Youth sports offers enrichment for kids, chances to meet and make friends, and regular physical activity. The right youth sports activity can add a world of fun to a child’s life. Unfortunately, enrolling kids in youth sports also comes with risks.
Over the years, major headlines have reported sexual misconduct running rampant in youth sports programs. The story of Penn State University and serial sexual abuser Jerry Sandusky is just one example. These incidents have caused some parents to pause before getting their kids involved in youth sports. The assumption that parents used to have, about youth sports being a “safe place” for their kids, no longer feels accurate.
There are ways to assess youth sports organizations to determine whether they are taking adequate steps to keep kids safe. Before enrolling a child in a sporting organization, here are four key questions to ask.
Which coaches’ background checks do you require?
In any youth sporting environment, the adults that your kids spend the most time with are the coaches. As such, it is crucial to understand which coaches’ background checks the organization runs. Whether it is a school, nonprofit organization, local business, or something else, the entity has a responsibility to make sure that the professionals hired to coach are safe and reputable.
Criminal background checks–preferably checks that incorporate sex offender registries and child abuse registries–are a must in this context. Reference checks, employment history verifications, and (if applicable) license verifications all may be critical to determining the experience and character of a potential coach. An organization that does not run any of these checks is not taking the proper steps to keep children safe.
How about volunteer background checks?
Organizations are more likely to run thorough background checks on employees than on volunteers. A school that employs someone as both a coach and a teacher, for instance, will almost certainly put that person through an employee background screening process. However, because volunteers are often considered a less permanent or less essential part of an organization, background checks may fall by the wayside for these individuals.
In youth sports, volunteers often fill multiple roles–including as coaches or referees. If you are considering a youth sports entity that is fully or partially volunteer-run, make sure that the organization is running volunteer background checks. Even if the volunteer coaching the team is a neighbor or fellow parent you know, you can never be too careful.
What is the organization’s training policy?
Because youth athletics is meant to be fun, the organizations behind youth sports are sometimes informal in their organizational structure or operations. However, every youth sports entity should have formal policies and practices in place, including a formal training process for coaches and other employees or volunteers.
Training is instrumental for creating proper boundaries between adults and kids, teaching staff and volunteers about the organization’s code of conduct (a critical policy that every youth sports program should have), and providing information about when and how to report abuse to the authorities.
Organizations should incorporate parents and kids into this training whenever possible to raise awareness about the types of interactions that are and are not permissible, and to provide tools that allow every participant to better detect and report misconduct.
How does the organization avoid one-on-ones between adults and children?
One of the most critical steps that a youth sports organization can take to prevent misconduct is to prohibit situations in which an adult (such as a coach, ref, or volunteer) is alone with a child. Youth sports entities should have multiple coaches and conduct standards in place to minimize scenarios in which one-on-one contact might take place.
At backgroundchecks.com, we offer a wide range of background check services and regularly report on incidents of misconduct in youth sports and other youth-centered organizations.
About Michael Klazema The author
Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based backgroundchecks.com with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments