Effective Safeguards for Children in Youth Sports Start at the Top

By Michael Klazema on 11/21/2019

From baseball diamonds in the spring to the football fields of fall, youth sports offers children of almost every age the opportunity to compete and have fun in a group of their peers. These opportunities also provide valuable lessons for life while contributing to physical development. For many parents today, however, concerns about safety and the individuals interacting with their children run rampant. Today, a coach's responsibility is not merely to equip a team with the skills to succeed — ensuring the maintenance of a safe environment is a crucial role, as well.

Background checks, such as the criminal history reports available through, form the core of these efforts. Not only should coaches first have to pass a background check administered by the governing body for the sports organization, but they should ensure that any individuals they choose to work with also undergo screening before working with children. These efforts, when properly conducted, can ensure the employment of only those trustworthy enough for such positions.

In some cases, though, it is necessary to place a renewed emphasis on the importance of following policies — and the reasons those policies exist in the first place. A district investigation into one Illinois high school in 2019 revealed systemic failures that allowed a registered sex offender to work as a volunteer football coach. The district disciplined the school principal, athletic director, and the head coach of the football team, who lost his position as a result of failing to disclose the coach on official rosters. The message from the district was clear: the importance of winning games pales in comparison to the importance of shielding vulnerable young athletes from harm.

The risk of harm is real, too. In Florida, an organization known as Optimist International was on the receiving end of a lawsuit alleging that its lax background check policy allowed a known sex offender to work as a baseball coach. During that tenure, he committed additional crimes that led to his conviction and incarceration. Because Optimist International did not thoroughly investigate the coach's past, instead only looking for basic convictions, it faces exposure to substantial legal risk. Though coaches must be vigilant in adhering to policies and vetting the staff they choose to hire, organizations and their administrators must shoulder the responsibility, too.

The stories of gaps in vetting procedures or lapses in compliance are numerous and widespread, but the tools to combat these problems already exist. They're in easy reach for youth sports organizations, too. At, we provide tailored search products ideal for vetting coaches, assistants, and volunteers with a comprehensive four-step customization process. From searching for prior convictions to verifying professional licenses and references, there are many ways to build adequate safeguards into your organization. Explore solutions that help foster a safe, healthy atmosphere for the development of tomorrow's athletes.

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