Support for parents and carers about grooming in sport

Taking part in sport helps children and young people build confidence and develop new skills. You can support your child to stay safe and have fun.

Sports clubs and activities can be a great place to make new friends and learn about things like teamwork and healthy competition. Sports coaches and instructors play a big part in lots of young people’s lives and can be excellent role models and sources of support.

However, sport can also create opportunities for adults in authority positions to groom and abuse children in their care. As a parent, it’s natural to feel worried about anything that could put your child at risk. But there are things you can look out for and questions you can ask to help your child stay safe and have fun in sport.

Our Child Wellbeing and Protection in Sport team have put together this advice for parents and carers.

Signs to look out for

These are some signs that a child or young person may be experiencing grooming behaviour:

  • They are spending an unusual amount of time with an adult in their sports club
  • They are receiving preferential treatment from an adult in their sports club
  • Gifts appear that are unusual – like new clothes, sports equipment, a mobile phone or money
  • They begin to spend time with older friends
  • They may begin to develop risk taking behaviours – like staying out late or mixing with people they don’t know
  • They may become secretive
  • They may become withdrawn or start to act differently
  • They might be aggressive or more anxious than usual.

You know your child best and will know what is different or out of the ordinary for them. If you have any concerns, it’s best to speak to someone. Children 1st Parentline is here for you and your family.

Questions that parents and carers can ask a sports club

Don’t be afraid to ask questions of a sports club your child is in or wants to join. They have a duty to keep your child safe and should be there to listen to any worries or concerns you might have. These are some questions you might want to ask:

Sport governing bodies (SGBs) in Scotland typically comply with The Standards for Child Wellbeing & Protection in Sport. Clubs who are affiliated to SGBs may have to meet some, or all, of these Standards or participate in a similar club accreditation scheme, like Clubmark.

They will have to evidence basic safeguarding measures and a commitment to creating a safe and inclusive environment for children and young people.

Where clubs are affiliated to an SGB, parents and carers can also take questions to the lead safeguarding manager of the SGB if you're unhappy with the answers you're getting from the club.

All clubs should have an identified person who leads on child wellbeing and protection. This person might be called a Safeguarding Officer, a Welfare Officer, a Child Wellbeing & Protection Officer or similar.

Their role is to oversee all safeguarding measures at the club and to listen and advise on any concerns that a parent or carer might have. You should be able to easily access that person’s contact details.

All clubs should have an up-to-date child wellbeing and protection policy in place which has clear procedures for dealing with complaints or concerns. You should be given a copy, or shown where you can access it online, when you sign your child up to the club.

All clubs should have a written code of conduct describing expected behaviour of volunteers and participants (including children and their families), to make sure that children and young people have a positive and safe experience in sport.

Any behaviour that breaches codes of conduct should be addressed following the appropriate procedure and in a professional manner by the club or SGB.

All clubs should take necessary measures to make sure their volunteers are suitable to be working with children and young people.

This should include a discussion led by the relevant club representative(s) about the individual’s motive for volunteering and their experience of children and young people. This should be followed up with securing references and PVG checks where suitable. Volunteers should also undertake appropriate child wellbeing and protection training on a regular basis.

As part of your child’s registration, a safe club should ask you to complete a parental consent form. This should ask for emergency contact information, key medical information (any medication, allergies, etc.) and whether there is anything else the club needs to know about in order to help your child get the most out of the sport or activity.

Clubs should welcome parents and carers who want to get involved and should see the value this brings to children and young people.

They may look for parents and carers to attend alongside their child, to watch and cheer on their child or to take up a volunteer role within the club. Clubs who keep parents at arm’s length are not following best practice and you should feel justified to ask why.

All clubs should only use coaches with appropriate recognised qualifications. These qualifications are evidence that the coach is suitably qualified and has the technical competence in the sport/activity to deliver it at that level.

Some sports have licencing schemes which typically require coaches to evidence that their coaching qualification, child wellbeing and protection training and first aid training are all up-to-date.

All clubs should have clear guidelines about appropriate relationships and communication between volunteers, coaches and children and young people. It is not acceptable for coaches to directly contact young people via personal social media accounts or phone numbers, and a safe club will use alternative methods to ensure everyone is protected.

Contact the club’s child wellbeing and protection officer if you have concerns about boundaries not being observed.

We're here for you

Children 1st Parentline is here for you and your family. If you have any concerns you can talk it through with us over the phone or online, seven days a week. 

If you are involved with a sports club and are looking for information or advice on supporting children to stay safe you can email cwps@children1st.org.uk 

If you feel your child is at risk or in danger you should contact the police.