Checking Out Youth Sports Coaches

Association Guest Column: National Recreation and Park Association

By Kathy Spangler

he old youth sports mantra, "It doesn't matter if you win or lose, it's how you play the game," has nearly disappeared from the vocabulary of some of today's volunteers. The "can do" attitude of yesteryear has given way to a competitive, win-focused playing experience. And too often, coaches have acted inappropriately toward a child on the team-whether it's getting too emotional, yelling or belittling them. In the worst case, the media has reported incidents in which coaches have crossed the line further and molested a child. The few volunteers involved in these incidents have begun to tarnish the solid reputation of competent community youth service providers and have soured the experiences of families nationwide.

The unfortunate reality is that today, parents don't feel as safe leaving their children in the hands of strangers-in some cases, with good reason. Statistics have shown that the number of potential volunteer coaches with criminal histories is staggering. Just among the segment of volunteers serving as youth coaches, 7.5 percent have criminal histories and 2.5 percent have criminal records with sexual and violent felonies. This number is much too high when the safety of children is at stake.

Fortunately, community decision-makers have the power to improve the caliber of volunteers who represent local communities.

As the national organization for parks and recreation, the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) has stepped up to the plate with a program to help communities ensure the safety of children through proper volunteer management practices. An example of proactive steps to address this issue is "Operation TLC2: Making Communities Safe," a new public safety endeavor that

provides thorough national criminal background checks for all potential volunteers, as well as training tools to ensure safe, quality volunteers in youth programs.

The NRPA has partnered with three companies to create this safety program, each offering its expertise to create the most comprehensive screening, training and identification initiative for volunteer coaches in park district programs across the nation. Operation TLC2 aims to restore the integrity of volunteerism and emphasize sportsmanship and appropriate conduct.

Southeastern Security Consultants Inc. (SSCI), a volunteer screening company, will provide TLC2 park and recreation agencies with comprehensive national background checks and screenings.

The problem is that most background checks currently search only the state of origin for a potential park and recreation agency volunteer's criminal record. It is not difficult for a volunteer with a criminal background to seep through the cracks of the system and get a job coaching children. The scope of SSCI's technology allows for further scrutinizing of criminal backgrounds on a national level, eliminating potential coaches who have a history of criminal activity.

Once a volunteer has passed the screening process, it is important to follow up with thorough training to teach volunteers to effectively work with children. Too many times, volunteers get so emotional that it ends up spoiling the fun for the children. Proper training for public service is the necessary next step to create a meaningful, beneficial relationship between the coach and the children.

Another essential TLC2 partner is DMP Consulting, which specializes in training volunteers and has contributed to the development of a comprehensive training resource to effectively prepare volunteers to provide quality services.

Finally, the properly screened and trained volunteers need to be clearly identified to distinguish them as official volunteer coaches. TSS Photography, a youth school and sports photography franchise, will provide a customized photo identification tag with specialized credentialing information and lanyard within five days. More than 250 TSS franchise locations will help implement Operation TLC2 in communities across the nation.

The entire process of performing the background check, training the volunteer and creating the photo ID badge takes approximately 10 days. Park districts or sports leagues pay a one-time fee and are also eligible for a discounted TLC2 charter organization fee for background checks.

Since the official launch of Operation TLC2 at the NRPA convention in Seattle in October 2006, more than 35 communities have signed up to be charter organizations-and many more are soon to follow. Volunteer management plays a vital role in local park and recreation programs. Operation TLC2 will enhance the safety and fun of the experience for coaches, players and their families.


Kathy Spangler is the national partnerships director for the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA). For more information on Operation TLC2 or to sign up as an Operation TLC2 charter organization, visit or call (703) 858-2162.

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