Long before the advent of current public and media attention to accusations of violence against women by some high profile National Football League players, the Minnesota State High School League began the process of developing educational curriculum to assist high school coaches with educating their athletes about the problem of violence against teenage girls.
The curriculum is one of several educational modules that all coaches working with athletes in grades 9-12 must take. It is titled Coaching for Change: A Game Plan to Prevent Violence and was created in partnership with the Sexual and Domestic Violence Council of Anoka County, Men as Peace Makers, the Gender Violence Institute, and the Men’s Action Network. Funding was provided by a grant from the Greater Twin Cities United Way.
The module was available for fall sport coaches this year and thus far nearly 9,000 coaches have completed it, with an additional 15,000 recipients expected by the end of the 2014-15 school year.
“Sexual and domestic violence are difficult topics to understand and discuss, and there are few coaches who are trained to deal with these topics effectively,” explained Jody Redman, associate director of the League. “If we expect coaches to challenge the current status quo and immerse their programs in a counter-cultural belief system, we must provide them with consequential and ongoing professional development and support so they are prepared to address these issues effectively.”
The goal is to create a heightened awareness of a team’s culture and the social norms that are shaping student athlete’s attitudes and behaviors related to teen dating violence, sexual assault, and sexual harassment. With this increased awareness, coaches can positively impact the lives of their athletes.
Coaches will learn basic strategies that will help them address these tough issues as they arise and proactive approaches they can use throughout the year.
The education module first introduces coaches to the socialization of boys. Former NFL defensive lineman (Baltimore Colts and Detroit Lions) Joe Ehrman narrates this portion of the module, including what he dubs the three scariest words that every man has heard in his lifetime: “Be a man!”
Ehrman, the author of InSideOut Coaching: How Sports Can Transform Lives, a book whose principles form the framework for the League’s Why We Play initiative, explains that boys are taught to separate their heart from their head. He believes that boys and men measure their masculinity based on three myths:
1) Boys learn by ages 7, 8 or 9 that masculinity is measured on the athletic platform by their ability and skills, their size and their strength.
2) By the time boys reach seventh, eighth or ninth grade, many believe their masculinity must be measured by sexual conquest.
3) And later in life, the primary measure becomes economic success.
“We need to reframe sports,” Ehrman explains. “We need to redefine what it means to be a coach. We need to rewire the broken men who have separated their hearts from their heads. They’ve got to get connected again.
“And then we’ve got to do the preventive work, give every boy affirmations, validation of all of their feelings.”
Although some forms of abuse may appear harmless, they indeed are not. The types of behavior that must be addressed can range from emotional abuse, to controlling behavior, to sexual harassment, to sexual assault, to physical assault.
Staggering statistics are offered. According to the 2010 Minnesota Student Survey and the 2008 Minnesota Crime Survey, one of every four teens have or will experience dating violence and that one of every five girls will become victims of sexual abuse before the age of 18, with that ratio increasing to one in three by the time they reach mid-life.
The preventive work is at the heart of the League’s Continuing Education Requirement (CER) for coaches. This module, estimated to require just 45 minutes of a coach’s time, presents a number of different scenarios that coaches could face, along with several options on how to respond, and then the most appropriate response must be chosen.
Coaches are encouraged to think differently about what they are teaching young people regarding honor and respect. There is no single right way to teach these values, they are told, adding that with any message that matters, they will need to find their own voice and deliver their message in an authentic way.
The appropriate responses to the scenarios presented always require immediate attention and usually face-to-face conversations with both perpetrators and victims. In some cases, issues must be referred to administrators, and in many cases referrals to counseling are paramount.
A number of possible proactive prevention actions are offered. Number one on that list is very simple: “Add respect to your team rules.” Coaches of boys’ teams are also encouraged to create this culture by supporting the success of a girls’ team, or incorporate a female role model into a practice, game or team event, or host an event to honor the women important in the lives of the boys on their team.
“All who are involved in a student’s education must understand the purpose of WHY WE PLAY and what we want students to acquire through participation,” Redman adds, “which includes providing them with an environment where they are developing appropriate beliefs and ideals around their identity, sexual harassment and violence.”