Blog 35: Appropriate relationships in sport

Appropriate relationships in sport
by Shannyn Gillespie
IG: @coachshannyntalks

Sport is a microcosm of society… What does that really mean?  The author believes it to mean “whatever happens in society (good or bad) — will happen in sport”.

Recently, the media has been reporting inappropriate relationships that have sometimes been related to the “Me Too” movement.  Also recently, many sport groups i.e. club, high school, college & internationally have dealt with inappropriate relationships between athletes & coaches (read student & teacher).  This paper’s thesis is to point out overlooked situations by students & athletes as it relates to inappropriate relationships.

Teacher & student

In most of the circumstances below, try to think of a very effective & productive teacher & student relationship as it relates to education in all US school systems from Kindergarten to college & university.  In all of these situations, the goal of the teacher is to impart knowledge of a specific academic discipline so that the student learns & masters the subject being taught.  The teacher, also being a mentor, reports any abuse reported by the student to safeguard the student’s welfare and enhance that student’s learning environment.  The next several paragraphs focus on ideas about inappropriate relationships amongst athletes & coaches.

Coaches dating athletes

This area seems to be straight forward — in no circumstances — should athletes date coaches.  Here are 2 reasons why athletes should not date coaches:

  1. It’s illegal with minor athletes
  2. It’s a conflict of interest

Let’s say the athlete is an adult…  Per rule #2 above, it is still a conflict of interest because the coach’s role is to teach the athlete how to improve in sport & life — while the athletes role is to learn the skills, drills, technique, strategy, etc. to improve and execute what was learned during the training sessions.

Also, when a person is in an authoritative or leadership position, it is a conflict of interest to date anyone whom they hold authority over.  

What is a conflict of interest?

To be clear, here’s what a Google search defines “conflict of interest” as: a situation in which a person is in a position to derive personal benefit from actions or decisions made in their official capacity.

Coaches Education

Coaches Education (usually a certification) is required by most States & high schools prior to coaching while other types of testing may be required by National Governing Bodies or colleges prior to coaching.  This is also straight forward.  However, there appears to be something missing…

Another approach may be warranted due to the many occurrences of inappropriate relationships in sport between athletes & coaches.

Another approach

Below are some other approaches that may help educate athletes & coaches (parents too) about inappropriate relationships in sport between athletes & coaches:

  1. Administrator workshops to coaching staff & parents 
  2. Head coach’s talks to assistant coaches
  3. All school student lectures about relationships in sport
  4. Coaches talks with team about relationships in sport
  5. Reporting crimes, inappropriate relationships by all the above

In the event the coach is not at a high school or college coach (they coach at a sport club or own an athletic club), this type of coach could be required to attend National Governing Body seminars or lectures by the National Administrators via in person or the many internet based media platforms that allow face-to-face discussions.

This list is not exhaustive and may add some clarity to athletes & coaches on how to prevent or report abusive relationships in sport.  Many coaches & athletes may actually view the (current) required testing or certification platforms only once and these ideas offer 2-3 times of listening or viewing this important topic.

Age appropriate

The title of this paragraph is misleading…  This author believes there is no appropriate age for an athlete to date a coach due to the second bullet above in this article i.e. it’s a conflict of interest.

It does not matter if the coach is 19 years old and the athlete is 17 years old — this is still an inappropriate relationship.  It may be hard for a young coach to understand this and this is why it is being written in black & white.  In this case, it’s also illegal because the 17 year old is also a minor.

What about college age athletes?

Bullet number 2 above really addresses this topic completely — it’s a conflict of interest.  The coach’s job is to teach sport.  The athletes job is to learn & execute what the coach has taught.  Inappropriate relationships are not a part of that teaching & learning scope.


Reporting inappropriate relationships between an athlete & coach is the opposite of cover-ups.  This means when a person in a position (athlete, parent, athlete, administrator, organization), who is aware of a crime or inappropriate relationship, reports said crime — it is not a cover-up.  Conversely, when parties are aware of a crime, and do not report crimes or inappropriate relationships, this can be considered a cover-up or covering up the crime.

It is incumbent on witnesses that see or are aware of — crimes in sport — to report them.  However, as seen in the “Me too” movement, many are afraid to report crimes or inappropriate relationships for many reasons (fear, shame, losing job; position; or rank, feelings of guilt, etc.).  

This has been an issue for all parties…

It’s safe to say, now, that people are listening.  Please report crimes in sport (and outside of sport too).  

We care.

We are listening.

Appropriate relationships

For a long time, the author fought this idea that a coach is really in a position to develop a parental relationship with athletes.  But really, a coach is a mentor, teacher, coach, & parental guide — while the parents are away or not present.  In many cases, parents rely on coaches to teach “right & wrong” through the rules of sport with the notion that there will be some carry-over-value or transfer of ideas imparted to the athlete.  In other cases, parents rely on coaches to reinforce what is being taught in their very own homes like: doing things the right way, working smart & hard, and following societal rules.

Growing the sport

It is important that as we teach & coach, we also pay attention to current events.  It is our job to make the oldest sport in the world — the greatest sport in the world.  Let’s all recognize what is going on, make a positive difference, & continue to improve/grow — in all aspects of sport.