As a coach you have a responsibility to keep children safe and also to protect yourself from safeguarding concerns. To help you we have put together the following top tips for coaches based on complaints the safeguarding team have investigated.
How to spot concerns
There are warning signs that a child is being abused and as a coach coming into contact with a child regularly you may pick up on these signs. Common signs of abuse include:
- Unexplained changes in the behaviour or personality.
- Becoming secretive.
- A child becoming withdrawn and / or seeming anxious.
- Becoming uncharacteristically aggressive.
- A child displaying poor social skills and having few friends.
- A child displaying a poor relationship with their parent / carer.
- Knowledge of adult issues inappropriate for their age.
- Running away or going missing.
- Unexplained injuries
- A child who self-harms.
- A child wearing clothes which cover their whole body at times when it is too warm to do this.
- Talk of a new, older friend and unexplained money or gifts.
- Children playing tennis are at increased risk of the emotional abuse if they are put under too much pressure or receive excessive chastisement for poor performance. As a coach we ask you to be also be mindful of this type of abuse.
If you spot any of these signs in a child, we recommend you get advice from the LTA Safeguarding Team, your club welfare officer and local social services team.
What to do if a child makes a disclosure to you
As a coach you may be in a position where a child makes a disclosure to you about a problem they are having. If this happens we recommend the following:
- Listen to the child and allow them to speak fully.
- Display calm body language. A reaction of shock could cause the child to stop talking.
- Don’t ask them leading questions.
- Reassure them that they have done the right thing to speak to you.
- Don’t promise to keep their disclosure a secret.
- If age appropriate, explain to the child that you will need to report the abuse to someone who can help.
- Report the abuse immediately. If it is an emergency contact the police and / or the local social services team. In all situations please also report the disclosure to the LTA Safeguarding Team and your club welfare officer.
- After the disclosure, make a note of what the child has told you in as much detail as you can remember. Try not to make these notes in front of the child.
- Please do not talk to the abuser about the child’s disclosure. Confronting the abuser could make the situation worse for the child.
Use of social media
A large number of cases investigated by the LTA Safeguarding Team involves the inappropriate use of social media by a coach. We recommend coaches follow these best practice points when using social media:
- Don’t use your personal accounts for professional purposes.
- Don’t be “friends” with anyone under 18 years old who you coach / have coached on your social media accounts.
- Set appropriate privacy levels – remember that others may be able to view children who have ‘liked’ your page or follow you.
- Ensure all posts are professional and avoid posting when angry, emotional or under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Update your settings so any posts can be moderated before they are visible on your wall or feed.
- Avoid communication using apps where your messages disappear (e.g. Snapchat) as this could bring in to question the content of your messages.
- Always ask for permission before posting photos of under 18s on social media.
- When arranging lessons / coaching with under 18s always ensure you arrange with a responsible adult or ensure an adult is copied into the conversations. This could be via WhatsApp group chats.
Photography and filming
- Prior to taking photographs or videos, children and their parents / carers must be asked to provide their written consent and informed how, where and for how long the image / video will be used.
- When taking photographs or videos children should be fully and appropriately dressed.
- When publishing a photograph or video, where possible do not include the name of a child whose image or video is being used. If naming a child or group of children, only use their first names, as this will reduce the risk of inappropriate attention.
- Avoid including other detailed information about children (such as their school, friends and other hobbies and interests) as this information can be used by adults to befriend and groom children.
Supervision at venues
- We recommend that children under the age of 13 are supervised by their parent / carer whilst at a tennis venue and outside of any venue sessions, such as coaching lessons or tennis camps.
- Tennis venues can, at their discretion, opt for a different age but should conduct a thorough risk assessment first.
Physical contact when coaching - techniques
As a coach it is important you only use physical contact when necessary to:
- Develop techniques.
- Treat an injury.
- Prevent an injury or accident from occurring.
- You should always explain the nature of and reason for the physical contact.
- Unless the situation is an emergency, you should ask the child for permission, for example to touch them.
- Contact should not involve touching genital areas, buttocks, breasts or any other part of the body that might cause a child distress or embarrassment.
- Physical contact should always take place in a public environment.
- Well intentioned gestures, e.g. putting a hand on a child’s shoulder, can lead to the possibility of questions being raised by observers.
- Comfort a distressed child or to celebrate their success: There may be occasions where a distressed child wants comfort and reassurance which may include physical comforting. A young person may also want to mark a success or achievement with a hug or other gesture which involves physical contact.
You should use your discretion in these situations and ensure the contact is not unnecessary. Also, please be aware that contact which an adult may feel is appropriate may be unwanted or uncomfortable to a child.
We advise that parents in the first instance are responsible for transporting their children to or from tennis venues and events. It is reasonable to place responsibility on parents for ensuring appropriate transport arrangements are made. Sometimes it may be necessary to transport children for team based events or activities, such as County Cup. In these situations please ensure that:
- Parents are informed of the destination, reason for the journey and who the driver will be.
- Parents complete, sign and return a Consent and Emergency Contact Form. Keep a copy of this with you at all times.
- There are two adults in the car.
- Children are seated in the back of the vehicle at all times.
- There is an established procedure in the event of a breakdown / emergency.
- The driver has a valid UK driving licence, correct insurance, MOT certificate and complies with laws on the use of seatbelts and restraints
- If transporting children in a mini-bus or bus, the driver must also have the correct type of licence.
- Rest breaks are taken every two hours of driving.
- You must ensure you have the appropriate DBS check prior to transporting children – advice can be obtained from the safeguarding team.
Adult-to-child supervision ratios:
- 2 adults for every 8 children aged 10 and under; and
- 2 adults for every 10 children aged 11 and over.
- A minimum of two adults should attend all overnight trips
- You may decide to have a greater adult-to-child ratio dependent on the needs of the children or identified risks. The gender of the supervising adults should match the gender of the children.
- Ensure you have suitable insurance to cover the trip, including baggage, medical cover and emergency expenses.
- Establish and communicate procedures and ground rules to children and their parents / carers before the trip. This should include what to do if they feel unwell, worried or concerned and what is expected in terms of their behaviour.
We recommend following rules for overnight stays:
- Children must not go into the rooms occupied by the opposite gender.
- Children must not engage in inappropriate behaviour or relationships.
- Children must not go into the rooms of anyone over the age of 18.
- Supervisors, or any other adults present on the trip, must not sleep in the same room as any child (the exception to this is if a parent / carer has accompanied their child and opted to share a family room).
- Supervisors, or any other adults present on the trip, must not go into the room of any child unless in an emergency or to conduct a room check.
- Always communicate with parents to ensure they are absolutely clear on the arrangements and ensure consent to those arrangements is obtained.
Maintaining professional boundaries with players
It is a breach of the coach code of conduct to engage in any form of a relationship with a player outside of that of the professional coach/player one. This includes players aged 16 or 17 who are still children as defined by the Children’s Act. Whilst it may not currently be illegal under the law for a sports coach to have a relationship with a 16 or 17 year old child, it is a clear breach of the coach code of conduct and would always be referred to the local authority for investigation.
The LTA are supportive of a change in the law to make it illegal for sports coaches, who are in positions of trust, power and influence to have a sexual relationship of any kind with 16 and 17 year old players. Coaches should be mindful of this imbalance in the coaching relationship and ensure they read the other top tips on this site to protect young people and themselves.
Further advice and guidance can be found online in our ‘Events / competition’ guidance document on the LTA website: