How to Avoid the Most Common Youth Sports Compliance Issues

Sports benefit children in so many ways. Aside from physical health, research links sports participation to lower rates of anxiety and stress, higher self-esteem, increased creativity, and more.

However, those rewards can only come from a safe, secure, and positive environment.

Youth sports rules, regulations, policies and procedures exist to create and maintain that safe environment. That, along with staying on the right side of federal and state laws, is why adhering to compliance standards is so important.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common compliance issues in youth sports, what to do if they arise, and how you can avoid them.

In this guide, we’ll cover:

  • What is a compliance issue in youth sports?
  • Common compliance issues:
    • HIPAA violations
    • Failure to conduct background checks
    • Lack of abuse prevention training
    • Safe Sport Act violations
    • Failure to follow safety protocols
    • Discrimination
  • How to handle compliance issues
  • Next steps

What Is a Compliance Issue in Youth Sports?

Compliance issues happen when someone — whether it’s a coach, parent, player, or staff member — violates one or more rules or regulations, putting the safety of the team in jeopardy and potentially breaking the law.

As an organization, you need to have a structure in place to ensure everyone remains legally compliant. That means instituting policies that dictate how people should act, how your organization should be run, and enforcing consequences if those policies are violated.

Compliance issues in youth-serving organizations can have serious consequences, such as legal penalties, financial losses, damage to reputation, and loss of trust. Non-compliance can also result in harm to the young athletes in your care.

Common Compliance Issues and How To Avoid Them

Compliance spans multiple areas of your organization, so let’s take a look at some of the most common issues that can arise.

HIPAA Violations

HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) is a federal law that protects sensitive health information from being shared without consent. Legally, it applies to “covered entities,” defined as health plans, health care clearinghouses,

and health care providers who transmit health information in electronic form.

For youth sports organizations, this legislation can come into effect when information is shared with healthcare providers like physicians or on-site nurses. It can also apply to some athletic trainers, such as those who work in health centers or sports medicine clinics.

Covered Entities Chart via the Department of Health & Human Services

HIPAA covers two key aspects of data collection and storage:

  • Privacy: things like consent, notifying athletes of how their information will be used, and creating policies on how data is stored and shared
  • Security: password protection, encryption, data disposal, etc.

Failure to follow HIPAA guidelines can result in civil and criminal penalties with fines ranging from $100 up to $50,000 per violation depending on severity and intent.

Although it can be confusing to pinpoint exactly who is covered and in what situations, following HIPAA guidelines is always advised because it minimizes the risk of non-compliance and provides a set of best practices for keeping player information safe.

How To Avoid Compliance Issues

To stay HIPAA compliant, you need a careful approach to how you collect, store and share personally-identifiable health information.

For example, you might collect data about your participants’ medical conditions, vaccination status, allergies, etc. When collecting this information, you should inform the person about how it will be used and get their consent to collect it. From there, your policies and procedures should ensure that the information is secure and can only be accessed by those with the authority to view it.

You also need to consider what and how information is shared with health providers in the event a player needs medical care.

Read more about how to stay HIPAA compliant in our Guide to Compliance in Youth Sports.

Failure to Conduct Background Checks

Background checks are the first line of defense in ensuring everyone in your organization can be trusted. If you don’t use them, you run the risk of violating background check laws in your state.

Each state’s requirements differ, but non-compliance may happen if:

  • You fail to run background checks on all applicable adults, as defined by your state’s laws.
  • You do not conduct screenings regularly.
  • You do not include all the systems and databases required by your state.
  • You do not have a clear background check policy in place.

How To Avoid Compliance Issues

The first step to avoiding compliance issues is to create a solid background check policy that defines who needs to be screened and how often. Use our article about types of background checks as your guide.

Next, you should implement a system where you can clearly track who has been screened and when. That way, you can easily see where you stand and avoid any compliance issues. For example, Ankored lets you see the status of every background check at a glance in a single dashboard.

Running regular background checks is about more than ticking legal boxes. It helps protect the vulnerable young people in your care. If you’re not already running them, you can find out more about what’s required in our Ultimate Guide to Youth Sports Background Checks.

Lack of Abuse Prevention Training

Being able to spot the red flags of abuse is a powerful tool in preventing it. That’s why youth-serving organizations are required by certain laws to administer abuse prevention training to all adults who will be interacting with or overseeing children.

Abuse prevention training teaches coaches and other staff how to identify and report signs of abuse, as well as how to create a safe and supportive environment for children. If abuse prevention training is not completed by all relevant adults, it puts the athletes at risk of being abused or mistreated.

Additionally, if a child is abused or mistreated, the youth sports club could be held liable. This could result in legal action being taken against the organization.

At a federal level, there’s the Safe Sport Act, which applies to any sports organization governed by a National Governing Body (NGB) as well as amateur sports clubs that participate in interstate or international competitions.

This Act requires that SafeSport® training be completed by all adults who have regular contact with amateur athletes under the age of 18.

