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Warning Signs of Sexual Abuse by Coach of Child

Suspicious behavior by coach, unexplained behavioral changes in child, physical signs may indicate abuse

Coach's behavior: signs of possible abuse

Experts say that if the answer to any of the following questions is "yes," a coach may be sexually abusing a player.

  • Does your child's coach make her feel like she needs him in order to succeed?
  • Does your child's coach spend time with you in an attempt to win your trust or try to be a surrogate parent?
  • Does your child's coach act differently with her when in front of others?
  • Does your child's coach try to control her (even off the field)?
  • Does your child's coach try to separate her from her teammates or other sources of support, like you or her friends?
  • Does your child's coach spend a lot more time with her than with other athletes?
  • Does your child's coach try to be alone with her?
  • Does your child's coach give her gifts?
  • Does your child's coach tell her not to talk about personal encounters the two of them have had?

"A teenager can stop sexual harassment before it starts," says Todd Crosset, an assistant professor of sports management at the University of Massachusetts - Amherst and a leading expert on coach-athlete relationships. "Abusive coaches will test the waters, but if you put up any sort of resistance, they'll back off."

Behavioral and physical signs of abuse

  • Behavioral Changes: Your child may not always tell you there is a problem. You know your child best, so be aware of unexplained behavioral changes such as:
    • Sudden aggression
    • Quitting the team or being reluctant to return to the sport activity
    • Sleep disorders
    • Emotional disorders
    • Sliding grades
    • Changes in appetite
    • Fear of washrooms, locker rooms, or closed doors
    • Running away
    • Sudden interest in sex disproportionate for their age. It is important to note that sexualized behavior in children is the result of sexual abuse, not its cause.
    • Reluctance to talk
    • Frequent vomiting
  • Physical Signs: In some cases, there may be obvious physical signs of abuse, such as:
    • Bruises
    • Scratches
    • Inflammation
    • Lesions
    • Bleeding
    • Genital injuries
    • Sexually transmitted diseases
    • Pregnancy

Reporting abuse

Be vigilant and talk to your child. If you see one or more of these signs, it does not automatically mean that your child has been abused.

Remember, though, if you have reasonable grounds to suspect that a child may be the victim of sexual abuse, you must report it immediately to your local child protection agency or the police.


Brooke de Lench is the Founding Executive Director of MomsTeam Institute of Youth Sports Safety, Inc. and the SmartTeams program initiative, author: Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of Mothers in Youth Sports (Harper Collins) and Coalition Member: UNICEF International Safeguards of Children in Sports. de Lench writes and speaks often on the topic of Preventing Sexual Abuse in Sports.

Most recently revised June 3, 2014 
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