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Sunday, December 14, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 a.m.
How parents can spot trouble before it's too late

By Maureen O'Hagan and Christine Willmsen
Seattle Times staff reporters

A sexual comment by the coach or a pat on the buttocks may seem accidental or innocuous, but experts say such behavior may be a first step in grooming a victim for abuse. Here are other warning signs for parents:

Full-body hugs by the coach. A high-five should suffice. Talk to your daughter about appropriate boundaries with a coach.

Rides home alone from practices or games and one-on-one training. A typical teenage athlete doesn't spend time alone with the coach. Parents should try to attend practice and provide transportation.

Cards, gifts and even sports-related awards. If they're targeted at one athlete and not the team, they could be a sign of an intimate relationship.

Sleepovers at the coach's house, even if the team is invited. Coaches also ask athletes to baby-sit their children, using the occasion to develop closeness or as a cover for ongoing intimacy.

Long or repeated phone calls to and from the coach or a seeming dependency on the coach or his advice. A coach isn't the athlete's peer, and parents should be wary of one who acts that way.

Out-of-town trips to tournaments or camps. If a coach makes it difficult for parents to come along, parents should be concerned. Make sure there are enough parents along to supervise.

A daughter suddenly quitting or losing interest in her favorite sport or not wanting to be near a coach. Often victims of sex abuse or harassment will make up reasons why they no longer want to play.

Coaches who jump from team to team or district to district. Parents should ask a coach for references and interview current and former players, parents and school officials about his conduct. Parents can obtain a coach's disciplinary records from a school district by filing a public-disclosure-act request. They can also ask the state education office for similar misconduct information on teachers who coach.

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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