Writing a Risk Management Program

Elements of a Written Risk Management Program for Sports Organizations

One of the best ways for sports organizations to reduce the risk of injuries and related lawsuits is to formally adopt by board action, disseminate, and implement a written risk management awareness program. The practice of risk management does not need to be complicated. It is often simply a matter of educating personnel on risk identification and training them on the appropriate response, whether that’s taking action or notifying management.

Below are the critical elements that must be addressed in a comprehensive risk management program for any local sports organization:

Risk management officer and risk management committee

A sports organization should select a risk management officer (RMO) and a risk management committee to oversee the development, implementation, and oversight of the program.

Insurance audit: policies, limits, coverage enhancements

The proper insurance policies should be purchased from financially sound insurance carriers. They should contain high limits of protection with the proper customizations for the sports niche with the elimination of certain inappropriate exclusions. Most sports organizations will need to carry Excess Accident, General Liability, Directors & Officers Liability, Crime, and Equipment. Other policies may also be needed.

Avoid high risk activities

Sports organizations should avoid certain high risk activities such as group and individual transportation of participants, use of 12 and 15-passenger vans, overnight sleepover social events, serving of alcoholic beverages, swimming events, and certain high risk fundraisers. If such high risk events are undertaken, specific risk management controls must be put in place.

Contract review: participant registration forms, insurance requirements, and contractual transfer of liability

Contractual risk transfer techniques must be used to transfer the risk of loss to the other party whenever feasible and generally accepted in the industry. Participant registration forms should be used to protect against certain liabilities arising from bodily injury or invasion of privacy of participants. Examples of such participant registration forms include waiver/release, emergency information and medical consent, and image release. Other situations arise when the sports organization will need to impose insurance requirements and indemnification/hold harmless provisions on parties with which it enters into contracts, such as facility users, visiting teams, and service providers and vendors. On the other hand, when other parties impose insurance requirements and indemnification/hold harmless provisions on the sports organization, such contractual agreements should be reviewed by insurance agents and legal counsel.  Examples of parties imposing such contractual requirements include facility owners and tournament hosts.

Sex abuse/molestation protection

The basic elements of any sex abuse and molestation risk management program include the implementation of a system to run criminal background checks on all staff with access to youth, written policies and procedures to make an incident less likely to occur (ex: use of a “buddy system” and prohibition of overnight sleepovers), and a written allegation response plan that includes the requirement to notify law enforcement. The improper running of criminal background checks can result in liability and steps must be taken to safeguard the confidentiality of results and to protect the rights of others under federal and state law before any adverse action is taken. In addition, written disqualification criteria should be established prior to running criminal background checks.


Lack of adequate supervision is the number one allegation in sports litigation. The sports organization as an entity and its board of directors are responsible for exerting proper general supervision over all aspects of the program. A written risk management program is an excellent way to satisfy this responsibility. On the other hand, individual staff members are responsible for exerting specific supervisory control over individual participants or small groups of participants. Examples of such responsibility include the duty to stop rowdiness, the location of the supervisor, and proper selection and the proper grouping of the size, age, and skill of participants.


Proper instruction involves a qualified coach who has been formerly trained through some type of coach training program, such as can be provided through a governing body or other recognized source. Many leagues provide in- house training of coaches as part of a pre-season seminar. Coaches are required to instruct participants on sport-specific safety rules and procedures and to stress the more hazardous aspects of the sport where a mistake could lead to a serious injury.

Sports injury care

Sports injury care involves prevention as well as pre-injury planning and post-injury response. Prevention includes pre-participation screening, which may include pre-season physicals or the completion of a medical clearance form, as well as a program for flexibility, conditioning, and strength training. Pre-injury planning includes an emergency medical service plan, first aid stations, first aid training, and the use of athletic trainers. Post-injury planning includes assessment, administration of first aid, decision on 911 vs. other transport, availability of emergency information and medical consent form, notification of parents and risk management officer, and return-to-play protocol. Sports injury care also includes policies on emergency weather response, the lightning safety 30/30 rule, heat illness avoidance and concussion/brain injury protocols.


Problems with facilities arising from playing areas, spectator areas, concession areas, parking areas, and paths between are another major cause of injuries and litigation. Most of the classes of facility-related lawsuits arise from improper design and layout, inadequate or inappropriate physical features for sport or age group, lack of controlled access, improper inspection, maintenance or repair on pre-season, weekly, or pre-event basis, and failure to document maintenance or repair. An inspection checklist should be customized for each facility.


The most common equipment-related classes of lawsuits arise from purchase of inadequate equipment, modification, inspection, fitting, maintenance and repair, reconditioning, replacement, and recordkeeping. An inventory of all equipment should be maintained with documentation of all maintenance, repair, and reconditioning.


An auto policy should outline permissible group transportation, individual transportation, and position on the use of 12 and 15-passenger vans, including any motor vehicle registration driver requirements.

Distribution/sign off

The written risk management plan should be distributed to all administrators and staff on an annual basis with the collection and retention of a signed and dated statement that the plan has been reviewed and that it will be followed.


Sample risk management programs, including Word document templates, can be accessed on the Sadler Sports & Recreation Insurance website.