Sport and recreation organizations across Canada are working to ensure they are providing safe environments for athletes. They know they need critical policies and training, but there’s something else that’s important too: engaging their athletes.
After speaking extensively with leaders in sport and recreation we found that athletes are easily the most underrated stakeholders in the field. Most often, coaches and parents are the ones who receive training, communication and provide feedback regarding an athlete’s experience, even at elite levels. But how are the athletes being engaged? Where are their opinions and insight? In what ways can sport and recreation organizations become more intentional about connecting with athletes to better understand, assess and monitor their experiences?
Organizations that intentionally engage athletes are better able to mitigate risk, live their values, increase accountability and retention, and alleviate societal issues when they arise. This has never been more applicable than it is today.
Following several allegations and convictions in the sport sector, Canada’s Minister of Science and Sport and Persons with Disabilities, the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, announced new measures in June 2018 to eliminate harassment, abuse and discrimination. She also called on sport leaders to take action immediately: “The safety and security of athletes, coaches and officials is always our top priority. We must all play a role in protecting our young people and our athletes.”
The SLSG believes that sport and recreation organizations will benefit from assessing how well they are meeting their duty to make athletes their top priority. To that end, we launched the Reality Check, a new service to support organizational leaders interested in validating the success of the lived experience on the field of play.
For many organizations, an audit or review of programs often comes during a crisis, seeking to better understand what was done to help inform corrective action. However, this reactive approach doesn’t allow for feedback and assessment when emotions are less volatile and leaders less pressed for time.
What is the Reality Check?
The Reality Check is your organization’s proactive measure to more effectively manage risk and to reflect on your commitment to ensure a safe and values-based experience. It gives organizations the ability to make decisions with their athletes instead of for their athletes.
The Reality Check provides organizations with the evidence that they are consciously making the safety of athletes a top priority. It is a process that measures how well foundational policies and values are being experienced and delivered on the ground. This includes hearing directly from athletes about their experiences, assessing effectiveness against standards and desired goals, and providing a road map to address gaps.
How does a Reality Check Work?
There are three steps to the Reality Check that can be expanded depending on the scope and needs of an organization:
1. Identification of Key Concerns
- Reality Check-In
2. Validation of Evidence
- Review of Current Practices including policies, training, feedback and evaluation
- Proximity to new Sport Canada requirements (as applicable)
- Athlete Surveys/Interviews
- On the ground Assessments (optional)
- Report of Findings
- Findings Report Consultation
- Identification of Strengths, Opportunities and Red Flags
- Suggested Enhancements
Benefits/Impact of a Reality Check
A report identifying an organization’s commitment to athlete safety including:
- Validation: evidence that your athletes are living your organization’s values
- An assessment: substantiating how well policies and values are understood and implemented on the ground
- List of recommendations: how to better engage and protect athletes
- User friendly data: to better align risk management policies with practices and demonstrate commitment to stakeholders and funders
- Enhanced communication systems: providing one of your key stakeholders with an opportunity to share knowledge and experiences
- Strategies: to strengthen your organization through athlete engagement