathway regarding clean sport

Further information and resources for parents

Here are some resources you might find helpful when it comes to supporting your child in sport, and which you might want to share with other parents.

Videos for parents

These videos, created by the CPSU, highlight the positive role you can play as a parent to support your child in their chosen sport.


Messages for parents of young athletes

The key for being involved in your child’s sport and to help them enjoy participating and achieve success is simply this – talk to your child.


In their own words – a video from young people about parental involvement in sport

In these short videos, young people talk about the support they've received from their parents to get involved in sport. They also offer some key messages to parents about the kind of support you can offer.


The importance of parents in sport

It's really important that you get involved and support your child in sport. Don't let media stories about 'pushy parents' put you off.


My magic sports kit

Children in different sports describe how they seem to be magically transformed into professional adult athletes when they compete. In this video, they remind parents to just treat them as kids having fun: "It's our game, not yours."


The role of parents in supporting children and young people in sport

As a parent, you’re a role model for your child to get active and enjoy sport. You show them how to be a good sportsperson and help them deal with the emotions of winning and losing, and how to react positively in different situations.


More videos

You can find more videos covering a wide variety of topics on the NSPCC YouTube channel.

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