Drug-Testing Volunteer Coaches

The Tennessee State Soccer Association--the state’s largest youth soccer organization, with more than 40,000 players ages 4 to19 and roughly 600 select coaches--has implemented a drug-testing program for coaches, making it the first youth soccer organization in the U.S. to venture into this territory.

Have we really reached that point where the moms and dads who volunteer to coach youth sports are being drug-tested? Perhaps it’s a step in the right direction.

Straightforward Approach

Among the drugs that coaches will be tested for are amphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamines, ecstasy, codeine, morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone and masking agents.

Coaches seeking a license must sign a form giving the organization the right to randomly test during the season. Coaches selected will be sent kits for urine testing and must go to an approved testing facility within 48 hours.

A first positive result nets a 90-day suspension. Coaches applying for reinstatement will face a hearing panel.

Failing a second test results in the coaches losing their license for six months, followed by possible reinstatement, again after going before a panel. With both scenarios, a follow-up test is required. A third positive result is the end of the line--coaches will have their licenses permanently revoked.

If a prescription drug is detected during testing, coaches must provide a valid prescription to side step suspension.

Coaches also can be tested for reasonable suspicion if their behavior indicates the possible influence of drugs.

Now, the move has stirred plenty of debate:

• Those in favor of testing applaud the proactive approach to help ensure that children aren’t playing for coaches whose ability to make decisions in the best interests and safety of the players is compromised in any way by the use of various substances. Some argue it’s no different than conducting background checks to keep people out who shouldn’t be working with children in other areas.

• And then there is the contingent that argues that this move infringes on the privacy rights of individuals trying to do a good thing by volunteering, that implementing these types of measures reduces the pool of coaching candidates because fewer individuals are likely to volunteer knowing they may have to spend more time in their busy schedules going to a facility for testing.

A Step Further

Now, I don’t know where you stand on this, but I think we can go even a step further. What about alcohol testing?

I have witnessed many youth sporting events over the years in which volunteer coaches treat the contests exactly like tailgate parties at professional or college games. These individuals have coolers packed with beer, are armed with cigarettes, and gather after games (or in between games at weekend tournaments) to consume some beverages and analyze the games.

While we would like to think that all coaches are models of volunteerism, the reality is that some are there because, if they don’t coach, their child won’t have a chance to play.

These volunteers believe that they are doing their local recreation department a favor by stepping forward to help out--and they certainly are--but they are doing the children entrusted to them a huge disservice when they model poor behavior.

So it’s up to all of us to change that mindset and enforce exemplary behavior.

So, either as administrators of your own programs, or overseers of parent-run programs that use your facilities, you have full responsibility for the behavior of the coaches.

The Tennessee State Soccer Association should be applauded for its move to drug-testing because it is intended to protect the best interests of the players--and that’s what it’s all about.

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. To 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.