After a week of disturbing allegations within the Penn State football program, a Mayo Clinic psychologist says there are steps coaches, parents and athletes can take to protect themselves.
Max Trenerry says coaches bear most of the responsibility, and there are things they should be doing to protect themselves. Trenerry consults in psychology and neuropsychology at the Mayo Clinic. He also coaches youth soccer and works with the region's Olympic Development Program for girls and boys soccer.
He spoke with MPR's Morning Edition.
Cathy Wurzer: When you consult with sports teams, one of your suggestions is to never put a player and a coach in a position where they're alone. How can you make sure of this?
Max Trenerry: What we try and do is educate parents and coaches so that when an athlete is dropped off at the field or the gym or the rink or wherever they're training, that they're not left alone with the coach. The coach has things to do at the beginning of training, and if the parent just waits around for a while until there's an assistant coach or there's another parent, they just make sure they're not leaving kids alone with the coach to put coaches in that awkward situation.
Wurzer: How can a coach maintain the right boundaries with a player?
Trenerry: Simply put, the boundaries need to stay within that coach-athlete relationship. So, sleepovers at the coach's house typically should not occur. Special gifts for athletes that are singled out don't need to occur. The coach and athlete need to maintain that boundary so that when they're traveling, for example, the coach doesn't enter the athlete's room unless they're accompanied by another adult and then only in extraordinary circumstances.
Wurzer: As a youth soccer coach in Rochester, you had to go through background checks. But that isn't the case everywhere. Should it be?
Trenerry: I think it's worthwhile to do. I go through a background check for our state youth soccer organization once a year, and then for the U.S. Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program, another time during the year. It can reassure the parents, it can reassure athletes and reassure coaching colleagues that we're screening out people that don't need to be working with youth.
Wurzer: When news like Penn State happens, how do you reassure parents?
Trenerry: That is a great question. I don't know that I have a perfect answer for it. I think that what we have to do is make sure we follow some of these guidelines and keep a child or youth-centered focus on what we're trying to do to promote the athlete and not just the sport.
Wurzer: For parents who have been following the Penn State news, it's very scary. What can parents do? Are there warning signs to watch for?
Trenerry: I'm not the best person to comment on that because I don't treat kids that have been through these things, but you want to watch for changes in an athlete's behavior. You want to make sure you understand the relationship that the athlete has with the coach and communicate with the coach on a regular basis. I think those things will be reassuring to parents and athletes.
(Interview transcribed by MPR reporter Elizabeth Dunbar.)