We’re all concerned about keeping children safe – there’s no question there. When leagues start hiring coaches and manager, it’s okay for parents to be concerned. Coaches share an intimate connection with children, and parents of course want to know they can trust the adults that mentor their kids.
Because coaches have a special access to children, leagues have a due diligence to make sure they do background checks on those they’re considering hiring for positions. If a potential coach or employee fails a background check, they should be denied a job. This is common practice in the world of sports leagues – but what about non-payroll adults that work with leagues?
Beyond the financial risks to the league (see our other blog posts on embezzlement), this is a hot button issue. In larger leagues, volunteers are often required to go through a background check process. Smaller leagues however are strapped for funds and bodies to work will often forego background checks and accept anyone willing to help.
Here is our overall question – are background checks for volunteers necessary if they want to participate in sports leagues?
It’s always important to consider opportunities for safety when it comes to keeping children out of harm’s way. We outfit players with helmets and other equipment designed to keep them physically safe on the field, we also have a responsibility to make sure they’re kept safe in our care in other ways.
Sometimes this kind of precaution isn’t necessary. For instance, let’s say a community art class volunteers to commission a banner for your league. These people will never be directly around the players, and it would be unnecessary and excessive to require them to all have background checks done.
However, if anyone will be working directly with or around the children, it is important to do a thorough background check. While most volunteers want to help out the community and don’t have any ulterior motives, occasionally a predator applies for these positions in order to situate themselves near children. Predators will lurk where they can find children, and where nobody will check their credentials.
And hiring a third party vendor (caterer, transportation for example) should trigger a question; ”are your employees background checked?”
In talking to our members, the implementation of background checks in volunteer leagues faces three major obstacles; complexity, pride and price. Background checks are complicated, and deciding the level of scrutiny and work-flow for implementation is difficult. The legal guidelines for implementation are strict.
The second obstacle derives from the very foundation of youth sports leagues. They are hyperlocal and dependent on neighbors and parents involvement. The belief that “we know those people” is belied by the stats. Only 11% of perpetrators are complete strangers. We put our coaches and volunteers in a position of power over our children.
Finally, background checks are expensive. And they need to be done on a regular basis (some companies suggest every two years). Most leagues find the financial burden to be insurmountable and are forced to “take a chance”.
This is a worthy cause that most parents and business owners in the community will agree to help with. League Network has many fundraiser idea options, and parents will be more than willing to help raise money for the league if it means their children will be safe.
One of the scariest sports injuries a child can sustain while they’re on the field is a concussion, and while they are prominent in some sports, they can occur almost anywhere. Soccer players can collide on the field, or a player can head the ball in correctly and become concussed. Football players can receive concussions from tackles. Hockey players can hit the side glass wrong or get hit in the head with a puck or a stick. A misdirected hard pitch can end in head trauma.
Sports officials and leagues have taken measures to help prevent concussions, like outlawing certain strategies, moves and practices in youth league sports. These rules usually state that children playing under a certain age bracket can’t do things like slide tackle, heading the ball under a certain age, or perform head-on moves. They also regulate the equipment used, like making sure teams are outfitted with the proper head gear.
Despite all of this forethought, concussions still happen in youth sports, and at a higher rate than you might realize. While some sports injuries are inevitable when you have a child that plays in a youth league, it’s our job and the job of the leagues that we work with to make sure management helps to reduce the number of concussions as much as possible.
An Increased Urgency
The football players of the past who are now suffering from early dementia, confusion and brain trauma received multiple head injuries when they were in their 20s and 30s. It is only in fairly recent years that governing bodies and teams are teaming up with medical research to get a clear picture of the lasting issues, and prevention options.
Now consider a child receiving multiple concussions during their teenage years. Their brains are still developing, and the younger they are, the scarier the risks are.
Let’s look at some concrete numbers on concussions, specifically in regards to youth sports:
· Youth tackle football players sustain more concussions than players of any other sport.
· Among girls, soccer players receive more concussions than girls who play any other sport.
· Twice as many girls who play basketball receive concussions as compared to boys who play.
· Concussions can happen in most sports, including swimming and fencing.
· More than 50% of high school athletes fail to report their concussions (despite being informed of the protocol during season registration).
