General Risk Management
Risk management in a high school athletic program involves doing everything possible to reduce the risk of injury and illness to the participants and to diminish the liability of such injuries should they occur. Basically speaking, risk management is the administrative effort to reduce injuries and minimize liability through prevention and safety planning. All of the nine legal duties of a coach directly impact the prevention of injuries and illnesses and, therefore, minimize the possibilities of litigation.
Some of the preventive measures that are our legal duties involve the following:
Interview all coach prospects. This includes all adjunct coaches and volunteers. Check their backgrounds and call/contact their references. (Duty to provide proper instruction)
Supervise and evaluate your coaches. There is an evaluation tool for coaches. You are required to use these to meet this end. (Duty to supervise the activity; Duty to provide proper instruction.)
Encourage all coaches to have CPR, First Aid, or Sports Safety Training. In the future, it will likely be a requirement for all coaches. Blood pathogen training is required of all District employees. Make certain your coaches have this training. (Duty to evaluate for injury or incapacity; Duty to provide appropriate emergency assistance.)
Encourage all coaches to attend clinics and workshops that are sport-specific. Please encourage them to take the Coaching Principles Course (not required). (Duty to provide proper instruction; Duty to properly plan the activity; Duty to match your athletes, Duty to supervise the activity, Duty to provide adequate and proper equipment.)
Do regular and periodic safety checks of your facilities and equipment. Your coaches–especially football, softball, and baseball–should do this weekly, if not daily. Send in maintenance requests (highlighted as a “Safety Risk”) immediately upon finding any broken or exposed risk factor. Repair and or reconditioned equipment regularly. (Duty to provide a safe physical environment; Duty to provide adequate and proper equipment.)
Make sure your coaches are matching their athletes in all drills and scrimmages. (Duty to match your athletes.)
NEVER allow athletes to practice or workout without supervision. This is especially true for the weight room! NEVER ALLOW ANYONE TO WORKOUT IN YOUR WEIGHT ROOM UNLESS A COACH IS PRESENT! NEVER ALLOW A COACH TO LEAVE THE WEIGHT ROOM UNSUPERVISED! (Duty to supervise the activity closely.)
Discuss with all athletes and their parents “Risk Acknowledgement and Consent to Participate. “ At the (PAIN) Meeting, the group should fully explain the risks of participating in high school sports and the possibility of injury. (Duty to warn of inherent risks.)
Make sure all coaches, managers, and trainers are made aware of the Emergency plan. (Duty to provide emergency assistance.)
Some risk management suggestions and supplementary ideas to help with the above are as follows:
• Identify any hazard or risky activity before any sporting contest, or practice is scheduled.
• Develop and implement guidelines for the safe conduct of participants.
• Provide extremely close supervision for potentially dangerous activities.
• Hire qualified personnel.
• Provide proper and extensive training for all sports personnel.
• Provide detailed medical emergency procedures.
• Determine the physical condition and physical impairments of all participants.
• Develop procedures to document and investigate accidents or injuries.
• Assemble a risk management committee whose paramount concern is the safety of the participants.
• Involve parents.
• Notify the community and the media of your risk management program.
• Continually update and maintain a documented risk management program record. This can assist in evaluating the effectiveness of risk management policies and procedures.
Duty to Properly Instruct
The following are characteristics and descriptions that lead to fulfilling the duty of proper instruction:
• Correct and proper instruction techniques of the sport must be known and taught.
• Incorrect technique observed must be corrected.
• Skill development drills and conditioning must be progressive.
• Demonstration of proper technique is a must, such as, when an incorrect technique can result in injury, it should be demonstrated.
• Instructors’ skills should match the risk of the activities.
• Wrongful acts should not be taught. However, they may be demonstrated and emphasized to show the injury they could cause to an opponent.
• Detailed records of instruction and training should be maintained.
• All personnel should keep current on new developments.
Factors to Consider When Matching Players
The following is a list of the factors that coaches are to consider when matching players in drills and scrimmages:
• Height and weight
• Injuries or incapacitating conditions
• Mental state of a player
Duty to Provide a Safe Environment
Many lawsuits in sport contain an allegation of an unsafe playing area. Full control over playing areas is difficult to maintain. Nevertheless, you have a responsibility to “Notice hazards.”
