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Keir McDonald MBE
Safety and Welfare

What the Duty of Care in Sport Review means for UK Coaching

Safeguarding in sports is being addressed as a nationwide issue. Raising awareness of good professional practice is essential for advocating young people in sport

In recent years, there has been a steady trickle of news articles around the issues of safeguarding and welfare in sport. While football youth coaches have received the most media attention, the problems stretch much further than this, reaching and affecting both young and old, amateur or professional, coaches and students.

The safeguarding responsibilities of the UK’s coaching community are under scrutiny, but this must be welcomed as an opportunity.

It is a chance to promote the excellent work of coaches across the country, developing a professional practice which better supports every participant in sport.

Sport must remain accessible for everyone and any negative stigma surrounding it needs to be eradicated.

The Duty of Care in Sport Review

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson’s independent review into the duty of care in sport is a positive approach to creating safer and more effective coaching in the UK.

An excellent summary of the document can be found in the news story 'UK Coaching welcomes Duty of Care in Sport', in which the key areas - talent pathways, equality and diversity, safeguarding, and mental health - are outlined.

What is particularly appreciated is the scope of this review. Not only is it aimed at high-profile cases such as the state of care with athletes; it also includes considerations for “self-employed providers and those not falling under a recognised NGB” (National Governing Body).

Furthermore, it aims to promote the wellbeing of both the participants and the workforce involved - something that is essential to a sustainable future for sports coaching.

To improve the duty of care in sport, we must develop professional practice responsibly. The UK’s coaching community encompasses a huge variety of positions. While it may be easier to implement change across the larger NGBs involved in sport, we must consider those involved at every level of coaching.

Improving professional practice

For larger NGBs, it could be an opportunity to consider safer recruitment training as a way to help standardise the ways in which employment is approached. Safer recruitment training goes a long way in promoting standards and ensuring that the best professional practice is followed.

This is especially relevant for NGBs with staff that are not directly involved in sport - that often only employ freelancers for specific sporting requirements. It is not just the coaching community itself that can improve its practices.

Beyond the larger organisations, there are many self-employed coaches and non-professionals with safeguarding responsibilities. Safer recruitment training isn’t necessarily as effective in this situation, so a different strategy must be employed.

Baroness Grey-Thompson suggests that a national coach licensing scheme is developed to help advance a national standard in professional practice.

This is a welcoming idea, but it is crucial that we do not make amateur coaching inaccessible.

We must remember that many youth teams across the country rely on the support of parents and non-professionals. Perhaps more resources could be made available for online duty of care training.

Support systems

Besides improving professional practice, it is essential that the correct support systems are in place to help those in need. It’s of little use to be able to understand your safeguarding responsibilities if you do not have the infrastructure to act accordingly.

The Duty of Care in Sport Review highlights the importance of children’s charities as a space in which child welfare disputes can be solved. Particular weight was also placed on the consideration for an “adults at risk” unit.

You can find many training services for safeguarding adults in sport. However, organisations which offer support networks for adults who have experienced abuse in sport are much harder to find.

Perhaps it is considered an adult’s responsibility to report these situations themselves. But fear is often referred to as the reason people don’t report instances of abuse.

Without the correct support systems, we are doing nothing to address the fear that some have been made to feel.

UK Coaching Duty to Care Digital Badge

Earn our free nationally recognised Digital Badge by demonstrating your thorough knowledge of the five pillars of Duty to Care (Safeguarding, Diversity, Inclusion, Mental Health, Well-being)

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Raises your awareness of the tell-tale signs of abuse, and gives you the tools and confidence you need to deal with any issues sensitively, appropriately and effectively should the need ever arise in your coaching career

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Learn at Home

Three online courses and convenient ways for you to refresh, consolidate and update your understanding of safeguarding with a focus on: Positive Parents,  Digital Kids and Deaf and Disabled children in sport

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Related Learning

  • Code of Practice for Sports Coaches

  • Safeguarding & Protecting Children

  • Renewal: Safeguarding and Protecting Children


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Keir McDonald MBE