Coaches as Violence Prevention Champions
As the graphic details of what occurred one night at an alcohol-fueled party in Steubenville, Ohio come to light, coaches, educators, parents, and youth across the country are asking what can be done to prevent this kind of violence? And why didn’t one of the other young people at the party that night do something? A significant challenge in violence prevention is helping youth to build skills and language they need to stand up and speak out when they witness abusive behavior among their peers.
Futures Without Violence’s Coaching Boys into Men (CBIM) is a research-tested violence prevention program that equips high school athletic coaches to talk with their male athletes about the importance of building healthy and respectful relationships. Administered over the course of a typical athletic season, the CBIM curriculum is easily integrated into coaches’ schedules. The curriculum guides coaches on how to build character and promote positive bystander behavior (skills to interrupt peers’ abusive behaviors) in young men through teamwork, sportsmanship, integrity, and respect. Young male athletes are the focus of the program because of their potential to be leaders in their school communities. Athletic coaches play an influential role in the lives of many young people and are uniquely poised to positively influence how they think and behave when it comes to their relationships.
In our randomized controlled trial conducted in 16 high schools in California with over 2000 athletes and 170 coaches, at the end of the sports season, the athletes receiving the program (compared to athletes receiving regular coaching) reported greater intentions to intervene, increased recognition of what constitutes abusive behaviors, and more frequent reports of intervening as positive bystanders when witnessing peers’ abusive behaviors. In the 1-year follow-up (reported in AJPM), the male athletes who received the program reported less abuse perpetration and fewer behaviors that support or condone violence among their peers compared to athletes in the comparison group. Stated another way, the athletes in the comparison group had an increase in abuse perpetration during the course of the year and also reported more instances when they laughed or went along with peers’ disrespectful or harmful behaviors. CBIM represents a chance to foster a different kind of culture in school communities—one that values respect, integrity, and nonviolence over abuse and disrespect.
While the findings from the research study are promising, the real challenge for our work in violence prevention is how to bring this easy-to-implement program to schools, athletic departments and coaches across the country. Our research team, in partnership with Futures Without Violence, continues to work with schools and violence prevention organizations to identify ways to engage coaches and support program implementation.
As tragic incidents like the Steubenville rape case gain national attention, more and more community leaders are taking a stand against violence. Using sports as a platform for social change, CBIM engages male role models and provides them with tools they need to talk with boys about building healthy relationships. The message is simple: athletic coaches can teach their young athletes that violence never equals strength. The challenge is how best to implement and sustain this program in local communities.