UC DAVIS (US) — Male high school athletes are more likely to intervene when they see friends or teammates engage in dating violence if they have heard from a coach that it’s the right thing to do.
A new study conducted in California finds that a structured program delivered by coaches called Coaching Boys into Men is effective for discouraging dating violence—the physical, sexual, and emotional aggression prevalent in adolescent romantic relationships.
“The high school male athletes whose coaches delivered this easy-to-implement program reported more positive bystander behaviors, meaning that these boys were more likely to say or do something to stop disrespectful and harmful behaviors toward girls which they witnessed among their male peers,” says Elizabeth Miller, a member of the faculty of the School of Medicine Department of Pediatrics at the University of California, Davis.
“Previous violence-prevention efforts have not generally included coaches as partners, yet coaches can be such important role models for their athletes,” says Miller, who is now chief of the division of adolescent medicine at the University of Pittsburgh.
“With the right training and support, coaches can encourage their athletes to be positive leaders in their community and to be part of the solution.”
As reported in the Journal of Adolescent Health, one in three adolescent girls in the US experiences physical, emotional, or verbal abuse by a dating partner. Promoting non-violent attitudes among teen boys toward girls is recognized as a critical step to reduce the incidence of violence in these relationships.
“Coaching Boys into Men” seeks to reduce dating violence by engaging athletic coaches as positive role models to deliver violence-prevention messages to young male athletes.
The national program, created by Futures Without Violence, formerly the Family Violence Prevention Fund, in 2000, trains coaches in the use of the “Coaches Kit,” a series of training cards that offers strategies for opening conversations about dating violence and appropriate attitudes toward women with young athletes.
The new study was conducted among over 2,000 young male athletes in 16 high schools in four urban school districts in Sacramento County, Calif., between winter 2009 and fall 2010. Eight of the schools were randomly selected to receive the program, while the other eight schools served as comparisons.
Of the coaches approached, 87 percent agreed to participate in the study. The ninth- through twelfth-grade student athletes who agreed to participate were administered a 15-minute baseline survey at the beginning of their sports season, which assessed their attitudes about dating violence and behaviors toward adolescent girls. A similar survey was administered at the end of the sports season (the study included fall, winter, and spring sports).
For example, questions sought to assess teens’ perceptions of abusive behaviors such as “telling girls which friends they can or cannot see or talk to” and “telling them they’re ugly or stupid.” Responses were assessed using a five-point scale that ranked answers from “not abusive” to “extremely abusive.”
Additional survey items assessed the athletes’ level of agreement with statements such as “If a girl is raped it is often because she did not say no clearly enough;” or “A boy/man will lose respect if he talks about his problems.” Youth were also asked about how likely they would be to intervene when witnessing various abusive behaviors, such as hearing a peer make derogatory comments about a girl’s appearance.
The surveys also asked whether the athletes had witnessed any abusive behavior and actually intervened. The young men who had ever dated were asked whether they themselves had participated in any of 10 abusive behaviors including physical, sexual, and emotional abuse toward a female partner in the past three months. Eighteen percent of the male athletes who had ever dated reported perpetrating any abusive behavior toward a female partner in the past three months, with verbal and emotional abuse being most common.
More likely to get involved
The study found that the young males who were exposed to the Coaching Boys into Men program said that they were more likely to intervene when observing abusive behavior toward a peer when compared with the control group of teens, while the likelihood that control athletes would intervene diminished overall during the course of the sports season. And the youth who were exposed to the Coaching Boys into Men were significantly more likely to report actually doing something to stop disrespectful and harmful behaviors among their male peers when compared with controls.
“There are too few dating violence prevention programs that have demonstrated effectiveness using a rigorous research design. This study offers important evidence on the violence-reducing potential of a practical program that can be integrated into school and community-based dating violence prevention efforts,” says Daniel Tancredi, assistant professor in pediatrics at UC Davis and co-investigator for the study.
“This study reminds us that in order to prevent violence before it happens, we need to take advantage of the positive influence that coaches have in shaping young athletes’ attitudes towards women and girls.” says Esta Soler, president of Futures Without Violence. “We hope these findings will spotlight the importance of dating violence and sexual assault prevention and encourage other schools to implement similar programs.”
The Coaching Boys into Men program is available for free download through Futures Without Violence.
Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, University of California, San Diego, Women Escaping a Violent Environment (WEAVE), and Futures Without Violence contributed to the study, which was funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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