Some stories stick to memory for all the wrong reasons. As a reporter for the Omaha World-Herald, I wrote glowingly a decade ago about a non-profit youth horse-riding club formed by a community leader named Vic Putz in Bellevue, Neb. (The weekly in that town had just dubbed him the city's Man of the Year.) It was not long after my article that Putz was charged with sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl who rode horses in the club.
Putz served three years in prison and, despite being a registered sex offender, resumed his role teaching horse-riding to the youth in his community
. He maintained his innocence throughout his trial and prison sentence, despite making statements to police that seemed to suggest he was guilty. Whether he was falsely convicted -- or whether he committed the heinous crime -- one thing is for sure: better safeguards could have prevented anything from happening.
Following the Penn St. child sex assault news last week, a Mayo Clinic expert in Rochester, Minn., offered three reminders to youth coaches and to parents about those safeguards. Max Trenerry specializes in sports psychology and is a soccer coach in Rochester, Minn., and a consultant for U.S. Youth Soccer's Olympic development program. The key to Trenerry's message: coaches should never be alone with their young athletes, even for 5 minutes.
- Make sure that adults are "two deep" for player contact. Meaning: make sure that the adult coach or volunteer isn't alone with the youth athlete and that there is another adult present. That's for the sake of both the athlete and the coach.
- Get background checks on coaching and volunteer staff.
- Maintain appropriate coach-athlete boundaries. For example, it might be reasonable for a coach and parent chaperones to take a team to a college or professional match, but again, an adult is not left alone with youth, etc. Youth athletes never visit a coach's home alone for sleepovers or similar situations. If there are team meetings at a coach's residence, then there should be other coaching staff or parents in attendance. Coaches also don't provide athletes with gifts or favors, and especially don't do so in exchange for favors.