A couple years ago, I was recruited to help coach my son's football team, which is sponsored by a Catholic church. Before the season started, my fellow coaches and I were required to complete a church program called Virtus, which entailed spending a few hours going over the telltale signs of childhood sexual abuse and what to do should any become evident. There were also stern warnings about never being alone with a child and permission to view with suspicion those adults who seem to be looking for those opportunities.
For parent volunteers these days, submitting to a criminal background check has become standard operating procedure. And many youth programs require that parents sign up to be a second or third adult to hang out and observe practice.
The unfortunate truth is that youth sports - along with Boy Scouts and other extracurricular clubs - occupy that area of a kid's life that also attracts sexual predators. Coaches assume a role between teacher and peer, someone who can teach jump-shots as well as elaborate fist bumps. And while the recent allegations of sexual abuse at Penn State mean those who eagerly volunteer to work with kids will be viewed with a little more wariness, the good youth programs already have plenty of checks in place.
The systematic abuse that allegedly took place and was covered up in State College is avoidable, but parents have to give themselves permission to ask some awkward questions and be prepared to switch teams and deal with disappointed kids if they don't get satisfactory answers. Good coaches and program directors, many of whom are concerned parents themselves, won't avoid the opportunity to address this troubling issue.