Tuesday, February 5, 2019 - by Bill Kerig
Youth sports provide opportunities for young people to compete, grow, and test themselves on fields of play. But these places of common good have also come to lack common decency and basic safety.
According to the Aspen Institute’s Project Play, more than 80 percent of families in the United States have children who play sports. That’s 64 million families with children in sports! And for a growing number of them, youth sports are no trivial pursuit. Youth sports have taken over traditional roles that used to be held by churches, community centers, and schools. The fields of play are where we come together — parents and athletes and coaches — where we spend our time, where we spend our money. The fields, the courts, the rinks, the gyms, the pools, and the race venues have become our village square.
Yet these are also places where the standards for who is entrusted with our kids are lax, unenforced, or non-existent. They’ve become places where, in the face of behavior that would not be tolerated in other realms of their lives, normally responsible adults look the other way to keep their child on a winning team. Too often youth sports have become a place where winning absolves all sins.
But it does not have to be that way; we can change it, and we must. It is up to us. We cannot wait for committees or Congress to safeguard our kids. Our youth sports community can do this.
What follows are six fixes for youth sports:
- Greater Transparency and communication must be implemented across the entire youth, amateur, scholastic, and Olympic sports world. It starts with a clear understanding of who is spending time with our young athletes, why they are doing it, how they are spending that time, and the training they’ve had to make the qualified to spend time with our kids.
- Education. A supportive network must efficiently connect coaches, parents, athletes, administrators, thought leaders, and educators in a manner that holds all members of the community accountable and drives them toward excellence through a free flow of educational material. A market for the skills and talents of the best coaches must emerge in order to reward those who adhere to the highest standards of integrity and accountability. Parents must also be educated to better understand what’s acceptable and what’s not.
- Universal Training. All coaches, admins, trainers, or other adults who work with youth must have a minimum level of training. This includes sport-specific training, general educational principles, as well as background checks and SafeSport certification. All training must be verified, current, and visible to the whole community.
- A Central Repository of the names, background, and training of coaches, trainers, and every adult who is working with youth must extend across all sports, and locales. It must be easily accessed and readily available to anyone. This repository includes coaches in good standing, and those who are banned. This must include every sport and be searchable by name, sport, and location.
- Feedback. A form of feedback must be allowed for all community members. The community’s feedback must, in the event of unlawful behavior, flow directly to law enforcement or the proper authorities.
- Safe Communication. We all need to communicate better and more effectively, but today’s electronic communications can also offer unsupervised, non-transparent communication that can lead to misunderstandings and worse. The community must provide tools and techniques that safeguard communications between adults and minors and be vigilant to early warning signs of abuse, grooming, or other unwanted behavior.
Building on these six tenets, we created Great Coach: The Youth Sports Network. It is a force for good in in youth sport. Great Coach is a place where community members are connected and responsible for everything that happens within its sphere. It is a place where we take responsibility for the good and the bad, where we uphold commonly agreed upon values, where we protect our children, and each other.
Great Coach is free and it’s live on web and mobile apps (Apple and Android). Help us make youth sports safer, more transparent, and more enriching. JOIN TODAY. If you’re already a member, INVITE YOUR FRIENDS, connect with me here and send me a message. I’d love to hear what you’re thinking. Together we can do this. Together we must do this.