Stepping Up With Safer Programs

I recently read of a case in Northern California where the well-known founder of a youth soccer league was arrested for allegedly molesting a couple of boys.

While reading about yet another twisted adult preying on children was both horrifying and sickening, I was equally disturbed by a paragraph buried deep in the article. The league treasurer was quoted as saying that individuals who apply to coach are asked on their application if they’ve ever been convicted of a criminal offense or accused of child abuse.

They’re asked? No background checks are conducted for volunteers?

A Winning Formula

What amazes me these days is how few organizations actually take steps to ensure the safety and well-being of the players in their programs.

Some organizations perform comprehensive background checks and some do basic screening, but others do nothing. Some utilize training programs to prepare volunteers, while others merely hope that volunteers know what they’re doing. A youth-sports program is simply too important to merely cross our fingers, and hope everything works out for the best.

Protecting the interests of the kids makes programs stronger, participants happier and our jobs more rewarding. That’s a winning formula for everyone.

Keeping child predators out of programs must be a priority. But that’s only a fraction of the equation. The best programs not only keep those individuals as far away as possible, but also tend to some other crucial--and often overlooked--areas.

A Four-Step Process

There is a process to protect programs from costly lawsuits:

1.Screen volunteers with a thorough background check.

2.Train them so they clearly understand their roles and responsibilities and have a good handle on how to work with children.

3.Evaluate them throughout the season so that weaknesses can be corrected right away.

4.Hold them accountable for their behavior at all times, and have policies in place to deal with those who have strayed from your program philosophies.

A 15-year-old girl and her father are suing a swim club as a result of abuse the youngster says she suffered while an alleged child molester was her coach.

Did that organization do everything within its power to protect this innocent child? I’ll let the courts decide that.

In the meantime, take a closer look at your program. Are you doing everything you can?

I’ll let you be the judge of that.

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