The adage “Keep your eye on the ball” is only the beginning when you’re a coach or an athletic director. Athletic staff members are obligated to keep their eyes open to all aspects of the team experience, on the field and off. A lack of supervision may result in more than losing a game.
Negligence is typically where most liability stems from for coaches and athletic administrators,”
says Bill McLaughlin, a former California Interscholastic Federation assistant commissioner, attorney and professor for the Legal Aspects of Sport class at Concordia University Irvine. Under that area of negligence, says McLaughlin– whose class covers 13 general areas of law and how they can relate to the management of athletic programs and teams—there first has to be a duty and then there has to be a breach of that duty.
One of those foundational duties according to the “14 Legal Duties of Athletic Personnel” developed by the CUI Masters of Coaching and Athletic Administration program, is the “Duty to Supervise.” This tenet calls for athletic administrators to be present, provide competent instruction, prevent foreseeable injury and ensure the safe use of equipment and facilities.
McLaughlin cautions athletic leaders to provide comprehensive supervision at all sporting events. This is a logistical challenge that must be addressed in today’s high school environment comprised of more than two dozen junior varsity and varsity level sports teams.
“As a coach, there should be no team activity that’s occurring that the coach isn’t physically there to watch and monitor how the activity is being conducted,” he says. Having someone present makes sense from a risk, program and player management perspective, advises McLaughlin. “The school has to plan and assign responsible staff members to be there to supervise and manage activities at the event that could cause liability for the school or the school district.”
As for instruction, McLaughlin says it needs to be “sequential, progressive, considerate of the ability level of the participants and offer proper techniques based on the sport.” For example, football, notes McLaughlin, is still a sport that, by rule, allows violent physical contact. “If you’re going to put a student in a situation where they are going to have violent physical contact with someone and you haven’t prepared them properly, or instructed them properly in the technique and monitored their health and safety, the liability to the district could be crushing.”
3 “Duty To Supervise” Tips
Know What You’re Up Against
To manage your risks, you have to know what they are. Know your program, people and processes inside and out, including your assistant coaches, head coaches and athletic directors.
Don’t wait for something bad to happen to pay attention to your policies and procedures; plan ahead.
Use it for review purposes, to help you spot activities that could have a potential for liability or if necessary, to provide proof of proper instruction.