Jan 9, 2011

Are you crossing the line?

Came across a fascinating article from the Women's Sports Foundation, for coaches to assess whether they are crossing the line with athletes regarding their relationship beyond the coaching one.

They are talking about the dangers of developing a sexual relationship with their athletes, but there is another relationship in youth sports that coaches need to be wary of: the coach-parent relationship.

Especially if you're a recreational or class coach, or if, like me, you coach at the facility where the other skating parents were your peers as your child was growing up, there is a very fine line between being friends and having a professional relationship with the parents of my students, my class roster, and other coach's students. Every time a parent "friends" me on Facebook, it's a huge ethical dilemma. I don't want to disrespect them or hurt their feelings. I don't want a blanket rule "no skating parents" because some of them really are my friends.

So coaches, and parents, here's the self assessment, in its entirety (also here). Try substituting "parent" or "other coach's parent" for "athlete" (and other minor adjustments) and think about, not a sexual relationship, but simply how your actions might appear to that other coach.

Are you crossing a line?

The Women’s Sports Foundation published the following article entitled “Are You Crossing the Line with an Athlete?” on March 11, 1996. Set out partially below, the article contains a self-assessment questionnaire that may prove helpful to the skating professional in determining whether their relationship with their student has crossed a line.

Are You Crossing the Line with an Athlete (Parent/Other coach's student)?

The purpose of this questionnaire is to alert coaches to boundary issues which might be interfering with their ability to work effectively with a team or an athlete. Coaching is an emotionally intense profession. Strong bonds and emotions are part of the job. The line between appropriate and inappropriate behavior is often a matter of intent and context. The following list of questions is intended to help coaches know when they may be extending the boundaries of their role as coach and potentially crossing the line with an athlete.

Check any statements which reflect your behavior or attitude toward an athlete:

1. I often tell my personal problems to this athlete.

2. I want to be friends with this athlete when his/her career ends.

3. To be honest, my physical contact with this athlete is motivated by desires that go beyond an attempt to support and motivate the athlete.

4. I find myself thinking of ways to work individually with this athlete and in special practice sessions which run before or after practice.

5. This athlete invites me to social events, and I don't feel comfortable saying either yes or no.

6. There is something I like about being in the office with this athlete when no one else is around.

7. The athlete feels more like a friend than someone I coach.

8. I have invited this athlete to public/social events which were not team functions.

9. I often listen to the personal problems of this athlete.

10. I find myself wanting to coach practices when I know this athlete will be there and unusually disappointed when this person is absent.

11. I find myself cajoling, teasing, joking a lot with this athlete.

12. I find myself talking a lot about this athlete to other people.

13. I find myself saying a lot about myself with this athlete -- telling stories, engaging in peer-like conversation.

14. This athlete has spent time at my home (other than a team function).

15. I am doing so much on this athlete's behalf I feel exhausted.

16a. I agreed to take this athlete on for a very low fee, and now I feel like I need to be paid more for my work. OR

16b. I agreed to take this athlete on for a very low fee, and now I feel like I need to get more out of this athlete.

17. I find myself looking at this athlete's body in a sexual fashion.

18. I make comments to my athletes about bodies which have no relevance to the sport.

19. Sometimes I worry this athlete is going to get so good he/she thinks he/she doesn't need me.

20. Sometimes I resent this athlete's success.

21. To be honest, sometimes I make demands on this athlete with the intention of limiting his/her social life.

22. I find myself making sexual jokes around this athlete.

23. To be honest, I feel jealous when this athlete spends time with other people.

24. Sometimes I check up on this athlete, wanting to know what he/she is doing when he/she is away from practice.


Coaching involves intense emotional and complicated relationships with athletes. It is difficult to make blanket statements about what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior. Certain items above might not always reflect poor coaching. This self-administered test is offered as a means to locate potential moral and professional dilemmas.

If you checked any of the above statements you may be crossing the line between appropriate and inappropriate behavior. If you are unsure if the behavior is ethical and professional discuss it with colleagues. Self-assessment and peer supervision can help you avoid trouble before it starts.


  1. #9 and #11 are perfectly appropriate and normal. The coach is supposed to be like a third parent. They are supposed to support the athlete and sometimes the athlete needs somebody to confide in.
    #11 indicates a healthy, comfortable relationship. Some younger coaches (mine) are definitely going to be joking around with or teasing their longtime students.

    I think that people clearly know the line, they just deny it to themselves when they're the one crossing it.

  2. Most of the things in this list are the typical "symptoms" of affection. Coaches might deny them because they feel they're crossing the line. And really with a few corrections it describes the situation of making your student a friend. I'm an adult (20 years old I compete in Silver level) skater and in my rink there are only group lessons for the adults. Our coach is great, she can deal with a group of like 10 skaters but she often spends more time with one skater who is her friend. If that skater doesn't get the atention she thinks she needs she acts really bad. We all see she gets more attention than the others and still she complains that she's neglected. We've tried to talk to her but still the problem is unsolved. That's why I always try to keep a little distance from coaches or teachers. I don't think this relationship is good for the skater the coach or the parent.

  3. My first coach became one of my best friends, and my current coach is also a friend, as are some other coaches at the rink. We see each other socially and talk about our daily lives and problems. We're all adults, and the same age, coaches sometimes move far away from home to work, so its naturally for them to make friends through coaching. I don't think it's inappropriate.

    I think it's almost harder for coaches with adult skaters, especially younger coaches. With kids and teenagers the boundaries are clearly. Although the consequences for breaking those boundaries are obviously far worse for younger skaters.