Making A List
Several years ago, the director of the youth soccer league of the rural town to which I had recently moved asked me if I would coach a team of 10 year old boys. I said yes.
Before the first practice, I went to the fields to check on their condition after the long New England winter. They were soggy, but on they're way to drying out. The overall quality of the fields was poor. It was not surprising, considering the amount of snowfall that winter. There were goal posts, but most were lying on their sides or, if standing, had not been securely anchored. Player benches were strewn about, and there were numerous tire tracks where cars or light trucks had gotten stuck in the mud. As I walked the fields, I began making a mental checklist of my concerns, one of which was the absence of access to a telephone to call for help in case a player suffered a serious injury.
Missing Agenda Item
As I read through the agenda at the coaches' meeting a few days later I looked for any mention of the topic of player safety. It seemed like everything but safety issues was on the list! Being the new coach on the block, I waited patiently to speak until the "new business" time at the end of the meeting. After I introduced myself, I began listing my safety concerns. Each prompted a collective chuckle from the league's board of directors and other coaches and statements like, "That's the first time anyone has ever suggested the need for a telephone," "We don't have money in our budget to secure the goal posts," and "No one has ever complained about the lack of drinking water or a shelter in case of a storm.
I quickly realized that I was outnumbered by coaches who were not putting the safety of the kids first. Instead of finishing my list, I ticked off a series of tough questions: "If there is an electrical storm after the kids have been dropped off by their parents for practice, where will we seek shelter? If a gust of wind blows an unsecured goal post over on top of a player, how do I call for the paramedics without a telephone?" "Have all the coaches received training in CPR and injury prevention techniques?" "Does the league provide each coach with a first-aid kit?"
The coaches' meeting, however, taught me that parents need to be pro-active about safety by insisting that the directors of the youth sports program in which their son or daughter participates puts safety at the top of their list, and, if they won't, do whatever they can do themselves to avoid placing their kids at needless risk of injury, not only to their bodies, but their minds as well.
The most valuable assets of any youth program are our kids! Players, coaches, referees, managers, parents and spectators all have a responsibility to make youth sports as safe as possible.