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  • Norman Brook

Athlete Voice - A Safe Sport and Performance Sport Issue

Updated: May 14

The right of every child to express their views, feelings and wishes in all matters affecting them, and to have their views considered and taken seriously, is not just a safe sport issue but also a performance sport issue.



The rights of children are set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which has been ratified by almost every country in the World. A child is a person under the age of 18 years.


Article 12 of the convention concerns respect for the views of the child and gives every child the right to express their views, feelings and wishes in all matters affecting them, and to have their views considered and taken seriously.


In sport, we are not really that good at respecting the right of the children we coach to express their views, feelings, and wishes, nor do we tend to consider their views and take them seriously.  Sport for children and young people is led by adults, who usually think they know better than children or young people, and dictate training and competition activities.


In sport, the norm is often a directive style of coaching where children are told what to do. Coaches take little time to listen to the views, feelings, and wishes of the children and young people they work with.  Sessions are planned with little input from children or young people attending the sports activities.


This type of approach is not conducive to establishing a safe sport environment, where children or young people who are experiencing harassment, abuse, or exploitation, feel they can come forward and share their concerns with a trusted adult at the sports club.

It is also not conducive to achieving success in sport as we need to develop athletes and players that can make informed decisions on and off the playing field.


British Triathlon has enjoyed some considerable success in recent years with their triathletes winning no less than eight Olympic medals from 2012 onwards. Their athlete development framework is designed around a set of principles that align with British Triathlon’s core values on talent development and coaching practice. The framework focuses on developing more than just swim, bike, and run. They seek to create independent learners and problem solvers, athletes capable of consistently making the right decisions at the right time.


This successful British program is one where the philosophy is about creating “engagement” and adding value to the athlete or coach’s delivery.  Engagement requires listening to the views, feelings, and wishes of athletes, considering and taking their views seriously.


I recently had the opportunity of interviewing the Head of Football for a group of international football academies.  He expressed his desire to develop young players who were both team players and individuals who could make informed decisions both on and off the football pitch. At the heart of this approach was “engagement” with the players before, during, and after each training session.


We can see that implementing article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is not just a safe sport issue but is also a performance sport issue. Sports organisations and coaches need to ensure the children and young people they work with can practice in a safe sport environment and can develop as independent learners and problem solvers, athletes capable of consistently making the right decisions at the right time.  To do this we need to use approaches and coaching styles that reflect article 12 of the convention and give every child the right to express their views, feelings and wishes in all matters affecting them, and to have their views considered and taken seriously.

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