Following a safeguarding issue, it's inevitable athletes will be affected in some way for some time and the impact and coping strategies will be different for each individual. Some will display anger, whilst others may become withdrawn and internalise their feelings and emotions.
Prioritising wellbeing will be crucial, alongside monitoring for signs that the situation is becoming overwhelming.
Trust is one of the main areas affected by abuse. When an athlete is abused by an adult they once admired or respected or someone in a position of authority, their trust can be shattered. This can affect their ability to trust others, including friends and future relationships. In these situations, it's crucial to have a trusted person to turn to for guidance and support and a support network with people who care about their wellbeing.
Getting professional counselling can be extremely helpful. Sharing their story and emotions with an impartial and uninvolved person allows them to release the burden. In an ideal scenario, athletes should always have access to professional assistance. They'll probably find it challenging to reveal the complete extent of their abuse to their parents, which may leave their parents uninformed about the actual harm done. Athletes may find it easier or only possible to speak out more openly about their abuse with someone they perceive as impartial, such as a counsellor.
Channelling anger and frustrations to achieve wins and personal bests can be an extremely positive approach. Striving for and achieving success can be immensely powerful and feel like a win against the abuser.
When a training group is affected
Safeguarding issues that involve a coach can sometimes impact an entire training group/team. In these scenarios, training partners can be significant support for each other. Knowing they will all be dealing with similar feelings and emotions provides a common bond with each athlete, knowing the others understand the challenges they face. It's important to understand that members of the group might be affected in different ways and to different degrees.
Helping Another Athlete
Understand that this will be an incredibly difficult time for them and that they could be affected in many different ways.
Encourage them to open up but be aware that this might be very difficult for them. If they don't want to talk, ensure they know you will be there for them and ready to listen when they are ready.
Overcoming this form of adversity might require professional help in the form of counselling. Encourage them to reach out.
Self-care will be important for wellbeing but is often the first thing to be dropped in these situations. Encourage them to take care of themselves physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Remind them that they are not alone and that support is available.
Take Home Points
Victims can experience many emotions following abuse. Anger is a very common one.
Trust issues will inevitably follow.
Channelling anger and frustrations to achieve wins and personal bests can be an extremely positive approach.
Note: We have used the word ‘coach’ as a relatable example to represent anyone who performs/attempts abusive behaviours within a sporting context.
It’s important to understand that the vast majority of coaches, support staff and volunteers are genuine, lovely people who often give their time and expertise free of charge… and only want the very best for you.