The Administrator's Guide to Compliance in Youth Sports

Staying compliant with state and federal laws is a big responsibility for youth sports administrators. After all, compliance isn’t just another buzzword — it’s a crucial ingredient in the success of any youth sports program.

When you have legally compliant policies and procedures in place, you’re not only shielding the organization from liability, you’re also fostering a safe, fun environment where athletes can thrive. 

The problem is compliance isn’t the simplest area to navigate. If you feel overwhelmed by trying to understand which laws to adhere to and how, you’re not alone. It can certainly be confusing. 

That’s why we created this guide. In it, we’ll take you through:


You can read the blog or download the full guide as a PDF to read any time.


So, let’s jump in.

What Does Compliance Mean in Youth Sports?

Put simply, compliance is adhering to any rules and laws that apply to your organization. That includes the policies of any governing bodies as well as local and federal laws. 

That said, compliance should be more than a box-ticking exercise; it should help establish the ground rules for how your organization operates, so that you’re not only acting within the law but also doing what’s best for your athletes. 

Why Is Compliance Important for Youth Sports?

Young athletes are particularly vulnerable to injury, abuse and misconduct. 

Youth sports provide a conducive environment for physical contact where children are regularly beyond the supervision of their guardians, which can present opportunities for sexual abuse.

In a 2019 survey of 473 elite athletes, conducted by CHILD USA, 3.8% reported being sexually abused as a minor by a sports official or peer athlete. Nearly 1 in 5 reported physical abuse of some kind.

Because young athletes are still growing, they’re also at a greater risk of injury. That means you need procedures in place both for preventing physical harm and for handling relations with medical staff and athlete health data. 

Put simply, compliance is important in youth sports organizations because the legal framework you operate in is designed to protect young athletes in a variety of ways. 

This framework is far from perfect, but it’s what we have — and the laws are always evolving. As a youth sports administrator, it’s your responsibility to ensure you comply with these laws on a local, state and federal level. 

Working to achieve compliance:

  • Protects the athletes from harm and minimizes the risk of misconduct
  • Reduces the risk of liability and the risk of damages — both reputational and financial — to the organization
  • Avoids legal penalties, such as fines, for non-compliance
  • Allows you to meet insurance requirements
  • Enhances trust in the organization
  • Helps ensure that any misconduct or violations that do occur are detected and acted upon early


What Laws Must You Comply With for Youth Sports?

When evaluating youth sports compliance, it’s important to consider applicable laws at both the state and  federal level.

Federal Laws That Impact Youth Sports Operators

Let’s first look at federal laws since these encompass all states. 

Here we’ll take you through two of the most important federal laws you need to know about as a youth sports administrator: The Safe Sport Act and HIPAA.

The Safe Sport Act

In February 2018, in response to a growing number of sexual abuse cases in sports, Congress passed a law  that legally enforces the protection of young athletes. It’s called the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017 — a.k.a, the Safe Sport Act. It’s one of the most important federal laws for youth protection.

This act:

  • Requires Olympic governing bodies and amateur sports organizations to report any sexual abuse allegations immediately to either law enforcement or a child welfare agency.
  • Mandates that all national governing bodies follow strict standards for child abuse prevention and detection.
  • Established an independent entity called the United States Center for SafeSport, which is responsible for investigating reports of abuse. The Center for SafeSport also maintains a public central database of disciplinary cases and sanctioned individuals across all sports. 

Who does the Safe Sport Act apply to?

The Safe Sport Act is broadly written to encompass all national governing bodies as well as amateur sports organizations competing in international or interstate sporting events.

If your organization falls under the jurisdiction of a national governing body (such as USA Volleyball, USA Gymnastics or any other US Olympic Committee sport), there’s no question that Safe Sport applies to you. This means you must report any suspected child abuse (sexual or otherwise) within 24 hours, or you may be subject to criminal penalties. Mandatory reporting applies to any adult who is authorized to interact with youth athletes.

Note that while every national governing body must meet Safe Sport requirements, each has its own specific policies around how they do so. Always check what the policies related to your governing body are if this situation applies to you. 

Even if your organization doesn’t fall under a national governing body, Safe Sport regulations may still apply. Additionally, whether you’re a club, league, camp, sports facility or otherwise, it’s best practice to be compliant, so you should always aim to check all the Safe Sport boxes.

What do you need to do to be Safe Sport compliant?

To comply with the Safe Sport Act, you need to do at least the following:

  • Establish a reporting system. This should be available to all staff and volunteers and allow them to quickly and confidentially report abuse or suspicion of abuse.
  • Provide abuse prevention training for all adults who interact regularly with the athletes. Training should be renewed annually.
  • Offer awareness training for minors with parental consent. This training informs young athletes of what behavior to look out for and how to report misconduct. 
  • Run background checks on all applicable adults. Find out more about how to run youth sports background checks in this guide.
  • Publish your policies and procedures around athlete safety. These should be easily accessible to all coaches, staff, volunteers and parents.

As we said above, you should consider Safe Sport compliance as crucial for any youth sports operator. This is not only the best way to ensure you’re within the bounds of the law, it’s also the best thing you can do for your athletes.


HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996)

Under this law, national standards were established  to protect sensitive patient health information from being disclosed without consent. 

Who does HIPAA apply to?

HIPAA primarily applies to healthcare providers and health insurance companies. However, any organization that touches health-related information should be aware of it.

That includes you as a youth sports operator. You collect a lot of sensitive information, including registration forms, allergy forms, vaccination records, parent drop-off forms, physical evaluations, medication forms, waivers or anything else with personally identifiable information. 

Your participants expect you to store this information in a safe and secure manner. If you don’t, you’re not only betraying their trust but also exposing the organization to problems should data be breached.

“Health information is considered personally identifiable information, and can have negative consequences if it’s used or managed improperly,” says the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA)

“While youth recreation organizations, including park and recreation departments and YMCAs, aren’t covered under HIPAA, this legislation comes into effect as soon as health information is shared with anyone at a point of care; i.e., an on-site nurse or paramedic,” NRPA explains. “So, it’s in your best interest to implement as many of HIPAA’s specific privacy and security measures as possible so that you can protect your organization against risks and liabilities associated with collecting and managing health information for your participants.”

The bottom line is that you should always be careful with how sensitive information is collected and stored. Complying with HIPAA rules is the best way to play it safe (pun intended) and do what’s best for everyone. 

That also means if you’re using a compliance management platform, you should look for one — such as Ankored — that’s HIPAA compliant. That way, you’re confident that all data is being safely collected and stored.

What do you need to do to be HIPAA compliant?

HIPAA is broken down into two main rules: the HIPAA Privacy Rule and the HIPAA Security Rule.

The Privacy Rule concerns how personal information is stored, accessed and shared. It includes:

  • Notifying athletes about their rights and informing them of how their information will be used
  • Adopting and implementing privacy procedures and training staff on those procedures
  • Assigning someone to be responsible for ensuring privacy procedures are followed
  • Ensuring the security of records that contain identifiable health information

The HIPAA Security Rule involves placing administrative, physical and technical safeguards on electronic data. This includes things like:

  • Password protection on devices
  • Encryption of records
  • Secure access to files by any staff working remotely
  • Data backup and recovery systems
  • Antivirus and firewalls
  • Procedures for disposing of electronic media
  • And many others (read more about the Security Rule guidelines on the Department of Health & Human Services website).

The HIPAA requirements are too extensive to list fully here. You can visit the HHS website for more information or check with your legal counsel for individual advice on which regulations apply to you.


State Laws That Impact Youth Sports

As well as being under the blanket of federal laws, each US state has its own legislation that impacts the policies of youth sports operators.

State Background Check Laws

Some states have mandated state-specific background checks for anyone working with minors. 

While you should always carry out national background checks, which search national databases, such as the National Criminal Database and National Sex Offender Registry, state-specific checks are a requirement in addition to national checks.

Whether or not you need to do any state-level background checks depends on the laws of your individual state. You can check this database from to find out your state’s background check laws. 

If your state has mandated state-level checks, you’ll need to include these in your organization’s background check policy, alongside national checks, in order to be compliant at all levels.

Ultimately each state has its own requirements for background checks, so it's important to double check the sports board website for every state you operate in to see their latest guidelines.

Return-To-Play Concussion Laws

From 2009 to 2014, all 50 states enacted youth concussion legislation. These laws prevent a young athlete from returning to the field after being suspected of sustaining a concussion. 

Depending on your state, return-to-play protocols may require:

  • Training for coaches in how to recognize and manage concussions
  • Education for parents/guardians
  • Youth athlete education in preventing, recognizing and reporting concussions
  • Return-to-play restrictions (these dictate how many hours/days must pass before an athlete can return to the field)
  • Clearance from a medical professional before the athlete can return to play
  • Informed consent of parents and athletes (i.e. waiver forms)

Return-to-play protocols vary with regard to how long players must stay off the field, the type of healthcare professional that can provide clearance and more. It’s imperative that you check your state’s specific laws to see what applies to you and develop your safety policies accordingly.

This document provides a summary of state concussion laws. You can use the code in the ‘Citation’ column to search for an up-to-date version of the law that applies in your state.

First Aid Training Laws

Coaches in many states are also required to have some level of first aid training, including CPR training. Depending on the state, this may apply to non-school-affiliated youth sports leagues as well as school sports.


Next Steps: Compliance Checklist

As you’ve gathered by now, compliance in youth sports requires a nuanced approach. Laws and regulations are dependent on factors like the type of organization and where it operates, so it’s impossible to give one simple answer that applies to everyone.

Compliance may be a big (and sometimes daunting) topic to tackle, but at the end of the day, it’s about providing the best standard of care to young athletes. For that reason, it’s in your best interest to check as many of the compliance boxes as possible. 

We hope this guide helps you narrow down which areas to look into and where to start when developing your organization’s privacy and safety policies. 

You can read the blog or download the full guide as a PDF to read any time.


Opting to use a compliance management solution can also make this process simpler. A platform like Ankored helps you manage multiple compliance steps in one place, from securely collecting and storing waivers to running background checks and abuse prevention training. 

Find out more about using Ankored for compliance management here.


Disclaimer: This post is for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Always check with your legal counsel for specific advice.