This week, Tennessee becomes the first state to adopt an official safety ratings system for youth sports leagues.
The program hopes to corral a wild west of safety standards across all sports. It will award levels like Bronze and Gold to organizations based on their level of compliance.
One of the minds behind the new Safe Stars system says the idea came from a discussion about a different state initiative — one that rates the safety of daycares.
Dr. Alex Diamond of Vanderbilt’s Injury Prevention in Youth Sports program says that effort set minimal safety and health requirements for daycares across the state. Since it was performing so well, he says they thought “You know what? We should do something around sports.”
Dr. Diamond compares the current situation to dropping your kid off at a pool that has no lifeguard.
The new program would set sports safety standards for potentially life threatening issues by requiring things like AED machines at all facilities and venues. To meet the the Bronze level, organizations would need to check off a number of items on the list, like performing background checks and having an emergency plan.
But there’s one move they wish all leagues could make, which would earn a top rating.
“In an ideal world, we could solve a lot of these problems by having every youth league and organization have an athletic trainer,” Diamond says. “An athletic trainer can take care of all of these issues and take the burden quite honestly off parents and coaches who are absolutely well meaning — but volunteers.”
But hiring a trainer is an expensive proposition. To have one trainer appear at games alone, it recently cost one Middle Tennessee youth football program nearly $1,700 for the season. Safe Stars would like to see trainers at every activity, including practice, which would greatly increase that cost.
The other hurdle for some communities is internet access. Most of the certification courses for things like concussion safety and heat awareness are online only. That will likely limit the participation from some rural and lower income leagues.
Diamond says the group behind Safe Stars is aware of “the resource factor” faced by some leagues but believes if their efforts mean saving the life of just one child, it is worth doing.