High school coaches can do much more than forge a winning team; a new study suggests they can help male athletes stop dating violence.
A coach can be the most important role model in a young man’s life. And the study finds that the involvement of a coach can reduce the physical, sexual and emotional aggression found in some adolescent romantic relationships.
UC Davis researchers discovered a structured program delivered by coaches, called “Coaching Boys into Men,” discouraged adolescent dating violence.
“The high school male athletes whose coaches delivered this easy-to-implement program reported more positive bystander behaviors, meaning that these boys were more likely to say or do something to stop disrespectful and harmful behaviors towards girls which they witnessed among their male peers,” said Dr. Elizabeth Miller, a member of the faculty of the UC Davis School of Medicine Department of Pediatrics.
“Previous violence-prevention efforts have not generally included coaches as partners, yet coaches can be such important role models for their athletes,” said Miller. “With the right training and support, coaches can encourage their athletes to be positive leaders in their communities and to be part of the solution.”
Unfortunately, one in three adolescent girls experiences physical, emotional or verbal abuse by a dating partner. Experts believe promoting nonviolent attitudes among teen boys toward girls is a critical step to reduce the incidence of violence in these relationships.
“Coaching Boys into Men” (CBIM) is a high school athletics-based program that seeks to reduce dating violence by engaging athletic coaches as positive role models to deliver violence-prevention messages to young male athletes.
The program is nationally based, created by Futures Without Violence, formerly Family Violence Prevention Fund. Coaches are trained in the use of the “Coaches Kit,” a series of training cards that offers strategies for opening conversations about dating violence and appropriate attitudes toward women with young athletes.
Investigators followed over 2,000 young male athletes in 16 high schools in four urban school districts in Sacramento County, Calif., between winter 2009 and fall 2010.
Eight of the schools were randomly selected to receive the program, while the other eight schools served as comparisons. Of the coaches approached, 87 percent agreed to participate in the study.
The 9th- through 12th-grade student athletes who agreed to participate were administered a 15-minute baseline survey at the beginning of their sports season, which assessed their attitudes about dating violence and behaviors toward adolescent girls. A similar survey was administered at the end of the sports season (the study included fall, winter and spring sports).
Survey questions sought to assess teens’ perceptions of abusive behaviors such as “telling girls which friends they can or cannot see or talk to” and “telling them they’re ugly or stupid.”
Responses were assessed using a five-point scale that ranked answers from “not abusive” to “extremely abusive.”
Additional survey items assessed the athletes’ level of agreement with statements such as “If a girl is raped it is often because she did not say no clearly enough” or “A boy/man will lose respect if he talks about his problems.”
Youth were also asked about how likely they would be to intervene when witnessing various abusive behaviors, such as hearing a peer make derogatory comments about a girl’s appearance.
Included in the surveys were questions as to whether the athletes had witnessed any abusive behavior and actually intervened. Young men who were dating were asked whether they themselves had participated in any of 10 abusive behaviors including physical, sexual and emotional abuse toward a female partner in the past three months.
Investigators discovered that 18 percent of the male athletes who had ever dated reported abusive behavior toward a female partner in the past three months, with verbal and emotional abuse being most common.
The study found that the young males who were exposed to the Coaching Boys into Men program said that they were more likely to intervene when observing abusive behavior toward a peer when compared with the control group of teens, while the likelihood that control athletes would intervene diminished overall during the course of the sports season.
Youth who were exposed to Coaching Boys into Men were significantly more likely to report actually doing something to stop disrespectful and harmful behaviors among their male peers, when compared with controls.
“There are too few dating violence prevention programs that have demonstrated effectiveness using a rigorous research design. This study offers important evidence on the violence-reducing potential of a practical program that can be integrated into school and community-based dating violence prevention efforts,” said Dr. Daniel Tancredi, assistant professor in pediatrics at UC Davis and co-investigator for the study.
“This study reminds us that in order to prevent violence before it happens, we need to take advantage of the positive influence that coaches have in shaping young athletes’ attitudes towards women and girls.” said Esta Soler, president of Futures Without Violence.
“We hope these findings will spotlight the importance of dating violence and sexual assault prevention and encourage other schools to implement similar programs.”
The research is published online in the Journal of Adolescent Health.