Youth sports are a wonderful way for kids to be active, learn teamwork, and have fun. But like any physical activity, there is a risk of injury. As much as we want to keep our children safe, they are going to occasionally get hurt playing youth sports. Despite the best efforts of coaches, administrators, game officials, and parents, inevitably, some young athletes will suffer an injury—3.5 million kids on average every year.
This reality doesn’t mean league directors and coaches shouldn’t strive to increase safety. Ensuring the safest environment, whether with the playing conditions on the field or court, or with the people who we trust our kids to, is a top priority for youth sports organizations. The policies and processes administrators institute and follow can help in this endeavor. Here are four ways to increase safety in youth sports:
1. Better background checks
Though background checks and safe environment programs are now mostly mandatory for volunteers and game officials, the process of conducting these programs is far from perfect for some organizations. Background checks take time to order and receive results from, and admins often find themselves chasing down coaches who simply have forgotten to fill out an authorization form. More scrambling increases the likelihood someone who shouldn’t be coaching kids slips through the cracks. Quality league management software turns background checks and other requirements into an online function. When coaches register their own kids, they can also authorize a check, which is then automatically ordered. Reminders can be set to inform volunteers who haven’t been screened, and admins can be alerted when a check is ordered and delivered.
2. The best officials
Here’s a true youth sports story: A college-aged umpire at a machine pitch baseball game picked up a bat after the game was over, had a 7-year-old put a ball into the machine, and cracked a liner into the outfield while kids were still on the field and not entirely paying attention. This is unsafe on so many levels and demonstrates how important hiring quality officials really is. Admins not burdened by the busy work of paper registrations or complex schedule making can spend more time finding the best refs and umps that will not only call games, but also be advocates, teachers, and protectors of players during those games.
3. New equipment
Some youth sports injuries are the result of old or damaged equipment. Bases that are too wiggly, pitching machines that don’t pitch straight, football helmets missing chin guards, soccer goals that won’t stay upright, hockey masks missing visors … the list goes on. Purchasing new equipment and maintaining the equipment you already will increase safety for your young athletes. This costs money, of course, but when online league management tools free administrators to fundraise, the likelihood of securing that money improves.
4. Concussion awareness
Concussions in youth sports are big news as high-profile athletes have suffered the negative effects of the injury or have walked away from their sports altogether. Parents, leagues, coaches, and insurance companies are demanding more attention to recognizing the signs of concussions. Awareness programs are now available for families during the online registration process. Parents and coaches can watch a video or interactive training program to learn about what they should be looking for if their athletes get bonked on the head or hit the ground hard.
How has your youth sports league improved player safety?