In some sports discussions, ACEs are a good thing. They can describe a golf hole-in-one, a winning tennis serve, or the baseball team’s best pitcher.

But in the world of youth sports, ACEs are also harsh predictors of potentially adverse and lifelong health and well-being challenges. 

Short for Adverse Childhood Experiences, ACEs encompass a broad range of traumas like physical and emotional abuse, neglect, caregiver mental illness, and household violence, among other things. Research shows a strong correlation between early adversity (before the age of 18) and poor outcomes later in life.

Research also indicates that the more ACEs that a child experiences, and it’s not uncommon to experience more than one, the greater the risk of health challenges, poor academic achievement, and substance abuse.  There’s a direct link between childhood trauma, such as sexual abuse, and adult onset of chronic disease, depression, and suicide.

It’s precisely because of these types of long-term effects, in addition to the real-time horrors of abuse, that US Lacrosse is unequivocally committed to the SafeSport Program. Helping lacrosse coaches to understand their role in being mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse is critical to saving a child from a lifetime of challenges. 

“Having one great and supportive adult behind you is a win for a child,” said Adam Rosenberg, executive director of the Baltimore Child Abuse Center. “No one gets help unless abuse is reported.”

Much of the initial understanding about ACEs stems from a CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences Study conducted in the mid-1990s. Confidential surveys completed by over 17,000 participants regarding their childhood experiences were compared against their current adult health stats and behaviors. Almost two-thirds of study participants reported at least one ACE, and more than one in five reported three or more ACEs. 

The CDC estimates that up to 1.9 million cases of heart disease and 21 million cases of depression could have been potentially avoided by preventing ACEs. The economic and social costs to families, communities, and society totals hundreds of billions of dollars each year.

Researchers typically group ACEs into three main categories: Abuse, which can include physical, emotional, and sexual; Neglect, which can be physical or emotional; and Household Dysfunction, which can range from having an incarcerated relative to witnessing substance abuse within the home.

“Among these categories of trauma, those that experience abuse have a disproportionally higher risk of more ACEs later in life,” Rosenberg said. 

Based on the responses in the CDC-Kaiser Permanente study, researchers determined that people with an ACE score of 5 or higher are seven to 10 times more likely to use illegal drugs, to report addiction, and to inject illegal drugs. Opioid dependent individuals report higher rates of ACEs and are associated with an earlier age of first usage. They are at greater risk for drug use and overdose.

ACEs also yield negative impact on school performance. Students with higher ACEs are over twice as likely to fail a grade and score lower on standardized tests. They are also suspended or expelled more often and designated to special education more frequently.

“We can proactively prevent poor future outcomes by responding to child abuse, neglect, and trauma,” Rosenberg said. “Child sexual abuse and physical abuse is bigger than pediatric cancer. And you can bet if this was a disease, our response would be dramatically different.”

The good news is that ACEs are preventable, and for those who have experienced these adversities, help is available. 

As a coach, promoting a safe and nurturing youth sport environment where children can learn, play and ultimately, thrive, is part of the solution. Recognizing some of the outward signs of trouble, as explained in the SafeSport Online training, is also important. 

The short investment of time for the SafeSport training, about 90 minutes, can position a coach to have a bigger impact in determining a child’s future than any game skill they will ever teach. It’s an investment that could help shape a child’s future for many years to come.

“As adults and coaches, we can’t be bystanders to this public health threat,” Rosenberg said. “In the same language that we’ve become so familiar with since 9-11, I tell everyone that ‘if you see something, say something.’ If not you, then who?”

SafeSport Program

US Lacrosse believes there are many reasons to play sports, but abuse, on any level and in any form, can not be part of the equation.

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