Youth sports are a great way to develop life skills and build character. A positive athletic experience can change the lives of children both on and off the field. However, an unprepared sports program can make a potentially unsafe situation worse.
The vulnerability of the participants in youth sports programs makes securing a safe environment a priority.
Are we doing all we can to improve the quality of athletic competition while keeping athletes safe? No matter your position or role, it is always appropriate to ensure that your sports league fosters a safe environment.
Here are some things to check for in an organization.
An Emergency Plan
A crisis can strike any place at any time. The first step to building a safer sports program is securing a plan for all potentially dangerous possibilities. Make sure that the sports organization has a written emergency plan in place.
The emergency plan explains what to do in unsafe conditions, outlines the responsibilities of staff, and details how and when to contact external support from emergency services. In addition, be sure to always point out how medical attention can be accessed in every situation.
This plan will likely cover a variety of topics and should be tailored to fit your organization’s individual needs.
Remember that coaches are responsible for more than just mentoring. In youth sports programs, coaches are often the first responders to a crisis. As such, they must be trained to react to an emergency.
While it is imperative for coaches and other volunteers to understand the rules, coaches must be able to show they possess good judgment when it comes to coaching decisions. A coach that is more concerned about statistics than the personal development of a player might not keep a player from injuring themselves.
Make sure that the coaches and any other adult interacting with players put the well-being and development of the players and the team first.
Coaches, teachers, and parents serve as role models when it comes to cultivating sportsmanlike behaviors in youth players. When players do not have a respect for the rules and the outcome, problems with bullying can lead to harmful conditions.
Sportsmanship issues are a clear indicator of potential problems. A recent survey of sports officiators from the National Association of Sports Officials sponsored by Peopletrail, revealed that sportsmanship is worst at youth levels. In fact, 54 percent of respondents reported that they have felt unsafe while officiating. Most of these respondents reported that the threats came from coaches and parents.
Coaches and other teachers bear the responsibility for improving sportsmanship. Resolve to take a stand against bad sportsmanship by being an example yourself.
A Screening Policy
News stories continue to capture the spotlight of sports officials with alarming criminal records. Yet, many of these sports officials still interact with young athletics because a background check was never conducted before they were placed in the position.
Confirm that the sports organization has a written screening policy. A written policy ensures that background checks are performed on all adults involved. Background checks are crucial to nurturing a valuable environment for children in sports. These vulnerable participants justify the protection and the peace of mind that a simple background check provides.
Sometimes, sports administrators may be reluctant to have a written policy as it makes them responsible to screen every adult who will interact with the players—a seemingly overwhelming task. Desperation for “warm bodies” can be a real problem for some youth sports programs, but it’s a problem you can be overcome with a good screening policy.
A good screening policy should include partnering with a professional, accredited background screening company—also known as Consumer Reporting Agencies (CRAs). Accredited companies efficiently use resources to get you the most accurate information in the shortest amount of time.
No matter the circumstance, always put safety first in sports by choosing an effective screening partner.