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How You Know Your Coach is Grooming You - Part 1

Trigger warning.


Google's definition of 'Grooming': "the action by a pedophile of preparing a child for a meeting, especially via an internet chat room, with the intention of committing a sexual offense."


Grooming is not limited to pedophiles. Many adults fall victim to grooming at no fault of their own.


Through manipulation, trust-building, and attachment, abusers use their position of authority to control the emotions and actions of others. In the process, a victim finds them self feeling inclined to obey without question. Feelings of guilt and suppression are expressed by the victim as they feel compelled to obey every whim of their abuser. In most cases, the victim is unable to identify that they are being groomed which is why this needs to be talked about in the context of BJJ academies and school owners.


As a school owner myself, the heavy responsibility of being in-charge of the well-being of hundreds of people, many of whom are women and children is something that keeps me up at night. I do everything in my power to educate my staff and ensure they are trustworthy around my students, however as a survivor myself, as a mother, and as someone who knows many women who have been victimized and lived to survive abuse, my antennae are always on; whether I'm at the mall, at a friends house for a dinner party, or at my kids' sports activity. Unfortunately, the reality of the world that we live in forces me and many others to always be cautious whilst not living in fear.


While I am blessed to be in an environment where I am in the position of authority and have people working under me, I am able to control and oversee what goes on in my academy. As a student of BJJ I have always been blessed with respectful male instructors and mentors who have always ensured my safety. However, not everyone is so lucky and not everyone is given the platform where their voice is heard or feels like it matters. While many school owners and coaches genuinely care and want the best for their students, the fact remains that there is a small percentage of school owners and coaches that use their position of authority for the wrong reasons. In North America alone, we have seen many examples in the BJJ community that when stories came to light, women (often the victims/survivors) were then shut out of the academy altogether, rather than the real underlying issue of abuse being discussed and dealt with. This is shameful.


I am part of many different BJJ networks and unfortunately, one of the most common posts on women's BJJ forums is usually on the topic of "creepy" instructors who make snide remarks to their female students either publicly, in private, or in passing. These students are usually new to the sport, may be a little naive and are unaware of the rules and processes when it comes to the etiquette of BJJ. For abusers, this is the best possible scenario and thus, the process of grooming takes place. Often times, these (female) students are left feeling confused, often guilting themselves and questioning if they did something to deserve the abuse, and whether they could have done something to prevent it. My dears, as you read on in this blogpost, you are not to blame, rather the people who were in charge of your well-being should be held to account for their shameful and heinous actions.


In my research on this topic over the years, Grooming of an adult is very similar to that of a child. Here are RED FLAGS that you should be aware of when you are in any given situation where a person of authority is in charge of your well-being. This list is not only relative to a BJJ school setting, rather it can be made useful at work, school, at your conventional gym, with a life or business coach, your doctor, a friend, or romantic partner, you name it.


***Please note that this list may be triggering for some***


  • Instructor/person of authority over flatters you

  • Instructor/person of authority invites you to their home for private training (HUGE RED FLAG)

  • Instructor/person of authority offers you free training (for those under 18, with or without your parent's knowledge)

  • Instructor/person of authority will become moody with you, which makes you become more attached and responsible for making them feel positive towards you

  • Instructor/person of authority makes you feel guilty and will alienate you from other teammates

  • Instructor/person of authority slides into your DMs for casual talk which leads to inappropriate advances/speech

  • Instructor/person of authority will start to appreciate you through unwanted hugs, or other physical gestures without your consent


If you are a parent who's child is in a sport or recreation program of any kind including but not limited to music lessons, dance, academic tutoring etc, I STRONGLY recommend that you take the time out of your day to supervise any meetings that take place between your child and the person in your child's care. Remember, not all Groomers are adults. Many can be older teens who may have fallen victim to abuse themselves.


Of course in BJJ and other contact sports, there are times where there is a legitimate need to touch a child to correct form and ensure a child's safety; however if you are a school owner or coach and would like to restrict the contact between your staff and students under 18 in your children's program, I strongly recommend that grappling dummies are utilized for private lessons if you need a third person (or you can request that parent involvement is required for privates), and that parents are PRESENT when private lessons are taking place. The latter is a policy at my academy and a bonus of this policy is that parents get to see first hand what their child is learning and keeps parents involved in their child's progression. I would also suggest that instead of kids pairing up with a coach (this is a norm in many academies all over the world), kids get in the habit of making a 'group of three' if there is an odd number in class. At my academy, we have a strict policy on this where coaches are not allowed to pair up with students in the kids program; not because I do not trust my coaches (otherwise I would not have hired them), but rather it keeps all students in birds-eye-view of the coaches when teaching. This eliminates the need for a coach to touch a child.


Schools owners should also do background checks for all personnel on your payroll (if you are like most mom and pop gyms that don't have payroll and you pay your instructors with freebies, get yourself a business coach and run your business like a legit business for God's sake). Additionally, school owners should be in frequent contact with their staff with weekly and monthly meetings and go over your school values and rules with your staff on a regular basis. You should also invest in security cameras and place them in all high to low traffic areas (obviously not the change-rooms or bathrooms), and review them frequently. Too much work? Well then you're in the wrong business. As as school owner YOU are responsible for the safety and well-being of your members so get to work!


In my next blog post I will go over what to do if you realize that you are being groomed by your coach. Please stay tuned.









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I'm Zenab! I hope you enjoy reading about my musings in the world of entrepreneurship as I navigate reaching my Jiu Jitsu goals while helping other women achieve theirs. 

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