These are staff notes for instructors and other staff members at a club, to provide help and advice for implementing the AHA Code of Conduct when someone reports a minor issue.
Fundamental rule: if someone is uncomfortable with a situation, that is a sign that something is going wrong, and the issue must be dealt with before it becomes a major problem.
Many serious issues begin in a simple and innocuous way. Predators test the waters with some slightly inappropriate things to see who might be vulnerable and who might stand up against them. People who are not predators but who are simply thoughtless or uncaring may act in a simply thoughtless or uncaring way until pulled up for it. People who act in a way that might have been praised in other environments but that is inappropriate for our organisation may act according to their training and habits without realising that it is not appropriate in this organisation.
These simple issues show up in two main situations: socialising, and paired exercises at training (which may include sparring-related activities as well as drills). During socialising, it is easy to see someone who exhibits behaviour that makes other people feel uncomfortable. During paired exercises at training , it is easy to see someone who is being a poor training partner, who makes life difficult or frustrating or unsafe for the person with whom they are paired.
Instructors and staff members at the club must feel empowered (and must be given the authority) to call out people on behaviour that makes others uncomfortable during socialising, or on behaviour that is indicative of being a poor training partner. In fact, instructors and staff have the duty to guide participants’ behaviour towards something more appropriate and constructive.
A simple correction is all that is required at this early stage. “An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure” is an old saying that holds true here. Nipping bad behaviour in the bud early on, and showing that problematic behaviour is simply not welcome in this organisation, while modelling and describing the good behaviour that is expected of everyone, will be the ounce of prevention that stops the issue from becoming the major problem that requires a pound of cure.
Many issues can be resolved with a friendly word if we catch them early enough. Many issues stem from someone wanting to “win” a drill and therefore not being a good training partner. We can frame many kinds of advice (or even mild rebukes) in this way, and help guide people towards more desirable / acceptable behaviour without having to make a big deal out of it.
Instructors should already be giving this kind of advice to participants during sessions. Helping to guide students towards becoming better training partners can head off potential issues nice and early before they might have had a chance to develop into major problems.
Harassment may also manifest by way of someone not being a good training partner, because of the comments they make, or the way they talk down to people, or just their general approach or demeanour to the individuals they are thinking about harassing.
We can shut this down early by telling them that we expect them to be better training partners, and by laying out our expectations of what that involves. Guiding people towards better behaviour can stave off many problems, and it can show bad actors that their bad behaviour is not welcome in our organisation.
It may look like a guy is not treating his female training partner with enough respect. A helpful and friendly way to deal with this is a gentle suggestion that he needs to be a better training partner so that she can learn properly during the drill, and that “winning the drill” is less important than being a good training partner.
It may look like someone is deliberately making life difficult during training for another participant. A slightly more strict admonishment to be a better training partner can fix this, or will at least show that deliberately frustrating people is not appreciated within the organisation.
You may hear that someone is making inappropriate comments to someone else. You might suggest that the first person should be a better training partner by doing more repetitions and leaving unrelated chatter out of the training hall, which may nip this poor behaviour in the bud before it balloons into anything bigger.
Implementing any of these examples will show a potential bad actor that we do not tolerate their nonsense in the organisation and that we will hold them to a higher standard of behaviour. Hopefully this will stop a number of issues dead before they develop into full blown harassment or problems.
This approach is very gentle and does not require much courage from an instructor, an assistant, or even a slightly more observant or mature participant to step in and make a correction like this. This means we have a better chance of getting on top of problems early. It gives us a high-percentage action that we can perform to head off a majority of potentially problematic situations without having to come up with a clever solution on the spot.
To reiterate: instructors and staff members at the club must feel empowered (and must be given the authority) to call out people on behaviour that makes others uncomfortable during socialising, or on behaviour that is indicative of being a poor training partner. In fact, instructors and staff have the duty to guide participants’ behaviour towards something more appropriate and constructive.
There is no need to notify a more senior individual within the organisation about this kind of simple or general feedback, unless you feel it is worth sending up the chain. Feedback and coaching like this might be given to beginners or enthusiastic practitioners as well as to bad actors, and there is no need to feel unduly worried about reminding people to be better training partners – until you notice that you are giving the same advice or rebuke to the same person more often than seems reasonable. Then you should feel justified in sending it up the chain for a more senior person to deal with in a more formal fashion.