Apr 13, 2022 • 5 min read
As a coach, you are responsible for creating a safe learning environment for your sports team. A safe environment is one where learners feel physically, emotionally, and socially comfortable. Your athletes should feel protected by thoughtful adults and community members who care about their safety. There are three key areas to consider in creating safety: physical safety, emotional safety, and social safety. In this article, we’ll review how coaches can develop safe environments for their teams.
Creating a physically safe environment.
As a coach, always make sure you can see the entire field or court that you’re practicing on. If a team member has to leave early or needs a restroom break, make sure they notify you first. If possible, have an assistant coach or parent volunteer on site at all times. This will ensure kids are never unattended if you get into a conversation or involved in a play. Keep up with who your players get rides from, how they’re getting to practice, and their family situations. Get to know each player as a full being with family, friends, and other interests.
Cultivating a healthy environment for your athletes.
Make sure you’re up-to-date with concussion protocols, safety trainings, and CPR certifications. Establish a fully stocked First-Aid kit and ensure that it’s easily accessible at all times. Create a go-to emergency plan if a player gets sick, it starts to thunderstorm, or a player gets hurt. If a player is unwell, encourage them to rest or leave early instead of “toughing it out” by continuing to play. If mask protocols are in place, follow them. Prioritize the health of yourself and your players.
A judgment free zone helps to create an emotionally safe environment.
As a coach, it’s part of your job to provide feedback and bring the most out of your athlete. Inherently, there is a bit of judgment in your role. However, you can express support that doesn’t feel judgmental. Encourage your team to support each other with positive language that doesn’t put any one on the team down. Discourage any negative comments about a player’s level of play. Let it be known that you will not tolerate any bullying, belittling, or judgment on your team. Continually praise athletes’ effort, determination, and positive attitude.
Celebrate the efforts behind the achievements.
Athletes will begin to take pride in their performance and in themselves when they feel safe emotionally. One of the best ways to help your team is to not only celebrate achievements, but also their effort and attitude. If an athlete scores, makes a save, or plays great defense, highlight the effort behind the performance. Use phrases like “you really hustled out there” or “your attitude on the field was incredible today”. These compliments encourage the process, versus just scoring goals or making plays. Acknowledge other players with comments like, “you were a great leader” or “I really appreciate you giving someone a ride home.” Praising the process helps all athletes to be seen, supported, and safe in their role on the team.
Foster a socially safe environment through team building exercises.
Social safety is about feeling comfortable with your peer group. Feeling safe is often about trust. An athlete needs to be able to trust you and their teammates. Try team building exercises like a compliment circle or brainstorming a team “problem”. Keep an eye out for any cliques or small groups forming within your team. Be sure to encourage inclusivity with all team members. Notice if you tend to play favorites and give someone else a first shot instead.
Listen to your athletes for input.
Your biggest ally in fostering a safe environment will be your athletes themselves. Are your athletes feeling uneasy about the environment that you’ve already created? Your first step should be to ask them what you could be doing to help them:
No question is too small to ask and no topic should be off the table. As always, you are their role model for how to treat others on the team. Display kindness, compassion, encouragement, and support at all times.
Other ways you can create a safe environment for your sports team:
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