Where can you find snapping towels, pranking, name calling, and all-around misbehavior?
You guessed it.
The locker room.
Don’t Brush Off Locker Room Behavior
Excusing “locker room talk or behavior” is all too common, but it shouldn’t be ignored or brushed off. While the locker room can foster team bonding and comradery, without proper education and protocols, it can also be an epicenter for unsafe and abusive behavior.
At the U.S. Center for SafeSport, we focus on preventing abuse in sports and educating communities on how to respond when it does occur. As CEO, I regularly talk to athletes, parents, coaches, and sports administrators about creating safe spaces. I often hear concerns about hazing, bullying, and sexual misconduct. A common question is: how do we keep kids safe in the locker room?
Adult supervision is Critical
Let’s start by acknowledging that adults can be uncomfortable in locker rooms. Kids are changing and showering. Some of them are teens with developing bodies. And that can make adults nervous.
Many teams rely on parent volunteers to monitor locker rooms. Maybe the girls’ swim team has a male coach. That team needs to find, screen, and train at least two women willing to be in the changing area. It can be a time-consuming process, and one that some parents may not be willing to do.
But kids are (sometimes literally) exposed in the locker room. This is where adults should be monitoring behavior. Changing areas make young athletes vulnerable to abuse from adults—and from each other.
What Happens Without Adult Supervision?
To parents, it is no surprise to hear that kids often resort to juvenile and inappropriate behavior when left on their own. Kids in locker rooms are usually full of energy, noisy, and acting silly. But that behavior can sometimes turn aggressive or dangerous.
Take “locker boxing” or “cage raging” as an example. Our hockey and lacrosse communities told us that this has been going on for years. Kids put on their hockey gloves and helmets to box until someone taps out or passes out. Parents and coaches have legitimate concerns that concussions are happening in the locker room even before young athletes take the field or ice.
We’ve also heard of cases of boys filming the girls’ swim team through a gap in the ceiling between changing rooms, or girls taking pictures of other girls getting undressed and posting them online. Parents are understandably outraged by these kinds of privacy violations. This is why clear rules and adult supervision are necessary.
To change locker room culture, you should have open communication with your child’s sports organization and understand best practices for making locker rooms safer.
Here are 5 Things You Should Know:
- Your child should always have a private or semi-private area to change. This can be a bathroom stall with a door or an area partitioned off with a drape.
- Adults need to monitor locker rooms and changing areas. They should do this in pairs because your child should never be alone with an adult. Every adult interaction with a minor athlete should be observable and interruptible. That means there is always another adult around to observe what’s happening, and nothing happens behind closed doors.
- Coaches and officials should have separate changing areas, or they need to schedule locker room time for adults separately from young athletes. They also shouldn’t share showers with kids, though there may be some exceptions, like when swimmers and their coaches are rinsing off in their suits.
- No cell phones, cameras, or tablets in the locker room. Sports organizations should foster a device-free locker room culture by clearly explaining and enforcing consequences if devices are used inappropriately.
- Be aware of media or championship celebrations in the locker room. Your child’s sports organization should seek your consent for any recording in the locker room. Two or more adults should be present, and everyone should be fully clothed.
Youth sports are supposed to be fun, but young athletes must be safe to thrive and enjoy the many benefits of athletics. SafeSport provides educational resources for parents to help make sure their young athletes feel safe, supported, and strengthened. Visit Abuse Prevention Resources | U.S. Center for SafeSport (uscenterforsafesport.org) for more tools to help you recognize, prevent, and respond to abuse in sport.
If you or someone you know has experienced abuse or misconduct by a participant of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic movement, you can make a report to the U.S. Center for SafeSport: https://uscenterforsafesport.org/report-a-concern/
Ju’Riese Colón is the Chief Executive Officer of the U.S. Center for SafeSport, the nation’s only nonprofit organization committed to ending all forms of abuse in sport. As CEO, Ju’Riese leads the strategic vision and direction of the organization to ensure every athlete is safe, supported, and strengthened through support. An experienced child advocate who serves as an expert on issues related to child safety, Ju’Riese has led prevention and outreach initiatives with youth-serving organizations serving families, educators, law enforcement, and diverse communities. She earned bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice and Spanish from Virginia Commonwealth University.
Photos provided by the U.S. Center for Safesport