Training Shifts Football Coaches' Views on Preventing Abuse: Study

University of Exeter

Specialist training is helping sports coaches to safely and effectively intervene when witnessing abusive behaviour towards females, a study shows.

Football Onside is the first evidence-led bystander intervention programme in the UK designed for those involved in professional sports. During the programme people working in sport are trained to be 'active bystanders' and positive role models for their teams.

The programme is designed help people intervene safely and effectively when they witness unacceptable behaviour - from sexist jokes or demeaning "locker-room" banter to assault or physical violence.

Researchers have now carried out a nine-month analysis into the effectiveness of their training, with 50 football coaches and club members answering questionaries about their views on rape and domestic abuse myths.

They were also asked about their bystander behaviours, their knowledge about the law and their peer helping.

The analysis shows the training has had a positive impact on their willingness and confidence to take action when they see bad and disrespectful behaviour towards women and girls.

The study also shows that coaches can be positive role models who promote respectful attitudes and actions towards women among their players.

The programme was developed by Dr Fenton and Dr Nathan Eisenstadt, experts from the University of Exeter Law School. It was also a collaboration with Exeter CITY Community Trust and supported by partners Public Health England, Devon County Council, Devon Rape Crisis and Sexual Abuse Services, Hollie Gazzard Trust and Plymouth Argyle FC.

The study on the impact of the training, by Dr Anastasiia Kovalenko and Dr Fenton, is published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence.

Dr Fenton said: "Athletes are role models, shaping social attitudes. Their engagement in bystander violence prevention could be an effective tool to tackle violence against women. This is promising evidence to support the use of the Football Onside programme and that professional sports may be an appropriate and positive platform preventing violence against women and girls."

Those who had taken part in the training were less likely to believe myths about rape and domestic violence, and more likely to think bystander intervention could be effective, and to put this into practice. The overall satisfaction with the programme content was high.

The study was conducted with two professional Football Club Community Trusts in the South West from June 2018 to February 2020. Those involved in one trust received the intervention and the other acted as a control group. Those who took part were coaches and managers, football academy students, members of a national personal and social development program, and the regional Football Association.

There was only a short-term improvement on people not believing myths about domestic violence, which may be because the program focused more explicitly on rape myths rather than domestic abuse myths.

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