If your organization doesn’t fall under the Safe Sport Act, you may still be legally required to provide abuse prevention training under state laws. If that’s the case, you can choose a training provider that’s not SafeSport® specific. Always check the requirements in your state, however, because they might have approved providers you need to use.

How To Avoid Compliance Issues

As with background checks, solid policies and procedures are key to compliance, so be sure to clearly define who needs to complete abuse prevention training and how often. Consider using a compliance management system to track who has completed training and when.

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Safe Sport Act Violations

As well as background checks and abuse prevention training, organizations governed by the Safe Sport Act need to meet several other requirements. They must:

  • Establish a policy for preventing and reporting abuse and communicate it to all athletes, coaches and staff.
  • Report incidents of abuse, confirmed or suspected, within a certain timeframe.
  • Take reasonable steps to limit one-on-one interactions between adults and minors.

If the U.S. Center for Safe Sport finds deficiencies at your organization during an audit, you’ll have a period of time to make corrections. If you remain non-compliant, they can impose penalties.

On an individual level, those who violate SafeSport’s code of conduct may be suspended or expelled from participation in sports activities. Beyond that, criminal action may be taken if the case is referred to law enforcement authorities.

How To Avoid Compliance Issues

Check your organization’s status to confirm whether it falls under Safe Sport legislation. If it does, ensure you’re familiar with Safe Sport regulations and that your organization is compliant at every level. You can find out more by visiting the U.S. Center for SafeSport website.

Failure To Follow Safety Protocols

Physical safety is paramount in any youth sport, and it’s your job to minimize the risks to players. You need to have a number of safety protocols in place to protect your athletes and adhere to legal requirements.

Concussion laws are one major consideration. While each state’s laws differ, they generally require coaches, parents and athletes to complete concussion education and prohibit athletes from returning to play until they’re cleared by a medical professional.

As well as compromising your athletes’ safety, violating these laws can lead to legal liability.

For example, imagine a player suffers a head injury but is sent back onto the field to continue playing. If it turns out that player has a concussion, your organization may be liable for any damages that result.

You also need to consider laws and best practices around equipment safety, CPR training, first aid and more.

How To Avoid Compliance Issues

Below are some primary considerations for safety protocols.

  • Supervision: Ensure players are supervised at all times during practices and games to prevent injuries.
  • First Aid Kits: Have a first aid kit on hand and make it accessible to coaches, officials, and medical personnel in case of emergencies.
  • CPR Training: Some states require coaches and officials to be trained in CPR and other lifesaving techniques. Ensure everyone’s training is up-to-date and consider offering training as a best practice, even if not required by law.
  • Concussion Protocols: Check the concussion laws in your state and ensure you have a concussion protocol in place that meets all requirements. This should include concussion education for coaches, parents and athletes.
  • Equipment Safety: Ensure that players are using proper safety equipment, such as helmets and mouth guards, and that equipment is properly maintained and fitted.
  • Heat Illness Prevention: In hot climates, you may be required to have a heat illness prevention protocol in place, including providing access to shade, water and rest breaks during games and practices. Again, consider this a best practice regardless of local regulations.


Under U.S. federal law, it is illegal to discriminate against an employee based on factors like race, ethnicity, religion, sex, national origin, disability or age. This isn’t limited to hiring new staff. It also applies to working conditions, terminating contracts, promotions and compensation, and in many situations applies to volunteers as well as paid staff.

Here are some federal acts to be aware of:

States also have anti-discrimination laws, some of which provide additional protection above and beyond federal laws. As always, check the laws in your specific state.

How To Avoid Compliance Issues

You need to learn about your legal rights and responsibilities under the anti-discrimination laws — both federal and state. Working within that framework, you should create workplace policies that are inclusive and respectful and that dictate how to handle situations in which discriminatory behavior may arise.

It’s also wise to lead by example, be proactive and work to create a sports club culture that’s positive and accepting of everyone who is or wants to be involved. Doing this is one of the best ways to prevent discrimination and stay compliant.

How Do You Handle Compliance Issues?

So, what do you do if a compliance issue arises at your organization? The exact details will depend on the nature of the violation, but there are some things you can do that will apply across the board.

  • Have a process in place to document any problems that arise. This documentation is important in the case of any legal proceedings.
  • If there are allegations against someone, take them seriously and investigate them in a timely manner.
  • After any problem occurs, or if you’re alerted to the risk of one occurring, rework your policies and procedures to eliminate the risk and ensure future compliance.
  • Provide training and education to all volunteers and staff to ensure they understand their roles and responsibilities and the organization's policies and procedures.
  • Seek professional legal guidance as needed to help navigate complex compliance issues.
  • Think positively and try reframing the problem. Compliance issues can take a toll, but remember that bringing violations to light is an important part of helping the organization grow and evolve.

Next Steps

Compliance can seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. If you care about protecting your players and providing an environment where they can flourish, odds are many of your organization’s actions will align with laws and best practices.

There are many tools out there that can streamline your compliance management processes and minimize the risks of compliance issues, so consider leveraging technology that can make life easier.

If you’d like to see how Ankored can help you track compliance, get started here for free.

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