Recognising Poor Practice, Abuse and Bullying

Recognising Poor Practice, Abuse and Bullying

Recognising Poor Practice, Abuse and Bullying

All staff and volunteers in Welsh football, whether in a paid or voluntary capacity, have a responsibility to act if they have any concerns about the behaviour of someone (an adult or another child) towards a child.

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As a Safeguarding Officer, we ask that through the induction process, that all members of your club are made aware of their responsibility to look out for signs of poor practice, abuse and bullying.  We also ask that as a Safeguarding officer, you have regular contact with your football environment to provide you with the opportunity to look out for signs and monitor behaviours. 

We understand that even for those experienced in working with child abuse, it is not always easy to recognise a situation where abuse may occur or has already taken place and we understand that the staff and volunteers in football, whether in a paid or voluntary capacity, are not experts at such recognition. However, they do have a responsibility to act if they have any concerns about the behaviour of someone (an adult  or another child) towards a child. Everyone involved in football in Wales shall therefore be encouraged to discuss any concern they may have about the welfare of a person immediately with you as the registered safeguarding officer. 

Its important to understant that somebody may abuse or neglect a child by inflicting harm or by failing to act to prevent harm. Children may be abused in a family or in an institutional or community setting by those known to them or, more rarely, by a stranger. Children can be abused by adults or other children. There is growing evidence to suggest that peer abuse is an increasing concern for children.

As well as allegations of abuse, clubs/leagues/Area Associations may receive allegations of poor practice. These allegations must be investigated by the appropriate body. Set out below are the definitions of abuse and indicators. 

recognising POOR PRACTICE

Poor practice refers to when the behaviour of an individual in a position of responsibility falls below the organisation’s required standard, usually as described in the organisation’s code of conduct. Poor practice is behaviour with contrevenes the FAW Safeguarding Policy, Practices and Procedures. Such behaviour could be intentional or accidental. 

The behaviour may not be immediately dangerous or intentionally harmful to a child, but it is likely to set a poor example. Often a poor practice issue is seen as a lower-level concern but it still need to be responded to appropriately by the organisation or club. 

It is important that all clubs create a safeguarding culture will their staff and volunteers feel comfortable to internally realise their lower-level concerns about colleagues or children's behaviour.

It is essential that those involved in sport understand that all concerns need to be challenged as soon as possible to correct the behaviour and educate individuals. On occasion, this may require a person's removal from their role because of their failure to comply with the organisations codes of conduct or the cultural norms the club are trying to establish.

The risk of an organisation not receiving reports of poor practice or failing to manage them appropriately is that lower-level concerns cannot be addressed as soon as possible. This can adversely impact on those involved and can allow a situation to escalate.

While some poor practice is due to misunderstanding and lack of awareness, some behaviour is deliberate and intended to enable abuse at a later stage. This is done by manipulating a situation and breaking 'small rules' to test out an organisation or individuals safeguarding standards.

This can lead to an environment which is conducive to more serious abuse. For example, if a coach or supervisor gives one child more attention than others, regularly transports children in their car or encourages unnecessary physical contact without explaining the reason

recognising ABUSE 

Abuse is a form of maltreatment of a child. Abuse can be someone neglecting a child or inflicting harm or by failing to act to prevent harm, this abuse is often by individuals they know and trust. Abuse may be by an adult or from one young person to another. There are five recognised forms of abuse:

Neglect occurs where adults fail to meet a child's basic physical, and or psychological needs, likely to result in the serious impairment of the child's health or development (e.g. failure to provide adequate food, shelter and clothing; failing to protect a child from physical harm or danger; or the failure to ensure access to appropriate medical care or treatment). It may also include refusal to give children love, affection and attention. Neglect in sport could include a teacher or coach not ensuring children were safe, exposing them to undue cold or heat, or to unnecessary risk of injury.

