Parents - Choosing the Right Club

I have reproduced the following club safety check in its entirety with kind permission from the Child Protection in Sport Unit. They work in conjunction with Sport England and are working together to make all sport safe for children. Visit these sites if this is important to you when choosing a club. They are very helpful and are always happy to answer any questions that you might have as a parent.

It's your right as a parent or carer to be able to check how well a sports club is run, for the sake of your child's safety and your peace of mind.

Club Safety Check
Here are the key points you should check out when choosing a sports or leisure group for your child. Remember, a well-run club will welcome questions about their activities and policies. They will know they have a responsibility to give this kind of information to anyone who leaves a child in their care.

Recruitment of staff and volunteers: Have they all been selected through a proper recruitment process? This should include interviews, references and police checks for staff working for children.

What training has been provided for staff and volunteers? All staff and volunteers should have up to date recognised safeguarding training. National Governing Bodies may be able to provide sport specific training programmes for staff and volunteers.

Supervision of staff and volunteers: There should be someone in charge to supervise staff and volunteers at all times.

Health and safety: Make sure that a member of staff within the sports club/organisation is a qualified first aider and that the following are available within the club:

  • first aid box
  • procedure for reporting/responding to injuries or accidents that occur within club time
  • arrangements for drinks and dissemination of medications (parental consent will be required for dissemination of medication)
  • the premises satisfy fire regulations

Your child's personal care needs: If your child needs help with using the toilet, feeding, or medication, ask about the procedures for personal care needs.

Is the Coach qualified?Your child's coach should have a recognised qualification that includes child protection training from a recognised organisation/body.

What about arrangements for away fixtures and other events? The sports club or centre should inform you about the event arrangements, including transport to and from the venue. You should also be given information about the venue itself. If it is a long way from home, you should be given a contact number for use in emergencies.

If your child or you have any worries, who can you talk to? The sports organisation should be prepared to listen and tell you what to do. They should have information about local or national services that can also offer advice and support if you are unhappy about the way you concern is dealt with.

Does the organisation have a written code of behaviour? There should be a written code of behaviour/conduct showing what is required of staff, volunteers and participants. Avoid organisations that permit bullying, shouting, racism, sexism or any other kind of oppressive behaviour. Any unacceptable behaviour should be challenged and dealt with in a professional manner by the sports organisation.

Does the organisation have a Child Protection Policy? Sports and leisure organisations should have a Child Protection Policy, with a clear procedure for dealing with concerns about possible abuse. Parents and carers should be able to view the policy on request.

What boundaries exist concerning club relationships? The club should have clear guidelines about physical contact and social activities between staff, volunteers, participating children, and parents. Find out who in the club you can speak to if you have concerns about boundaries not being observed.

Club Danger Signals
Be very wary of a club where staff or volunteers behave in the following ways:

  • Parents are discouraged from watching or becoming involved in training or other activities.
  • Rough play, sexual innuendo or humiliating punishments.
  • Individuals who take charge and operate independently of the club or sport guidelines.
  • Coaches who favour or personally reward particular children.
  • Encouragement of inappropriate physical contact.
  • If club staff invite children to spend time alone with staff or volunteers outside of scheduled sports activities, or request this through parents.
  • Poor communication with parents and lack of parental involvement.
  • If one or more children suddenly drop out or stop going for no apparent reason.

Getting help
If you are worried that a child is being abused or put at risk during sports activities it is vital that you talk to someone.
The idea of speaking out about abuse or poor practice in a club can be daunting. You will probably feel worried about the impact on you and/or the child. But if you have concerns you must take action. By doing so you will be safeguarding the child concerned as well as helping to prevent other children being harmed or put at risk.

  • If you think a child is in immediate danger of abuse, contact the police on 999.
  • If there is no immediate danger and you are unsure of who to speak to, call the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000 for immediate advice.
  • Find out the club guidelines for recording and reporting concerns and follow them.
  • Speak to the club child protection or welfare officer.

Don't be afraid to ask lots of questions and make a few basic checks before you decide whether a club is the right club for you.

A licence fee is a mandatory requirement of any club but some clubs also charge a fee for you to become club member. Many Karate schools take this approach and use the additional funding to cover administration costs and grow the club. Often the extra revenue is put back into the club for the benefit of all the students or perhaps to subsidise the squad if the club has one. It might also be used to subsidise fees for students, the elderly or people on low incomes who would otherwise not be able to train and gain the benefit of the art. But not always. If you come across a club that asks for a membership fee then never be afraid to ask them what that fee covers, genuine clubs will make every effort to be open and honest with you about how your money is being spent.

Some clubs operate on a monthly or term payment scheme. Opinion is divided on this. On the one hand it can seem very unfair because sometimes sessions can be missed, especially with children because of illness or other genuine reasons. On the other hand ballet, dance and many other disciplines all work using this monthly policy, even fee paying schools. Adopting a monthly payment plan means less time collecting money at the start of every lesson and allows more time for the Karate. It can also encourage commitment to train harder or provide motivation for training, for example, on hot summer evenings Karate-ka may be more likely to train, if in two minds, if they have already paid for the lesson. Remember, whether or not you train your instructor will still be there and club overheads still have to be met regardless of club numbers. A genuine club will often allow sessions to be made up at other times or lessons carried forward. Never be afraid to ask.

Many clubs run additional courses for their students, for instance for Kata or Kumite. These courses can be invaluable especially if a grading is imminent. This is another way to get revenue into the club and is usual. Beware of clubs who make these courses compulsory to attend. This is not always overt. Quite simply it could mean that you are not able to grade unless you have attended a certain number of courses. Check this out before you join. You may find that having enrolled in what you believed to be a midweek Karate lesson the goal posts have shifted and you are now hooked into into 'compulsory' weekend classes should you want to advance with your Karate to a higher grade. The vast majority of clubs provide Kata and Kumite within their normal training sessions leaving weekends free for optional 'extra' training classes. Some clubs offer referee and coaching courses or first aid classes for their higher grades and those looking to advance their Karate to either running their own clubs responsibly or administration. Extra sessions could also include standardisation courses or weapons training. If this matters to you then check when you choose your club that if extra classes are offered then these are entirely optional.

Before choosing the right club for you, especially if children are involved, ask to see the instructor's qualifications or references and don't be afraid to check them out to see if they are valid. Genuine instructors are proud of their achievements and happy for you to check them. Responsible clubs make sure that their instructors are cleared by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) and all/any Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks should be enhanced. They also adopt child protection policies and have designated child protection officers to ensure that there are no breaches of policy, accidental or otherwise, within the clubs. This may not be important to you but if it is - ask.

Responsible clubs ensure that their instructors also have valid, up to date coaching certificates and first aid qualifications. Make sure that the instructors carry fully stocked first aid kits. Again, if this is important to you - ask.

Check the instructors are graded Yudansha (black belts) and belong to a credible National Governing Body.

Responsible clubs do not operate without first aid qualifications, first aid kits, coaching qualifications, CRB checks or child protection policies. All martial arts clubs pose a risk of safety and you undertake training with the knowledge that you could be seriously hurt but you are entitled to expect the risks to be minimalised at the club that you train at. Clubs not providing the above compromise the health and safety of everybody that trains with them.

Remember - if there is anything that you are unsure about then ask. The vast majority of instructors will be happy to answer any questions that you care to put to them and are helpful and open about the way their club runs.

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