False Security

As long as recreation agencies conduct background checks on volunteer coaches, participants are perfectly safe, right?


That’s like saying plugging a flat tire will make it usable for another 5,000 miles. Maybe--but don’t count on it.

When it comes to protecting young athletes, there simply is zero-margin for error.

Now, I’m not saying that background checks aren’t a good idea. In fact, they should be a part of every recreation agency’s comprehensive policies in determining whom to throw down a welcome mat for and invite to be a coach.

I’m only saying that if you think that checks are the answer to all your problems, you’re woefully wrong.

And, if you think that by doing checks you are preventing those with less than sincere motivations from infiltrating programs and damaging young lives, think again.

Protecting Players

Recently, a coach in a youth football league in Southern California was charged with nine counts of child molestation involving various children he was carpooling to and from games.

And guess what? This league does perform background checks.

“Carpooling with coaches is common, especially for the away games,” said Don Gauthier, the president of the league. “Often, parents can’t take the kids because they’re working or have other obligations. I’ve run this league for more than 25 years, and I’m not going to let this happen again. I’m going to do everything in my power to prevent this, and if that means not allowing coaches to drive kids to and from games or to pizza parties after games, then so be it.”

The league now prohibits coaches from giving rides to players to or from games, practices or team events. If the rule is violated, the coach will be relieved of his or her duties.

“No one on our board will be giving anyone a ride,” Gauthier said. “I don’t even care if it’s their child’s friend. The way the world is today, it doesn’t matter how big your community is, you never know who your next door neighbor is.”

Keeping Tabs

Gauthier is right about the world today.

We don’t know who’s capable of preying on children and committing these sickening acts.

What we do know, though, is that local taxpayers pay for the facilities in which games and practices are held, and they are counting on you to make it safe for every youngster.

What happened in this program should set off a warning flare to recreation directors everywhere.

After all, background checks can’t stop a first-time offender, or a predator that simply has never been caught.

But if checks are one of the protective measures being utilized, those persons whose motives have nothing to do with helping children learn and develop skills will think twice about targeting that program.

Other protective measures include:

• Having a code of conduct in place that coaches sign and pledge to adhere to; if the code is violated, he or she will be removed from the position

• Training that makes it perfectly clear that someone is always looking over the coaches’ shoulder, ensuring that their words and actions are appropriate for the children in their care

• Utilizing a coach-rating system in which parents can anonymously evaluate their child’s coach.

When those in charge of recreation programs have all the bases covered, that’s good for the children.

Fred Engh is founder and CEO of the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) in West Palm Beach, Fla. He can be reached via e-mail at fengh@nays.org.ToThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it join more than 3,000 communities by starting a NAYS chapter, visit www.nays.org or contact Emmy Martinez at emartinez@nays.org or (800) 729-2057.