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MSHSL advances education module addressing sexual harassment, violence

Before the advent of current public and media attention to accusations of violence against women by high-profile NFL players, the Minnesota State High School League began the process of developing an educational curriculum to assist high school c...

Before the advent of current public and media attention to accusations of violence against women by high-profile NFL players, the Minnesota State High School League began the process of developing an educational curriculum to assist high school coaches with educating their athletes about the problem of violence against teenage girls.

The curriculum is one of several educational modules that all coaches working with athletes in grades 9-12 must take. It is titled "Coaching for Change: A Game Plan to Prevent Violence."

The module was available for fall sport coaches this school year and thus far nearly 9,000 coaches have completed it, with an additional 15,000 recipients expected by the end of the 2014-15 school year.

"Sexual and domestic violence are difficult topics to understand and discuss, and there are few coaches who are trained to deal with these topics effectively," Jody Redman, associate director of the MSHSL said in a news release. "If we expect coaches to challenge the current status quo and immerse their programs in a counter-cultural belief system, we must provide them with consequential and ongoing professional development and support so they are prepared to address these issues effectively."

The goal is to create a heightened awareness of a team's culture and the social norms that are shaping student athlete's attitudes and behaviors related to teen dating violence, sexual assault, and sexual harassment. With this increased awareness, coaches can positively impact the lives of their athletes.

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Coaches will learn basic strategies that will help them address these tough issues as they arise and proactive approaches they can use throughout the year.

The education module first introduces coaches to the socialization of boys. Former NFL defensive lineman (Baltimore Colts and Detroit Lions) Joe Ehrman narrates this portion of the module, including what he dubs the three scariest words that every man has heard in his lifetime: "Be a man!"

Ehrman, the author of "InSideOut Coaching: How Sports Can Transform Lives," a book whose principles form the framework for the MSHSL's "Why We Play" initiative, explains that boys are taught to separate their heart from their head. He believes boys and men measure their masculinity based on three myths:

โ€ข Boys learn by ages 7, 8 or 9 that masculinity is measured on the athletic platform by their ability and skills, their size and their strength.

โ€ข By the time boys reach seventh, eighth or ninth grade, many believe their masculinity must be measured by sexual conquest.

โ€ข And later in life, the primary measure becomes economic success.

Although some forms of abuse may appear harmless, they are not. The types of behavior that must be addressed can range from emotional abuse, to controlling behavior, to sexual harassment, to sexual assault, to physical assault.

Staggering statistics are offered. According to the 2010 Minnesota Student Survey and the 2008 Minnesota Crime Survey, one of every four teens have or will experience dating violence and that one of every five girls will become victims of sexual abuse before the age of 18, with that ratio increasing to one in three by the time they reach mid-life.

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The preventive work is at the heart of the MSHSL's Continuing Education Requirement (CER) for coaches. This module, estimated to require 45 minutes of a coach's time, presents a number of different scenarios that coaches could face, along with several options on how to respond, and then the most appropriate response must be chosen.

Coaches are encouraged to think differently about what they are teaching young people regarding honor and respect. There is no single right way to teach these values, they are told, adding that with any message that matters, they will need to find their own voice and deliver their message in an authentic way.

Appropriate responses to the scenarios presented always require immediate attention and usually face-to-face conversations with perpetrators and victims. In some cases, issues must be referred to administrators, and in many cases referrals to counseling are paramount.

A number of possible proactive prevention actions are offered. Number one on that list is simple: "Add respect to your team rules."

Coaches of boys teams are also encouraged to create this culture by supporting the success of a girls team, or incorporate a female role model into a practice, game or team event, or host an event to honor the women important in the lives of the boys on their team.

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