“I love playing football because it is fun”.
This was one of the most popular responses children gave in a recent national survey conducted by The Football Association. The internet has become part of the social fabric and the way it is used can affect a child’s safety as well as the level of enjoyment the child gets out of sport.
Take the example of John* a 13-year old boy with a proud father who wanted to further his son’s football career. In his determination for John to join a professional academy, the father used a social media website to promote his son to clubs and their scouting network. This may seem innocuous enough as it showcased John’s considerable talent through videos and photos. However, the information uploaded led to the child being groomed by an adult posing as a scout. As a result John was placed at risk of significant harm which had a direct impact on his ability to enjoy the beautiful game of football.
Parents, coaches and children need a safe way of communicating. This ensures that not only are the rights of the child being safeguarded but also that the necessary messages are getting through. Having the ability to communicate effectively can improve players’ and parents’ sense of belonging to a particular club and can also enhance coaching techniques.
Social media can also encourage team spirit but this is an area where additional parental supervision may be required. Children on the same team can form groups on social media websites to discuss games and build a positive sense of belonging. Adult monitoring is necessary to ensure that the online communication is always age appropriate and in the best interest of the child. Monitoring is crucial to avoid problems like cyber-bullying which is becoming all too common among children and young people.
The following are tips of best practice in social networking for clubs in sport:
Coaches, medics and club officials should (unless the child is a direct relation):
- Gain written parental permission before access is given to U18s
- Ensure all the privacy settings are locked so that that the pages are used explicitly for sport matters
- Nominate a designated official to monitor the club/league social networking page regularly and remove access for anyone behaving inappropriately
- Inform the designated official if you have seen inappropriate communications online, keeping a record of any inappropriate, threatening or offensive material as this may be needed as evidence.
Coaches, medics and club officials should not (unless the child is a direct relation):
- Accept as a friend, U18 players or referees on social networking sites
- Make contact with children or young people known through sport outside of the sport context on social networking sites
- Use internet or web based communications to send personal messages of a non sport nature to a child or young person
- Engage in any personal communications, ‘banter’ or comments.
*Identifiable details have been changed
Andrew specialises in safeguarding, child development and sport. He is a manager in the safeguarding team at The Football Association in England and has 15 years experience of working with children as a professional or volunteer. He previously worked with the NSPCC where he completed risk assessments and offered therapy in child abuse cases, worked in frontline child protection teams in various Local Authorities in London and worked with asylum-seeking minors in Malta.
He is a graduate in social work from the University of Malta. He holds a post-graduate degree in International Politics and Human Rights from City University London. He is also an FA qualified football coach. Andrew is married to Angele and together they have a daughter Charley.