What if we could stop sexual violence before it happens? You may be surprised to know that recent breakthroughs in research have shown that we can. How we do this may be even more of a surprise, as sports are at the center of the solution.

Sports are among of the most dominant cultural influences in the United States, and research has proven that coaches and peer athletes play an influential role in kids' lives — one that can not only transform their attitudes and behaviors toward sexual violence but actually help to decrease and prevent relationship abuse.

I know this because I am one of the people who helped prove it. In my work at Futures Without Violence (FUTURES), I have crafted violence-prevention campaigns that have been adopted in more than 75 communities around the world, focusing on reaching parents, teachers and teens, as well as athletics coaches.
 

Sports' role in my life
As a kid who witnessed my dad abusing my mom, sports offered a critical escape for me.

From Little League to weekend track meets, I had a consistent and caring constellation of adult coaches who looked out for me. Team practices were not only a relief from tumultuous times at home but also a safe space where I learned essential life skills. Sports helped me develop positive relationships that allowed me to thrive both on and off the field.

Informed by my personal experience, my moment of inspiration for the violence-prevention model came out of necessity. We were making progress on lowering rates of relationship abuse among adults in the U.S., but rates among teens remained stagnant. We needed innovation.

Luckily, FUTURES' polling research offered two game-changing insights:

1) Many men felt indicted and not invited to be a part of the solution to stop sexual violence.

2) Men were consistently willing to speak to boys about these issues, sometimes at rates higher than women.

When we realized that coaches consistently rank as one of the top influencers in kids' lives, the idea for our model clicked. I worked closely with coaching organizations to refine our model, and through this process, Coaching Boys Into Men (CBIM) was born. Since then, CBIM has evolved to become one of the only evidence-based relationship abuse prevention programs in the country.

Although "coaching" in CBIM is used widely as a metaphor to engage men from all walks of life and help mould the attitudes and behaviors of boys in their sphere of influence, the program specifically focuses on inspiring athletics coaches to directly address issues of relationship abuse and sexual violence, enhancing a coach's ability to instruct his team on what it takes to be successful in the game and in relationships on and off the field. Simply put, CBIM's core goals are to teach boys healthy relationship- and character-building skills, respect for women and girls, and the overarching message that violence should never be equated with strength.
 

Curriculum for coaches
The CBIM curriculum is built on a series of coach-to-athlete "teach-easy tactics and trainings" that illustrate ways to model and promote healthy choices and relationships among youths. The program guides coaches on how to incorporate the philosophies associated with teamwork, sportsmanship, integrity, fair play and respect into routine practice and strategy sessions.

Before the program begins, usually at the start of the season, the FUTURES staff conducts a two-hour interactive training session with coaches that educates, motivates and empowers them to integrate CBIM principles of nonviolence and respect into everyday instruction through the use of our Coaches Kit curriculum.

The Coaches Kit curriculum consists of a series of 12 weekly coach-to-athlete trainings (roughly 15 minutes each) based on teachable moments — situations that address such things as personal responsibility, use of insulting language, understanding consent and bragging about sexual reputation. The scripts and discussion questions in each training kit invite young men to reflect on realistic, everyday situations. The material provides coaches with the tools necessary to integrate critical discussions into routine practice sessions.

We're hopeful that the CBIM program will continue to broaden the discourse around sexual violence and help young men better understand and deal with their emotions as they relate to the creation and maintenance of healthy relationships. We're already seeing solid results. Most notably, a rigorous study supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the sports-based program that we created has successfully lowered multiple forms of relationship abuse among teens.


This article originally appeared in the November | December 2018 issue of Athletic Business with the title "Can coaches help put an end to sexual violence?" Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.