Push for Background Checks on Youth Sports Coaches Continues

By Michael Klazema on 6/7/2018

For many kids, youth sports offer a path to learning important skills such as cooperative teamwork and self-sufficiency. Their popularity across the United States, with millions of active participants, speaks to the value parents and children alike see in these programs. In recent years, as stories of abuse and molestation at the hands of youth coaches have come into the public view, concerns about how to protect young athletes have risen dramatically. Stories such as news that the US Youth Soccer Organization did not strictly enforce background check policies have raised questions about how to safeguard athletes and ensure organizations follow correct procedures.

In the world of youth swimming, USA Swimming created their "Safe Sport" program to educate young swimmers and institute procedures for background checks on many of the employees who work with children. However, according to a report by online publication Swim Swam, gaps in these reports have been found, leaving open the possibility that those with felony convictions could be allowed to work alongside children. Even the CEO of USA Swimming was unable to tell a Congressional committee what the organization's background checks include. 

Others take issue with Safe Sport's educational materials for children, which continue to emphasize the mentorship role of coaches towards athletes. According to a report by Think Progress, some believe these materials reinforce behaviors that foster an environment of sexual abuse.

In New Mexico, a string of abuse allegations emerging from high school athletics showcased the depth of the problem and caused widespread concern among parents and teachers. New Mexico schools do employ background checks, though no check can provide complete predictions of future behavior. 

In Missouri, a children's gymnastics coach abused several athletes; when this was brought to the attention of the gymnastic center's owner, she did not follow her mandated duty to report the abuse to police. Only after the victims went to police themselves was action taken against the coach. 

In a similar lapse in protections for kids, Indiana organizations do not face legal requirements to conduct background checks on coaches. Even if the educator has lost their license due to a conviction in another state, something a criminal report by could uncover, they could still potentially find another job in Indiana. 

What can parents do when faced with the slow pace of institutional change where children's safety is concerned? It helps to take a careful look at any organization before enrolling a child in its activities. Exploring what types of background checks they perform and their policies on contact with athletes is a good first step. 

For athletic groups, the need to implement effective checks is more pressing than ever. provides a tailored package for sports organizations to streamline the process of weeding out undesirable applicants and safeguarding young athletic competitors.

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