Precautionary Measures

When it comes to children, we generally do everything possible to keep them safe--we strap them into seatbelts in the car, make them wear helmets while riding bikes, and take them to doctor appointments for immunizations and checkups.

Yet, when it comes to youth sports, safety oftentimes gets nudged out of the picture. The results can be painful injuries or--even worse--catastrophic outcomes.

An Unnecessary Lesson

Take the heart-wrenching incident in Phoenix, Ariz., earlier this summer. An 8-year-old boy was killed from a blow he suffered when a soccer goal collapsed on him. Reports stated that while he was tending goal, he grabbed the crossbar in an attempt to hang from it. The goal apparently could not support his weight and fell on top of him.

Two weeks before that, a 10-year-old in England lost his life on a soccer field in the same horrifying manner.

And this is not the first time young soccer players have been killed this way.

Every time I hear these awful stories, I can’t help but wonder why the goals weren’t anchored into the ground. It doesn’t make any sense.

These deaths could have been prevented. These funerals never should have happened, and the moms and dads never should have had to shed tears.

Should these youngsters have been climbing on the goal? Of course not, but that’s what kids do.

It’s our job--whether we’re volunteer coaches, program directors or league administrators--to make sure we do everything possible to keep kids safe in any sport.

Goals should be anchored into the ground during games and practices. When the goals are not in use, they must be secured. We all know that kids will find them and climb on them when no one is around. Also, make sure posts are padded, so if players run into them during games, their chances of being injured are minimized.

Now that’s just one safety component to consider.

Other Safeguards

Take a good look at all of the safety measures in your programs. I mean a really good look.

Do you require coaches to know CPR and basic first aid? What happens if there’s an emergency on the field during an evening practice, with no one else around? Are you confident that every single coach in your program can step up, especially if a young life is hanging in the balance?

If not, offer a special course to instruct coaches in CPR. Make it convenient for everyone, and you’ve done a great deed that will ensure the safety of all the participants.

Do you require mandatory mouthguards for every player? If not, you should.

I recently received a letter from an oral surgeon whose 8-year-old son plays baseball. During one of his games, another player was hit in the mouth by a ball. As the letter states:

“The coach’s son took a ball to the mouth, causing his upper front teeth to filet his lower lip and cut the artery in his lip. This caused a lot of concern from the spurting of blood at least 2 feet in all directions as the child spun around. I was right there and applied pressure, took him to a friend’s office and stitched up his lower lip. It was very dramatic and preventable.”

Parents will gladly spend a few dollars for a mandatory mouthguard in order to avoid the above scenario.

How about requiring coaches to inspect the field before practices and games? Is that part of your policy? A broken piece of glass, loose piece of sod or other debris can cause unnecessary harm to kids.

Safe Training

Many of these safety ideas are included in the National Youth Sports Coaches Association (NYSCA) training program, the nation’s leading program to help coaches understand their important roles in working with children. You can visit to check out the online version.

Or, if you’ve discovered some great ways to ensure the safety of kids, I’d love to hear from you.

Yes, injuries are a part of sports, and they will always occur. But many of these injuries are preventable.

Do your part to make a difference. The children in your program will be glad you did.

Fred Engh is founder and CEO of the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) in West Palm Beach, Fla., which has been advocating positive and safe sports for children since 1981. He is also the author of “Why Johnny Hates Sports,” which is available on He can be reached via e-mail at