Physical Abuse 
Physical abuse occurs where someone physically hurts or injures children by hitting, shaking, throwing, poisoning, burning, biting, or scalding, suffocating, drowning or otherwise causing physical harm to a child. Examples of physical abuse in sport may be when the nature and intensity of training and competition exceeds the capacity of the child's immature and growing body; where drugs are used to enhance performance or delay puberty.

Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse occurs where girls and boys are abused by adults or other children (both male and female) who use children to meet their own sexual needs. This could include full sexual intercourse, masturbation, oral sex, anal intercourse and fondling. Showing children   pornographic material (books, videos, pictures) is also a form of sexual abuse. In sport, coaching techniques which involve physical contact with children could potentially create situations where sexual abuse may go unnoticed. The power of the coach over young performers, if misused, may also lead to abusive situations developing.

Emotional Abuse 
Emotional abuse is the persistent emotional ill-treatment of a child such as to cause severe and persistent adverse effects on the child's emotional development. It may involve conveying to children that they are worthless or unloved, inadequate, or valued only insofar as they meet the needs of another person. It may feature age or developmentally inappropriate expectations being imposed on children. It may involve causing children to feel frightened or in danger by being constantly shouted at, threatened or taunted which may make the child very nervous and withdrawn. Some level of emotional abuse is involved in all types of ill-treatment of a child. Emotional abuse in sport may occur if children are subjected to constant criticism, name-calling, sarcasm, bullying, racism or unrealistic pressure to perform to high expectations consistently.

There is a growing awareness that children who live in extreme poverty, are socially excluded, live with domestic violence or where alcoholism or mental health problems exist, may be at greater risk of long-term emotional abuse.     

It is important to recognise that in some cases of abuse, it may not always be an adult abusing a young person. It can occur that the abuser may be a child, for example, in the case of bullying. Bullying may be seen as deliberately hurtful behaviour, usually repeated over a period of time, where it is difficult for those bullied to defend themselves. It can take many forms, the three main types are physical (e.g. hitting, kicking, theft), verbal (e.g. racist or homophobic remarks, threats, name calling) and emotional (e.g. isolating an individual from the activities and social acceptance of the peer group).

Although anyone can be the target of bullying, victims are typically shy, sensitive and perhaps anxious or insecure. Sometimes they are singled out for physical reasons – being  overweight, physically small, having a disability or belonging to a different race, faith or culture. Girls and boys can be bullies although it seems to be more conspicuous in boys. Although bullying often takes place in schools, research shows it can and does occur anywhere where there is inadequate supervision – on the way to and from school, at a sporting event, in the playground and in changing rooms.

Bullies come from all walks of life, they bully for a variety of different reasons, and may even have been abused themselves. Typically, bullies can have low self-esteem, be excitable, aggressive, and jealous.

Crucially, they have learned how to gain power over others and there is increasing  evidence to suggest that this abuse of power can lead to crime.

The competitive nature of sport makes it an ideal environment for the bully. The bully in sport can be:

  • a parent who pushes too hard
  • a coach who adopts a win-at-all costs philosophy
  • a player who intimidates inappropriately
  • an official who places unfair pressure on a person other children

Bullying can include:

  • Physical: e.g. hitting, kicking and theft
  • Verbal: e.g. name-calling, constant teasing, sarcasm, racist or homophobic taunts, threats, graffiti and gestures, texting or cyber bullying
  • Emotional: e.g. tormenting, ridiculing, humiliating and ignoring
  • Sexual: e.g. unwanted physical contact or abusive comments
  • Stealing: taking or using another's property without their consent.

The damage inflicted by bullying can frequently be underestimated. It can cause considerable distress to children, to the extent that it affects their health and development, or at the extreme, causes them significant harm (including self-harm). There are a number of signs that may indicate that a child is being bullied:

  • Behavioural changes such as reduced concentration and/or becoming withdrawn, clingy, depressed, tearful, emotionally up and down, reluctance to go to school, training or sports club.
  • A drop off in performance at school or standard of play
  • Physical signs such as stomach-aches, headaches, difficulty in sleeping, bedwetting, scratching and bruising, damaged clothes, and bingeing for example on food, cigarettes, or alcohol.
  • A shortage of money or frequent loss of possessions.