· Despite “return to play” protocols, many coaches, parents and athletes are unclear about the proper handling of concussions
· Concussion problems compound with subsequent impact. If not detected and treated properly, they become increasingly dangerous and the consequences can be dire.
How We Can Help
One of the reasons the injuries and effects of concussions are concerning are because coaches, athletes and parents often don’t know how to properly handle them. There are actually a lot of misconceptions about the true definition of a concussion. Lack of information and difficulty to convey the information down to the player and their family often impair safe treatment.
The solution to this problem is to arm everyone involved with better knowledge. Before the season starts, hold a team meeting discussing what a concussion really is and why it’s so important for athletes to report their concussions. Parents should be informed about when to take a child to the doctor and the protocol to follow after head trauma is sustained.
Maybe even more important, make sure your players know what symptoms to recognize, and know to speak up. A lot of boys especially still believe that “getting your bell rung” is part of being a strong player. For them to neglect or avoid voicing issues such as dizziness, headaches, forgetfulness after an impact can lead to undetected issues. Boys and girls alike avoid reporting so they are not forced to sit on the sidelines while their peer play, which leads to under-reporting.
League Network exists to better arm league officials with the information necessary to make their leagues better and safer, and we are committed to player safety. League Network is one of the new members of the Youth Sports Safety Alliance (youthsportssafetyalliance.org) and will work diligently to bring our parents, volunteers and league officers prompt, actionable and updated information on concussions and other tragic injuries in sports.
At League Network, our goal is to increase sports participation and help our member leagues thrive and grow. We don’t want to see parents pulling children from sports teams en masse because they’re afraid of permanent brain injury any more than the league owners themselves.
When everyone is informed, everyone is safer. When everyone is safer, leagues are more prosperous. Better Leagues means Better Lives ™.
Some children are obsessed with one sport. Their interests revolve around excelling in one in particular – football, soccer, hockey, baseball. They adorn their walls with posters of their sports heroes, put all their effort into playing the sport and plan to do so for the rest of their lives.
Other children, however, are interested in multiple sports. How many girls have you met who play soccer, softball and have a background in gymnastics, or boys who play football and baseball in the off season?
While in Academics we naturally encourage well rounded children, in sports, the question is, is this a good thing?
Yes. There are quite a few reasons why you should be pushing players to have a variety of sports experiences under their belt. We’ve highlighted some of the most important ones below.
Exposure to Multiple Sports
The most necessary premise for parents should be that any child on a field or a court actually wants to be there. There should be no forcing, prodding or begging involved – it makes players resentful and keeps them from truly shining on the field. Sports should be first and foremost an enjoyable activity. A child who is exposed to several sports has a chance to find something they excel at, and enjoy sports for a long time.
The AMS Says So
Want real proof that children should play more than one sport? Hear it from the professionals themselves.
According to both the American Medical Society and American Academy of Pediatrics, children shouldn’t play a specialized sport until they reach at least age 10. When a child fully commits to one sport prior to this age, they increase their risk of repeated injury, stunting growth and the healing process.
While it is entirely possible to get a multitude of injuries playing any sport, working the same muscles day after day, practice after practice, leads to repeatedly risking similar injuries. This greatly impedes the healing process. Injuries can get exponentially worse by repetition, requiring more extensive repairing and more healing time.
When a child plays only one sport and they do this competitively, the focus narrows down to excelling just in this field. Having exposure to multiple sports means adapting to different strategies, rules of play and sportsmanship; not just how to play one sport and one sport only well. When the child grows older, this flexibility pays off in developing an adaptable student and worker and well-rounded adults.
More Activity, More Results
While it is sometimes difficult for families to keep up with increased schedules and costs, exposing young children to the maximum variety of sports is increasingly proving to be beneficial.
At League Network, we always advise our members to remember to thank volunteers they know are doing a great job. After all, volunteers are often what keep a league running. This is especially true in cities where there aren’t a lot of funds to pay for staff and equipment. These volunteers get things done and help raise funds, never asking for anything in return.
Research shows however, that volunteers do get something out of their experience volunteering. While not monetary or tangible, volunteering brings about a lot of benefits. Understanding what those benefits are is crucial in attracting and retaining great volunteers.
