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'Coaching Boys Into Men' Program Proves Effective For Pittsburgh-Area Middle School Athletes

Sarah Schneider
90.5 WESA
Westinghouse High School football players line up for a practice play in Homewood. The school was the first in Pittsburgh to implement a Coaching Boys into Men program.

New research finds the violence prevention program Coaching Boys into Men is effective in mitigating harmful behavior among middle school students. The initiative trains coaches to speak to athletes about stopping violence against women and girls and has been a part of high school sports since its creation in the mid-2000s.

Dr. Elizabeth Miller, director of the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, conducted the trial, which included nearly 1,000 local young men. She found that implementing the program significantly increased positive bystander behavior.

“The more young people speak up saying, ‘You know what, that's not cool, that's not acceptable,’ the more that young people feel confident about engaging in it, like actually interrupting disrespectful behavior,” Miller said.

Southwestern Pennsylvania has the largest number of Coaching Boys into Men initiatives. The study, conducted between 2015 and 2017, involved 41 randomly selected Pittsburgh area middle schools. Miller said she wanted to look into its effectiveness in the 6th-8th grade setting because sports programs are “significantly less organized than high school varsity sports,” meaning students haven’t chosen just one or two sports, as they might in high school.

“I went into this really saying, ‘Look, it’s important to do the research because I need to be able to tell people in the prevention world whether or not this program would be effective for middle school,” Miller said.

Her findings confirmed the program’s effectiveness, citing a 50 percent increase in positive bystander behaviors. For the two-thirds of students surveyed who said they were dating, the research found 75 percent less abuse perpetration after a year in the program. 

“We’re clearly moving the needle and what we thought was an effective program for high school now is wide open for middle school athletic programs,” Miller said. 

Young men with progressive gender beliefs are much less likely to use violence in their lives, Miller explained, which can translate beyond dating to things like cyber bullying and violence in peer relationships. Programs like Coaching Boys into Men are especially powerful for athletes who play football, basketball and hockey, where, Miller said, “there is greater performances of a particular kind of rigid masculinity.” These students tend to have a lower understanding of gender equity, which is where the coaches’ programs come in.

“It challenges this notion that masculinity equals aggression, equals hyper-sexuality and hyper-masculinity,” Miller said, “that being a strong man does not actually translate into being violent.”

WESA receives funding from UPMC.