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How Coaches are Key to Stopping Student-Athlete Violence

Ernie Shannon's picture

Where parents have fallen short or proven incapable coaches may make the difference in the lives of young men. Today’s Journal of Adolescent Health is reporting a University of California-Davis study shows athletic coaches in a unique position to help boys become responsible men in relationships and dating.

High school athletes tend to employ a high level of emotional and physical aggression towards young women affecting at least one in three teenage girls, some research reveals. The UC Davis report says when athletic coaches intervene and use structured programs such as “Coaching Boys to Men,” adolescent violence declines significantly.

“The high school male athlete whose coaches delivered this easy-to-implement program reported more positive bystander behaviors, meaning these boys were more likely to say or do something to stop disrespectful and harmful behaviors towards girls which they witnessed among their male peers,” said Elizabeth Miller, a member of the faculty of the UC Davis School of Medicine Department of Pediatrics. “Previous violence-prevention efforts have not generally included coaches as partners, yet coaches can be such important role models for their athletes,” Miller said.

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The UC Davis study was conducted among more than 2,000 young male athletes in 16 high schools in four urban school districts in Sacramento County, California between 2009 and 2010. Among the schools, eight were administered the “Coaching Boys to Men” program while the remaining eight served as comparisons. Some 87 percent of coaches agreed to participate in the program and the student-athletes were young men in grades nine to 12. The study consisted of a 15-minute survey administered at the beginning and the completion of the athlete’s season of competition.

Questions in the survey explored whether the athletes approved telling girls which friends they can or cannot see or talk to and accusing them of being ugly or stupid. Other questions assessed attitudes about rape and whether females didn’t say “no” clearly enough; whether a young man would intervene when witnessing abusive behavior; and if the boy felt he would lose respect if he discussed his concerns.

Researchers at UC Davis say they are hopeful that the coaching program will change behaviors among athletes who tend to be violent. The results found that young men exposed to Coaching Boys to Men were more likely to step in when witnessing abusive actions.

“There are too few dating violence prevention programs that have demonstrated effectiveness using a rigorous research design,” said Daniel Tancredi, assistant professor in pediatrics at UC Davis and co-investigator for the study. “This study offers important evidence on the violence-reducing potential of a practical program that can be integrated into school and community-based dating violence prevention efforts.”