Sports volunteers who work directly with the players can improve their fitness alongside their athletes. While we all know less than fit coaches (volunteer and otherwise), being engaged and moving about along with the players can often add a couple hours of light exercise in an otherwise sedentary schedule.
Some leagues pay their referees. Others offer the job as a volunteer position, and there’s almost no better way to get some cardio in than running up and down a soccer field or pacing the sidelines during a football game.
Volunteering is proven to also keep your brain active, reduce depression and increases self-confidence.
Values and Conscience
Volunteer work simply makes you feel good. Talk to any volunteer you meet, and they’ll likely tell you that no matter what they ended up doing, they loved the experience simply because it made them feel like what they were doing was important.
Volunteering can be something of a spiritual experience, or at least one that speaks to your conscience. Being engaged in your community brings you a sense of accomplishment and visible results and a greater sense of connection to others (new friends for example).
Resumes and Applications
If you’re a younger volunteer, your work with a youth sports league can make a glowing addition to any college applications you want to fill out. You don’t have to play sports yourself to use league sports as a valuable reference. Volunteer work of any kind shows a university you’re a passionate, hard-working student.
Volunteer work is also great to put on job resumes and expand one’s network. Employers love to see that you’re willing to work hard for free, which speaks volumes about your ability to work when there’s an incentive on the table.
Everyone needs to feel needed and included, and volunteering fulfills that need. To top it off, the role of a coach in youth sports is akin to that of a teacher in a school. The pleasure and engagement gained by watching future generations grow up – quite literally before your eyes – feeds our need for an enduring legacy throughout generations.
League Network supports volunteers by creating better, more sustainable leagues. Not only do you become part of the team you help support through volunteering, you officially become part of the League Network family. Join us in our mission to create Better Leagues, Better Lives.
“Concussion.” It’s the title of a Will Smith movie. And it’s the most-feared word in youth sports. It’s back to school season, and it’s likely that students are already preparing for their sports seasons. Some school sports require summer practices and tryouts, and this is in addition (at times) to extracurricular league sports. Children who play sports are at a very increased risk of head injury, and this is compounded when they play both school and league sports.
Many parents aren’t aware that they can take steps to help prevent concussions in children before the sports season even starts.
1. Baseline Testing
A Baseline Concussion Test is just that. Establishing a frame of reference. Before a sports season begins for a child, this preventative measure is meant to establish their baseline functioning capabilities – how fast they move, what their reaction time is, how quickly they process things, etc. This establishes how a child functions normally everyday outside of sports injury.
The main idea behind a Baseline Concussion Test is that it will come in handy after a child is injured. Once a child has potentially been concussed, the test is performed again. How far they deviate from the original test baseline can indicate how badly they are injured and informs both treatment and return-to-play timeline.
While US High School governing bodies mandate Impact testing, most recreational and travel leagues do not. It is worth contacting the local hospitals who sometimes offer free testing and education.
2. Make Sure Children are Aware
As much as parents may want to shield their children from being hurt, the reality is that youth athletes are definitely at risk of various injuries. Parents have a definite responsibility to educate their children about not being reckless and the possibilities of injury they face playing the specific sport that they do. Teaching the kids to recognize the signs of a concussion and speak up to the coach or parents is invaluable.
For leagues, educating coaches is a must. More than anyone else, they should have the medical and health basic knowledge required to accurately inform children about concussions, how to stay safe, and what they should do in the event they believe they – or someone else has sustained a traumatic brain injury. In the case of concussions, it’s important to dismiss the “it’s ok to get your bell rung” mentality.
3. HEADS UP
One resource available to athletes, parents and coaches is HEADS UP. Formally called “The HEADS UP Concussion in Youth Sports initiative,” this resource is developed by the CDC with the purpose of helping prevent and manage concussions in youth sports. The NFL Foundation has adapted it into their Heads Up Football regime, which involves new practice techniques including limited live tackling in practice.
The HEADS UP initiative offers specific resources to parents, athletes, sports officials and coaches – but why? Each one has a different responsibility and role in concussion management and the program is expertly designed to address each.
Concussions are a very serious part of youth sports. While there are numerous benefits that youth sports bring to children and communities, it’s also important to understand the risks they bring to players with a sense of realism. Knowing and understanding concussions is how a parent, a coach or an athlete can help take a scary situation and manage it to the best of their ability.