One of the complaints in Australia is that we are over governed. The key problem being that successive governments bring in new laws but rarely repeal old ones. Does the same apply in sport? Hopefully we are not as bad as some parts of America.
Just over a week ago there was a story published revealing that a Connecticut volunteer football coach of children in the fourth through sixth grades was fired for punishing a child for allegedly bullying one of his teammates, by making him run laps.
The report claimed that Todd Kennedy, coach of Durham Middlefield’s football team, had said that he had talked to the entire team about bullying, but when he got word that it bullying was still occurring, he spoke to the alleged bully in front of the whole team. The boy reportedly denied the accusation, but Kennedy still had him run a few laps. It is claimed that Kennedy then praised the boy for running the laps without complaining.
Kennedy was first suspended and then fired. The league board questioned his handling of the incident and then telling him he could no longer volunteer.
“They said why did you feel that you were qualified to handle this bullying incident? I’m like because I’m a father,” Kennedy told news station WTNH. Incredibly the Board allegedly voted unanimously that he could no longer continue as a coach. He was not even allowed to talk to the boys he had been coaching for the past two months.
One has to question the whole process and whether the coach has honestly done anything wrong. As he told a reporter from WTNH, he has never been trained as a coach how to handle bullying, so he did what he thought was best when the situation arose.
No doubt many will say this could only happen in America, but how long will it be before something similar happens in Australia. When the introduction of the National Premier Leagues was being debated in Western Australia one state league club, and now NPL side, fired an under 12’s volunteer coach because his views differed from the clubs on what was the best way forward. Again he was not allowed to say goodbye to the children he had not only coached but whose trust he had gained.
It is not just about the coaching aspect. Coaches have the ability to have a huge impact on the lives of young people beyond just the sport.
This writer remembers as a 12 year old being told by the coach to go out and play straight when batting in a school cricket match. After four of five balls I swung across the line and was out. The coach in question grabbed me by my hair as I disconsolately crossed the boundary, marched me behind the pavilion, and I received six of the best with my Gunn and Moore; maybe that was why I switched to Gray Nicolls soon after! It was made abundantly clear that if I was to be a part of the team I had to have the discipline to do what was best for the team. This may appear an incredibly extreme action by today’s standards, and at the time I felt pretty sore about it in more ways than one, but it taught me a valuable lesson and one I have never forgotten. It also made me a far better batsman. In fact looking back I think I was so embarrassed and ashamed I did not even tell my parents of the incident.
Running laps is nothing by comparison. The coach did not, as far as we know, physically threaten the boy, he simply singled him out as a bully and punished him, a punishment that the boy by all accounts accepted. One wonders how the young man feels now knowing that this incident saw his coach sacked. How will his team mates have reacted to this news? It was reported that one mother withdrew her son from the team because she felt the message the board had made was that Bullying was OK.
For every action there is a consequence, and that does not apply just to children playing sport, but to the coaches, and even more so to the rule-makers and decision-makers who are there to safeguard the game as a whole.
In many cases clubs and schools go through a rigorous process to find the best person to fill a coaching role. Here in Australia they now require Police Clearance, as well as Working with children certification, so surely after taking the time to find the person you feel is best suited to the job, these volunteers deserve the trust and backing of those who gave them the job?
The WA Sports Federation has actually just launched an education program called Safe Clubs 4 Kids. This initiative they are hoping will “allow engagement with regional, remote and metropolitan sport and recreation organisations to highlight a few simple steps that may assist in creating a positive, fun and safe club environment for all young people.” Although this is about children feeling safe when participating in sport and building up that trust, this has the potential to have the opposite effect. Hopefully this is not used as a tool and used against coaches. As we have seen in many schools the simple accusation of a child against a teacher, goes against rules of justice and the saying, innocent until proven guilty. Teachers have been suspended while an investigation is carried out, and reputations are ruined, and in many cases good people have been lost to the system.
It is a very sad day when a coach disciplining a player by simply making him run a few extra laps is the one to lose his job, a job he was not even being paid for. If sport is not careful in ten years time there will be no one willing to take on a coaching role. The sporting landscape has clearly shifted but will that shift be catastrophic in the long term?