Are Background Checks Necessary for Youth Sports?

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?

Our Answer

Yes.

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.

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