12 Critical Steps to Protect Youth Football Players

A common-sense approach to reducing liability

1.  Buy high-limit, high-quality team/league insurance

 At a minimum, purchase the following policies to assure a funding source for player injuries:

  • Excess Accident: $100,000 medical limit; $5,000 AD&D limit, deductible no greater than $500
  • General Liability: $1,000,000 each occurrence limit; $1,000,000 participant liability limit; includes custom coverage enhancements for sex abuse/molestation and non-owned and hired auto liability and does not include exclusion for brain injury.

See our-endorsed AYF insurance program for an example of an affordable, high quality insurance program that almost any league can access.

2.  Train coaches in the fundamentals of tackle football

A comprehensive online training program is essential in educating coaches on the basic needs of youth and the fundamentals of tackle football.  It makes sense that the better programs that invest in comprehensive coach training will be more safety conscious. The Datalys study by Kerr draws the conclusion that comprehensive coach education combined with practice contact restrictions may help lower injury rates.

3.  Provide basic concussion education training for coaches 

All coaches should be required to complete a basic concussion education course every two years. Completion documents should be retained at the team/league/association level. The National Alliance for Youth Sports has an excellent basic education program available free of charge. I like the NAYS program better than the similar program offered by the CDC. I think it’s organized more intelligently. 

4.  Limit full contact at practices

Intelligently-designed practices have always emphasized non-contact drills and skill development over full contact. An analysis of the above-mentioned Datalys Study indicates that limitation of full contact at practice is perhaps the most effective way to reduce brain injury exposure in youth tackle football. Governing bodies suggest limiting of full-speed head-on tackling or blocking drills to a starting distance of three yards or less. In addition, full contact as defined by “thud” and “live action” should be limited to 60 or 90 minutes per week. 

5.  Follow the concussion protocols recommended by governing bodies and mandated by certain state legislatures that key in on the following elements:

  • Coach education on concussion basics and tackling techniques. 
  • Parent concussion education through CDC handouts.

 Written policies on procedures on how to:

  • identify suspected cases of concussions
  • mandatory removal from play if concussion is suspected
  • return-to-play protocols

See our Football/Cheer Brain Injury Risk Management Program for a sample brain injury risk management awareness program with links to important sources.

6.   Train coaches in Hawks tackling technique and instill a no-tolerance policy for bad hits

Governing bodies strongly recommend the Hawks tackling technique, which quietly replaced the awkward “heads up” technique originally endorsed by USA Football. See our Hawks Tackling Resource page for more information on the Hawks technique.

Instill a no-tolerance policy for illegal and head-first hits. Coaches should not look the other way when this occurs and should bench players to let them know this will not be tolerated.
Football helmets and concussions

7.  Proper fitting of helmets

Helmets should be fitted strictly according to the manufacturer’s instructions. A improperly fitted helmet will not provide the same protection as a properly fitted helmet. 

8.  Follow manufacturer specifications for maintaining and retiring helmets

Liability risk can be reduced by following manufacturer instructions regarding helmet modification, reconditioning, and replacement. Detailed information can be found under our AYF/AYC Sample Risk Management Program in the equipment section.

9.  Baseline neurocognitive and post-event testing

In the past, baseline and post-event neurocognitive testing was expensive and difficult to administer. It took about 30 minutes and required a classroom setting with PCs. A new entrant into the market, HitCheck, introduced affordable sideline testing, which can be completed on a smart phone or tablet in about 10 minutes.

10.  Implement mandatory heat illness protocols 

Heat illness is one of the leading killers of youth football players. It is preventable in most cases if coaches are properly educated and recommended guidelines are followed. 

11.  Implement sex abuse / molestation controls

Mandatory criminal background checks on all staff with access to youth is a critical requirement, but just a starting point. We provide educational resources on types of criminal background checks and background check vendors. However, it’s estimated that less than 10% of sexual predators have discoverable backgrounds. You need to ask yourself what you’re doing to protect your kids against the other 90%. We provide a comprehensive educational program on creating a hostile environment. It includes policies and procedures to make an incident less likely to occur and a requirement to notify law enforcement if an incident is suspected. 

12.  Document all of the above in writing with risk management awareness programs

Here are our most popular free risk management programs for youth tackle football and cheer: 

  • Concussion/Brain Injury Risk Management Program: This sample program incorporates the proven techniques to reduce brain injury exposure as well as common requirements by state legislatures.
  • Sample AYF/AYC Risk Management Program includes Sex Abuse/Molestation: This general risk management program keys in on reducing risk in terms of facilities, equipment, supervision, instruction, sports injury care, and use of autos. It also includes a section on sex abuse/molestation education and risk management.
  • Lightning 30/30 Safety Rule: This is possibly the most abused safety rule in sports. Administrators and officials must make the unpopular call to postpone and evacuate when the rule is triggered. 
  • Before You Sign the Facility Lease Agreement: Agreements with facility owners are subject to negotiation. Don’t let them impose heavy-handed requirements that make you and your insurance carrier responsible when they are negligent. Learn how to recognize pitfalls and tips for negotiation. 
  • Collecting Certificates of Insurance From VendorsAll vendors, including security, officials associations, janitorial, field maintenance, concessions, etc., expose your association to liability due to their negligence. Require them to carry their own insurance so yours does not take the hit when they are negligent.  
  • 12- and 15-Passenger VansDon’t use these types of vehicles to transport participants due to their tip-over propensity.

 If you have any questions about how to protect your youth football and cheer participants or how to get an instant insurance quote, please call us at 800-622-7370 or visit us at www.sadlersports.com/ayf.