• If a coach knows a hazard exists (“ACTUAL NOTICE”), he/she has a duty to eliminate it.
• A coach has a duty to exercise ordinary professional diligence and discover hidden hazards (“CONSTRUCTIVE NOTICE”).
Recommendations for a Safe Environment
• Remove all unnecessary hazards on and around the playing field/court.
• Inform and warn players of hazardous areas.
• Have rules concerning the use of facilities.
• Share responsibility for facility safety with players.
• Assign a coach to inspect the facilities and playing fields regularly.
• Have an effective procedure for reporting hazardous situations before accidents happen.
• Utilize a preventive maintenance approach.
Duty to Provide Adequate and Safe Equipment
Schools and organizations have a duty to provide adequate equipment to participants in athletic activities. The failure to provide satisfactory equipment is another of the most prevalent allegations in sports injury lawsuits.
Courts have defined six areas of potential equipment liability for schools, athletic organizations, administrators, coaches, and physical education teachers:
- Duty to select and acquire the appropriate types of equipment depending on what activity is being offered.
- Duty to choose equipment that is of satisfactory quality concerning safety characteristics and injury-preventing design.
- Duty to properly distribute the equipment. Equipment must be properly fitted, and sanitation guidelines must be observed in certain types of equipment.
- Duty to instruct players on the proper use and misuse of equipment.
- Duty to make sure that the proper protective equipment is always used when necessary.
- Duty to develop and implement a plan to periodically inspect all protective equipment and to recondition when necessary.
Strategies for Providing Adequate Medical Care
(Duty to Evaluate Athletes for Injury or Incapacity and Duty to Provide Appropriate Emergency Assistance)
• Know the health and physical condition of the program participants.
• Obtain appropriate written permission, commonly referred to as consent-to-treat.
• Be able to offer appropriate first aid to injured participants.
• Have necessary first aid materials and supplies available in a first aid kit readily accessible.
• Develop a system for accurately reporting important information related to injuries.
• Where feasible, make use of certified athletic trainers.
• If needed, have a medical team available for immediate response.
Measuring Athletic Program Equity with Title IX
The following is a basic framework for evaluating a school’s level of compliance with the requirements of Title IX. The U.S. Office for Civil Rights, the agency charged with oversight and enforcement of Title IX, requires compliance with the below two broad components.
TITLE IX COMPLIANCE FRAMEWORK FOR HIGH SCHOOLS
COMPONENT I: EFFECTIVE ACCOMMODATION OF ATHLETICS INTERESTS AND ABILITIES
A. PARTICIPATION OPPORTUNITIES: The three-prong-test
• Substantial Proportionality: ratios of male athletic participation and female athletic participation must be “substantially proportional” to ratios of male enrollment and female enrollment.
• History & Continuing Practice: the school must show a continuing practice, in the very recent past (2-3 years), of expanding its women’s sports offerings.
• Full & Effective Accommodation: the school must show that the athletics interests and athletics abilities of the institution’s female enrollment have been fully and effectively accommodated.
B. LEVELS OF COMPETITION: The two-prong-test
• Equivalently Advanced Competitive Opportunities: must provide similar numbers of male and female athletes equally advanced competitive opportunities.
• History & Continuing Practice: must show a continuing practice, in the very recent past (2-3 years), of upgrading women’s competitive opportunities.
COMPONENT II: EQUIVALENCE IN OTHER ATHLETICS BENEFITS AND OPPORTUNITIES
P protective athletic equipment, athletic clothing, and other athletic supplies
L locker rooms, practice facilities, competition facilities, and other athletics environments
A allocation of travel benefits, transportation benefits, and meal/lodging benefits
Y years of experience, quality, compensation, and assignment of coaching
I institutional housing and dining facilities and related services for student-athletes*
N nature of publicity, marketing, and media services provided for athletic programs
G game and practice times and schedules
F facilities for and access to athletic training benefits and medical services
A academic tutoring services for student-athletes*
I institutional support services for athletic programs*
R recruiting resources provided to athletic programs*
* indicates this requirement is generally for colleges only