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Study: Athletic Coaches Can Combat Dating Violence

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New outcomes of a program launched more than a decade ago indicate that young boys can be coached into being more respectful of girls.

The study published Jan. 13 in JAMA Pediatrics found that teenage boys are less likely to be abusive or sexually violent in a relationship after they've taken part in Coaching Boys Into Men, a prevention program developed by the nonprofit group Futures Without Violence and delivered by athletic coaches as part of sports training.

"Athletic coaches are important mentors and role models for their young athletes," said lead researcher Dr. Elizabeth Miller, professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and director of adolescent and young adult medicine at UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. "This program leverages the important role of coaches as key adult allies and powerful messengers to prevent violence against women."

The program has coaches complete one "training card" a week with their team for three months. The cards offer a scripted discussion that runs about 15 minutes, touching on topics such as disrespectful and harmful behaviors among peers, myths glorifying male sexual aggression, and positive ways to intercede when witnessing aggressive behavior toward girls.

As reported by HealthDay News via U.S. News & World Report, the program enlisted 283 coaches in 2018 alone. Those coaches talked with more than 1,800 athletes on 63 teams in 31 schools and three community programs in southwestern Pennsylvania, researchers said.

This study involved 973 male athletes in 41 middle schools in Pennsylvania. Half the schools were randomly selected to participate in the program. The study ran between spring 2015 and fall 2017, including one sports season and a year of follow-up.

By the end of the sports season, boys in the program were 50% more likely to intervene if they saw a peer being disrespectful toward others, researchers found. This effect persisted through the following year. Male athletes were more than twice as likely to report positive bystander behaviors a year after the program's conclusion than male athletes at schools that did not participate in the program.

Athletes also were more likely to recognize abusive behaviors and better understand their own attitudes related to gender equity — the idea that boys and girls deserve equal opportunities and respect, the authors said.

About two-thirds of the group had ever dated. Among those, the boys who took part in the program had 76 percent lower odds of abuse or sexual violence involving their dates, compared with those who didn't participate.

"Kids are already ready to do what their coach says," said Kathryn Laughon, an associate professor at the University of Virginia School of Nursing. "A coach is often an authority figure and has true respect and is really creating a little community in a way that has historically been toxic. This helps take that energy and turn it into something positive."

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