Protect Your Players and Your Program: An Athletic Leader’s Legal Duties


By Shaleek Blackburn

When the clock started on the new year earlier this month, all but one state joined the growing legal effort to protect and prevent concussions and head injuries among America’s young.

As sports-related injuries and issues continue to dominate the headlines and influence programs throughout the country, laws like “return-to-play” are becoming a sign of the times when it comes to protecting players and athletic programs alike. The world of athletics is experiencing a significant shift in the perception of the roles and responsibilities of coaches, schools and athletic personnel.

Awareness of concussions and the significant health concerns they pose is just the tip of the iceberg for coaches. This issue also raises the specter of a growing list of legal concerns coaches must be aware of. Tom White, director and founder of the Master's of Coaching and Athletics Administration program at Concordia University Irvine asserts: “In today’s litigious society, it is increasingly important that coaches, administrators and athletic leaders have a sound understanding of the law.”

White, who’s been involved in coaching, athletic administration and education for more than four decades believes that “areas such as supervision, proper training and transportation in interscholastic and club athletics may prove to be the Achilles’ heel of those coaches or programs who are out of compliance.”

To educate the coaching community about the importance of their roles, duties and obligations, White and the MCAA team at CUI developed the “14 Legal Duties of Athletic Personnel.” This is an evolving “coaches credo” that encourages coaches to develop and communicate a sound riskmanagement plan while heightening their sensitivity to, and awareness of, their legal responsibilities.

The 14 Legal Duties of Athletic Personnel

  1. Duty to Plan
  2. Duty to Supervise
  3. Duty to Assess an Athlete’s Readiness for Practice and Competition
  4. Duty to Maintain Safe Playing Conditions
  5. Duty to Provide Proper Equipment
  6. Duty to Instruct Properly
  7. Duty to Match Athletes During Practice
  8. Duty to Condition
  9. Duty to Warn
  10. Duty to Ensure Athletes are Covered by Injury Insurance
  11. Duty to Provide Emergency Care
  12. Duty to Develop/Follow an Emergency Response Plan
  13. Duty to Provide Proper Transportation
  14. Duty to Select, Train and Supervise Coaches

3 Tips For Implementing Duty #1 – Planning

Strategize and write

Develop a yearly plan and stick to it.

Huddle and commit

Gather your athletic leaders, communicate the plan and make sure everyone follows it.

Be responsive

Develop responsive plans in coaching competence, medical screening, injury response, warnings to athletes and their families and child advocacy, including substance abuse or neglect.

Tags: coaching, management, sports, legal

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