Background Check Considerations for Youth Sports Organizations

2012-01-27T15:43:16-05:00Health & Safety, Volunteer Management|

For sports organizations with volunteers, especially those with repeated access to children/young players, background screening is an important part of the volunteer vetting process.  The term “background check” is very broad and can be interpreted across a wide range of options. Background checks can include searching sexual offender registries online, utilizing local law enforcement, performing third-party database and/or court searches, and the list goes on. Background checks can come from many different sources and can vary based on the following:

  • Geographical search location – Searches can typically be conducted at a local/municipal/county, state, or national-level. International searches are also possible, but tend to be more expensive relative to US based searches.
  • Accuracy/Diligence of the search – There is no one source that aggregates all data, and there is no one best type of background check that will provide the best results across the board on all criteria. In addition, source data is typically not available in real-time if electronic, and can take some time to appear in database searches. Availability of information varies and is based on how the source obtains its data, the frequency of data updates to the source, laws that restrict access to certain records, etc.
  • How the search is initiated and conducted – To conduct any type of search, you must obtain consent from the applicant, along with the information required to conduct the search. This will typically include name, birthdate, and SSN. If this information is captured using paper forms, by law, care must be taken to ensure the privacy of the applicant information. Some third-party vendors allow online applications, that include “self admit” questions that allow the applicant to indicate any previous criminal activity. Online applications also remove the need to deal with paper documentation, which potentially represents additional liability to your organization.
  • How long it takes to get results –  Depending on the source and type of check, results can be obtained instantly, or from a few days to a few months.
  • Cost of the search – Costs for a search will vary based on the types of sources used, the number of different searches conducted, and can range from free (e.g. checking a state sex offender registry online),  to up to $30 (e.g. a national-level criminal database), or even more for courthouse searches based on past residences, international searches, etc.  The cost to the organization in terms of time spent on administering the screening process also needs to be considered.

As mentioned above, there is no one best type of background check that will provide the best results across the board based on all possible criteria. Although there isn’t any common standard adopted for youth sports through policy or legislation, a national-level criminal record and sex offender search seems to be the baseline method. A more detailed criminal record searches, based on the applicant’s address history, is also recommended by many experts and third-party vendors.

There are potential liabilities in administration of a background screening program (e.g. your organization and third party vendor(s) must follow any laws/acts related to background screening).  However, NOT having a reasonable process to “vet” out undesirable volunteers may present far more serious vulnerability to your organization and/or its leaders. Of course, the most accurate and thorough types of background checks tend to be the most expensive.  Decision makers for youth sports organizations need to assess and weigh their budgets, which are often constrained, against what the courts are requiring in terms of “due diligence” when screening volunteers. Any organization considering background screening should seek legal counsel* to help assess their risks as part of their overall risk management policies.


* This site provides information about sports administration to help sports administrators. Information contained on this blog/website is not the same as legal advice — the application of law to an individual’s specific circumstances. Although we make every reasonable effort to provide accurate and useful information, we recommend you consult legal counsel if you want professional assurance that our information, and your interpretation of it, is appropriate to your particular situation.