Indications that a child may be being abused include the following:

  • Unexplained or suspicious injuries such as bruising, cuts or burns, particularly if situated on a part of the body not normally prone to such injuries
  • An injury for which the explanation seems inconsistent
  • The child describes what appears to be an abusive act involving him/her
  • Someone else (a child or adult) expresses concern about the welfare of another child
  • Unexplained changes in behaviour (e.g. becoming very quiet, withdrawn or displaying sudden outbursts of temper)
  • Inappropriate sexual awareness
  • Engaging in sexually explicit behaviour
  • Distrust of adults, particularly those with whom a close relationship would normally be expected.
  • Has difficulty making friends
  • Is prevented from socialising with other children
  • Displays variations in eating patterns including overeating or loss of appetite.
  • Loss of weight for no apparent reason
  • Becomes increasingly dirty or unkempt

It should be recognised that this list is not exhaustive and the presence of one or more of the indicators is not proof that abuse is actually taking place. It is not the responsibility of those working in sport to decide that abuse is occurring but it is their responsibility to act on any concerns.


The FAW believes that every player should have the opportunity to play football and has made a significant commitment to the development of a grassroots programme for disabled players. However, the FAW also recognises that disabled players can also play outside of the disabled structure. There have been a number of studies which suggest children (or adults) with disabilities are at increased risk of abuse. Various factors contribute to this, such as stereotyping, prejudice, discrimination, isolation and a powerlessness to protect themselves, or adequately communicate that abuse has occurred. Children with disabilities may be considered as particularly vulnerable because:

  • They may communicate in a different way i.e. through sign language or may have limited verbal communication
  • They may require assistance with personal care. It is essential that a parent informs the necessary individuals of this requirement and where possible, a parent should always be in attendance to take responsibility
  • They have medical needs that can be used to explain abuse
  • They may lack a wider support network of friends
  • They may have a reduced capacity to resist either physically or verbally.


Children from black and minority ethnic groups (and their parents) may also be considered as particularly vulnerable because they are likely to have experienced harassment, racial discrimination and institutional racism. All organisations working with children, including those operating where black and minority ethnic communities are numerically small, have an obligation to address acts of discrimination. In doing so, it must be recognised that adults and children can be the perpetrators of such conduct. It must also be recognised that children experiencing this behaviour may not raise the matter out of fear of reprisals.


It is important to recognise that a criminal offence (under the Sexual Offences Act 2003) was introduced which could make it illegal, in certain circumstances, for those in a relationship of trust to abuse that trust by being involved in some sort of sexual activity. The FAW recognises its responsibility towards children to protect them against sexual activity within relationships of trust. The FAW will take disciplinary procedures against adults abusing trust and acknowledges that this may result in criminal proceedings. It must be stressed that it is always the responsibility of the adult to ensure that his/her conduct is acceptable and ensure appropriate boundaries are maintained.

Relationship of Trust
A relationship of trust is defined as any in which a person has power or influence over and/is in a position to confer advancement or failure. For example, in a sporting context, this could be between a coach and a player or an official and a player. A sexual relationship is deemed to be intrinsically unequal within such a relationship of trust and is therefore judged as unacceptable, even when the young person or player is over the legal age of consent.


Acts of sexual harassment usually centre on unwanted, offensive or intrusive behaviour of a sexual nature and can include:

  • Physical or close contact of an unwelcome nature
  • Coercion for sexual favours, suggestive comments or innuendoes
  • Displaying offensive materials.

Sexual harassment can occur between members of the same and different genders.

The effects of sexual harassment are similar to the effects of bullying and include:

  • Players becoming less motivated
  • Players becoming stressed and unwell
  • Poor morale
  • Players not turning up for training
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