Education and Empowerment: The Respect Group Has Spent 20 Years Impacting over 1.7M Canadians For The Good.
Despite recent news, mistreatment of young athletes is not new. Built from the worst abuse imaginable, Sheldon Kennedy's group has affected change. Now is the time to apply on a wider scale.
Abuse within a youth sport environment is not new. Reports of terrible stories date back 30-40 or more years. What is relatively new is the movement and tools in place to prevent.
If you live in Canada and follow hockey, you will recognize the name of Sheldon Kennedy. Albeit first known for his bravery in speaking out in the 1990’s about repeated abuse at the hands of his coach in the 80’s, Mr. Kennedy is now known for something different. Sheldon Kennedy has “paid a deep, deep price for a lot of people. And he’s shown some real fortitude to do something with it”, according to Tom Renney CEO of Hockey Canada.
Kennedy has spent the last 20 years educating the sporting world via prevention education related to bullying, abuse, harassment, and discrimination.
Has co-founder of Respect Group, Kennedy and his team have empowered 1.7million Canadians and led profound change at the grassroots level in providing safeguards to participants, stakeholders and families around hockey and youth sport in general. Kennedy’s work has earned him the Order of Canada, and induction into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame among several honours.
Sheldon Kennedy’s story is a reminder of how quickly things can go wrong in a world where we blindly leave our kids in the hands of some who use power for unspeakable acts. His story has shaped his life’s work in providing solutions so to never happen again. Yet, they continue to happen. There is lots more work to be done.
While we don’t seem to go very long without hearing of a case of bullying, abuse, harassment and/or discrimination (BAHD) in youth and elite sport, education has been available for many years. The growth of knowledge and leadership around the issue has become a priority in the hockey community and it is time that it hits all sports and aspects of life, including the workplace.
Hockey Canada has mandated that the Respect in Sport program be a priority for all parents and minor hockey coaches for some time.
“Our whole goal is to get every sport leader on the same page across this country,” Kennedy was quoted in a recent article in The Athletic.
“We have 70 sport organizations that mandated for every one of their coaches across this country. Not just hockey. I mean, 70 sport organizations. Just in Ontario alone, we’ve educated close to 600,000 parents.’’
When a case pops up of abuse of athletes at any level, including most recently at the professional level, Kennedy says:
“There’s a lack of knowledge, a lack of leadership around these issues, and a lack of priority.”
This is where interactive education and can take the problem and make its solution a priority.
The Ontario Minor Hockey Association has run essay contests over the last few years as 1 way to empower.
Most recently, the organization is using a theme of returning to play post pandemic as a platform for discussion around Respect for Sport.
From 2018, winning entry on “being part of a team”.
Awareness, empowerment, knowledge, leadership, and initiative all apply to the education process not just for those in power in the local organization or of a team, but also those in a bystander position.
The bystander must feel strong enough about the topic at hand to be able to recognize and say something when it does not feel or look right.
Encouraging critical thinking, asking questions and for help and belief in self is in stark contrast to the mentality of years gone by where parents would ask young athletes to listen to the coach or teacher or person of authority without questioning what was being said or done.
The power dynamic and lack of accountability are at the root of the problem. Young people want to make the team, or increase playing time or insert reason here. The predator or bully plays to this and manipulates this position of authority carefully and skillfully.
Respect Group is an example of a strong resource with a track record of making education preventative and implementable into multiple situations.
We owe it to our kids to acknowledge the Sheldon Kennedy story and do our part in fostering an environment where this can never happen. As CEO Renney says “Kennedy paid a deep, deep price for a lot of people. And he’s shown some real fortitude to do something with it”. Renney feels his work is worthy of Nobel Peace Prize recognition.
While this is top of mind, please forward the Respect Group’s information to your local sports organization.
Its time to stop paying the deep, deep price at the expense of our kids health and well being .
More on the Respect Group and their programs: