Child protection for youth soccer coaches

It’s a sad fact that many children are abused sexually, emotionally or physically.

As a soccer coach you are in a unique position to spot any signs of abuse among your children. It is vital, therefore, that you are able to recognise the signs of abuse and know what to do if you suspect anything untoward.

You also have a responsibility not to abuse the children in your care by bullying or criticising them in front of their peers. You must also make sure that you do not expose your children to extremes of weather, leave your children unsupervised, tell them to ‘get on with it!’ when they have been injured or train them in an over intense or in a way inappropriate to their age.

All these are forms of child abuse.

You should find that most clubs have a Child Protection Officer (CPO) whose job it is to brief the club coaches about their responsibilities in this area. But if you are either working on your own or within a club that has no CPO you’ll have to teach yourself about this important and sensitive subject.

Please read the following carefully and always bear it in mind.

Sexual abuse

Both boys and girls can be sexually abused. Abuse can include: full sexual intercourse, masturbation, oral sex, fondling showing children pornographic books or videos or taking pornographic photographs or videos.

Physical abuse

Children can be physically abused by hitting, shaking, squeezing, biting or burning. In soccer, as with all sports, physical abuse may occur when the nature and intensity or training exceeds the capacity of the child’s body.

Physical abuse can also occur when adults fail to meet a child’s basic physical needs. e.g. food, warmth and clothing.

Neglect in soccer might occur if a coach fails to ensure her children are safe or exposes them to extreme weather conditions or potential injury.

Examples of emotional abuse

  • Persistent lack of love or affection.
  • Children frequently being shouted at or being taunted,
  • Over protection leading to poor social skills.
  • Failure to give children love, affection or attention.
  • Leaving children alone and unsupervised.
  • Emotional abuse in soccer may include situations where parents or coaches subject children to constant criticism, bullying or unrealistic pressure to perform to high expectations.

Visible signs of child emotional/physical abuse

  • Fear of parents being contacted, going home or receiving medical advice,
  • Flinching when touched,
  • Refusal to discuss injury,
  • Covering arms and legs,
  • Over reaction to mistakes,
  • Sudden speech disorders,
  • Extremes of emotions,
  • Self mutilation,
  • Unexplained or untreated Injuries,
  • Injuries on unlikely or unusual parts of the body,
  • Cigarette burns, bite, belt marks, or scalds,
  • Poor personal hygiene,
  • Constantly hungry & tired,
  • Inappropriate clothing or dress,
  • Dishevelled appearance,
  • Lonely, no friends,
  • Obviously underweight,
  • No parental support or interest
  • Visible signs of sexual abuse
  • Pain, itching, bruising, or bleeding in the genital area
  • Stomach pains.
  • Discomfort when walking
  • Unexplained sources of money
  • Inappropriate sexual drawings / language / behaviour,
  • Being withdrawn or in fear of one person

If a child tells you something that suggests they are being abused you must understand that this may be the only time the child has built up courage to tell someone what has happened.

Stop what you are doing and respect the child’s privacy. Stay calm and reassuring. Listen to what they tell you. Tell them that whatever the circumstances they are not to blame. Do not react in a way which may add to the child’s distress, e.g. anger or shock. Explain that you cannot promise to keep what the child tells you a secret as you may have to tell someone else.

Do not question the child in depth and do not ask leading questions. i.e. questions that need a “yes” or “no” answer. Only ask questions to establish exactly what was done and who did it.

Tell the child that you are pleased they decided to tell someone and that they are absolutely right to do so. Let the child know that you understand how difficult it is to talk about such experiences.

Inform the Team Manager (unless implicated).

Do not contact parents until you have received advice. Make an accurate record of the time and date and exactly what was said.

Sometimes there may not be any signs of abuse; you may just feel that something is wrong. If you even slightly worried it is your responsibility to act on your concerns and do something about it.

If you suspect a child has been abused you must contact your Local Authority Child Protection Officer or the Police without delay.


It is the duty of all League Management, Referees, Club Officials, Team Managers and any other individuals directly or indirectly involved with member clubs or teams playing in leagues to be aware of and help prevent child abuse.

The children’s welfare is paramount and all children, whatever age, culture, disability, gender or religious belief, have the right to protection from abuse.

All suspicions and allegations of abuse should be taken seriously and responded to swiftly and appropriately.


  • Treat all players and children with respect and dignity befitting of their age,
  • Watch your language, tone of voice and where you put your body.

You must NOT:

  • Engage in rough, physical or sexually provocative games including horseplay
  • Allow or engage in inappropriate or intrusive touching of any kind
  • Allow children to use inappropriate language unchallenged
  • Make sexually suggestive comments to a child even in fun
  • Let allegations a child make go unchallenged or unrecorded
  • Invade the privacy of children when they are changing, showering or going to the toilet
  • Doing things of a personal nature that children can do for themselves. e.g. help with changing.
  • Spend excessive amounts of time alone with children away from others.
  • Take children alone on car journeys, however short.
  • Take children to your home.