Setting Electronic Communication Rules for Coaches and Athletes


By Susan Woessner

The formality of communications with today’s youth has all but disappeared with texting and pervasive social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram. Even email is becoming outdated with young people.

But when it comes to interactions between adults and children, etiquette, boundaries and safe behaviors are still important. At USA Swimming, through our Safe Sport program, we require all of our swim clubs to adopt an electronic communications policy.


The goal of the policy and Safe Sport, established in 2010 under the direction of USA Swimming Executive Director Chuck Wielgus, is to reduce the risk of abuse and create a safe environment for our 400,000 athletes. While USA Swimming acknowledges the value of communicating through these methods, we also realize that there may be associated risks that must be considered and monitored.

As a rule of thumb, all communications between a coach or other adult and an athlete must be strictly professional in nature and only for the purpose of sharing information about team activities.

A determining factor for the individual initiating the communication should be that that person would be comfortable saying the same message out loud to the athlete in front of the athlete’s parents, the coaching staff, the board or other athletes. If not, then the communication is not appropriate.

Here are some tips to use to make sure electronic communication with athletes is appropriate:

Transparent: All electronic communication between coaches and athletes should be transparent. Messages should be clear and direct, and also free of hidden meanings, innuendo, flirtation and expectations.

Accessible: Make all electronic communication between coaches and athletes a matter of record. These communications should include another coach or parent so that there are no questions about appropriateness.

Professional: Make sure that all interactions between a coach and an athlete are conducted professionally as a representative of the club. This includes word choices, tone, grammar, use of images and subject matter.

Facebook, Instagram and Twitter: Coaches should set their social media accounts to private and should not “friend” athletes. If an athlete requests to “friend” a coach, the coach may take the opportunity to educate the athlete on appropriate boundaries.

No Private Messages: Coaches and athletes are not allowed to “private” or “direct message” each other through any communication, including social media, platforms.

Susan Woessner has worked with USA Swimming since 2004 and became Director of Safe Sport in 2010. She earned a master’s degree in social work from the University of Texas and swam competitively as an undergraduate at Indiana University.


Featured photo by Simon (Pixabay)

About Author

Production engineer and certified swim coach. Full-time IT consultant, spare-time swimming aficionado. 2 sons, 2 daughters and a wife. President of the Faroe Islands Swimming Association. Likes to run :-)

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