LYMAN — Athletic coaches in Lyman spent part of the afternoon of Tuesday, Aug. 13, in training for programs launching in town schools this year. Coaching Boys into Men (CBIM) and Athletes as Leaders (AAL) are programs designed to leverage the influence of both coaches and student athletes in the lives of youth to help build a positive culture, set norms, challenge stereotypes and combat violence and sexual assault.
The program is offered to Wyoming school districts through grant funding and support from the Wyoming Department of Health, Wyoming Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault and Futures Without Violence. CBIM, designed for young men, and AAL for the girls, focus on helping youth better identify harmful behaviors, helping youth and coaches feel more comfortable stepping in when they witness harmful behaviors and, ultimately, decreasing violence and sexual assault.
Designed as evidence-based multi-session programs, both CBIM and AAL are set up to become part of regular practice for sports teams, starting and finishing within the span of one season. Through 15- to 20-minute sessions once per week, coaches and mentors cover topics such as personal responsibility, insulting language, gender stereotypes, disrespectful behaviors (including online and digital behavior), rumor spreading, aggression, bullying, healthy relationships and boundaries, self-image and consent.
Trainer Bob Vines, of Worland, said he has been involved with the programs for three years now, after Worland was selected to pilot the program for rural schools. He has now helped train approximately 150 coaches in nine schools across the state, not including the Aug. 13 session in Lyman and a training scheduled for Rock Springs later that day. Vines said the program has been developed for use by coaches because one individual coach can have an impact on the lives of many kids, with coaches consistently ranking as one of the top positive influences in student lives, and because student athletes themselves tend to have a lot of social capital and influence in their schools.
“Athletes are leaders, especially in rural Wyoming small towns where the whole community supports the school teams,” he said.
The general idea is that if athletes embrace healthy behaviors and the values of respect, nonviolence and integrity, it can impact entire schools and communities through a proactive, rather than reactive, approach.
By discussing what it really means to be a good man as opposed to popular cultural ideas about manhood, said Vines, coaches can foster the growth of healthy masculinity. Conversely, having discussions about why it is often considered an insult to do anything “like a girl” and how such language can impact girls and women is also a component of the program.
Vines, who conducted the CBIM training for male teams, said surveys conducted at the University of Wyoming show the number of female students at UW who report having been sexually assaulted or harassed is somewhat higher than the national average, so it is important to focus on prevention and not just reacting after the fact.
“We don’t spend enough time talking about these things before they happen” he said.
During the CBIM training session, Vines pointed out just one of the ways inappropriate, or even illegal, conduct by youth is often overlooked by noting that in many school districts nationwide, policies on sexual misconduct refer to situations between coworkers or between staff and students but fail to address behavior occurring among students themselves.
“Sometimes it will be considered hazing or bullying,” said Vines, “but the legal definition is often really sexual battery.”
Fellow trainer Jody Sanborn, who conducted the AAL training, said statistics show one in four women in the U.S. will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime, with most of those assaults occurring before the age of 18. Sanborn said the session on consent tends to be one of the more difficult topics for coaches to cover because of the subject matter. However, she said, “Consent is really just teaching about asking for permission to do something. We ask for permission to borrow a pencil from someone. Stressing the ways we ask for permission to do everyday things makes it easier to translate that to intimate relationships.”
Sanborn stressed the program isn’t encouraging kids to engage in sexual activity and the consent lesson focuses on all types of behavior, including hugging and kissing. In fact, the video shown as part of the consent lesson doesn’t even mention sexual activity but instead likens consent to asking someone if he or she would like a cup of tea and how inappropriate it would be to force someone to drink tea if he or she declined.
Although sessions on consent and relationships are included, both programs ultimately focus on respect, accountability, responsibility and the importance of modeling positive behaviors. Post-program surveys of students throughout Wyoming have given the program high marks, with participants reporting a “considerable increase in the ability to recognize signs of an unhealthy relationship” and an “increase in the belief that they have the ability to influence their peers.” Overall, 98% of respondents reported the program created a more positive culture on their teams.
Kelly Ivers, advocate at Uinta County Sexual Assault and Family Violence (SAFV) Task Force, said she became interested in the programs after attending a workshop in the fall of 2018 and has been working since then to find a way to bring them to Uinta County schools. The training is offered at no cost through the grant resources and Ivers said she is excited Lyman coaches are participating.
“It’s important for our kids to learn as many things as possible as they adult,” she said, “to help combat violence and problems in our community. Anything that’s getting positive information out there helps.”
Jason Hansen, athletic director for Uinta County School District No. 6, said, “At Lyman, we feel that it is important to give each athlete life skills that they continue to use during and after they are done participating. We are looking at different ways to build character in our school and feel that CBIM and AAL training is a great way to do this. We are excited to get started and to work with Kelly at SAFV.”