Answers to NJ Volunteer Coaches Frequently Asked Questions
1. Why do I have to attend a "safety clinic", I'm just a volunteer coach - I mean how hard can it be?
One of the common myths about volunteer coaching is that it requires no training to be effective. Regardless of your experience level or background, there are two reasons for attending the Rutgers S.A.F.E.T.Y. Clinic. First, to increase your effectiveness as a volunteer youth sport coach by enhancing your knowledge of fundamental coaching concepts such as: training and conditioning, prevention of injuries, communication, philosophy; legal liability, etc. Second to protect you from civil lawsuits “for injuries to a player or participant” as stipulated in the Little League Law (2A;62A 6 et. seq.).
2. Do I have to attend a course in order to coach?
Yes and no! By law, you are not required to attend the Rutgers S.A.F.E.T.Y. Clinic (or any other coaching course) in order to be a volunteer in New Jersey. However, if you are ever sued for an injury to one of your athletes, you can present a much better legal defense as a result of having attended the clinic. In New Jersey, there is clear legal precedent for statutory immunity to apply only to those individuals who have been safety trained. Moreover, several volunteer coaches who have attended the Rutgers S.A.F.E.T.Y. Clinic have been protected by the law.
Similarly, your league or municipal recreation department may require that you attend the Rutgers S.A.F.E.T.Y. Clinic in order to protect themselves. Under the legal concept. of vicarious liability, the “hiring authority” is legally responsible for your actions as a volunteer coach and, therefore, is certainly justified in mandating your attendance.
3. Do I become "certified"?
With respect to volunteer coaches, your attendance at the Rutgers S.A.F.E.T.Y. Clinic is what is being certified. Moreover, since the law only requires attendance at an orientation program, versus one which is competency based (i.e., where you are asked to demonstrate some level of proficiency or knowledge), you are not “certified” in the true sense of the word. Acknowledging this distinction, we will continue to use the word as it is commonly used – somewhat incorrectly. Take note of the certification card you will receive at the conclusion of the program – because you will not be tested, it makes no claim to your proficiency as a volunteer coach.
4. How often do I have to attend?
If you examine the Little League Law closely, it does not require volunteer coaches to be “recertified”, that is, attend future safety clinics. Altemately, the Rutgers Youth Sports Research Council strongly recommends, that your organization develop a formal policy which requires volunteer coaches to take continuing education (i.e., first aid, CPR) within a reasonable time period. Ultimately, you should review the concepts discussed during the Rutgers S.A.F.E.T.Y. Clinic prior to each sport season that you coach.
5. Previously I was told that my certification was good for life. Is that correct?<br />
It depends upon your definition of certification. Remember, the Little League Law states that a volunteer coach must have “participated in a safety orientation and training skills program.” It does not discuss the concept of taking the program more than once. The Youth Sports Research Council has interpreted this phrasing as a one-time requirement. Other safety training providers (not Rutgers) have had policies which require that you attend their clinics more than once, and for every different sport, to maintain your “certification”. This attendance requirement was tied to their personal liability insurance protection rather than being stated or implied by the requirements of the state law. Under such an arrangement, therefore, “certification” implies eligibility to purchase liability insurance, and is in no way related to the civil immunity protection provided by the Little League Law.
Conversely, the Youth Sports Research Council defines the term, “certification” as one-time attendance at the Rutgers S.A.F.E.T.Y. Clinic. This interpretation follows directly from the state legislature’s original intent when the Little League Law was initially passed in 1986, (i.e., civil immunity protection will apply to only those individuals who have participated in a safety orientation program). While the YSRC goes further to strongly recommend continuing education on a regular basis, our policy is based upon principles of lifelong learning and universal risk management guidelines.
6. Do you mean to tell me that volunteer coaches are actually sued?
Unfortunately, yes. The incidence, however, is rare despite what the headlines lead you to believe. In fact, the impact of the Little League Law has been to motivate many individuals, who otherwise would not, to be safety trained, thereby, decreasing the already small number of lawsuits against volunteer youth sports coaches. Perhaps more important, not one successful lawsuit has been brought against any volunteer coach who has been trained by a Rutgers’ Clinician since the YSRC began training coaches in 1986.
7. Do I need liability insurance<br /> ?
Yes, but you may already have it under your homeowners/renter’s policy. Check your policy, or call your insurance agent to determine if you are covered while coaching, (probable) and what the limits are (variable). In addition, check with your league administrator or recreation director to see if the municipality or league policy offers liability protection for volunteer coaches (most do). In addition, be wary of organizations which promote liability insurance as the primary benefit of their safety training program. Find out the answers to these questions:
a) Are there exclusions or limitations to the protections?
Many liability policies, for example, apply only as excess benefits over other insurance (i.e., homeowners, league, etc.), and only after such insurance has exhausted its limits. Thus, if you own a home and/or if your league provides liability insurance, it is likely that you already have substantial coverage perhaps $1,000,000 or more. While there have been instances of juries awarding injured plaintiffs amounts exceeding this figure, the number of such cases is extremely small. However, the cost of excess insurance is usually quite small and each individual should analyze the cost of additional insurance relative to its benefits should a large award be granted by a jury following a lawsuit.
b) Is it a “claims made” vs. “occurrence based” policy?
Don’t be put off by the insurance industry’s terminology – this is a very important concept to understand. With a “claims made” policy, there are additional restrictions. Namely, that the insured must report the claim during the effective period of coverage. In New Jersey, however, a youngster may file a lawsuit until “two years past the age of maturity” (20). Thus, if one of your eight-year-old soccer players is seriously injured, and waits until age 17 to file a lawsuit, then the protection offered under the “claims made” policy might not be available. Check with your insurance provider.
8. As a health care provider, who also volunteers to coach, is my liability greater than others who have not received this training?
The courts have made it clear that all coaches are obligated to proved proper and immediate first aid when necessary. That means that you will be required to provide first aid in the event of an injury, and to do it right. Individuals with advanced training in first-aid may be held to a higher standard of care. The same logic would apply to police officers and others emergency medical personnel who have received additional training. Should these individuals render assistance beyond basic first aid, their professional insurance policies would probably cover them. However, health care providers should check with their professional insurers to determine the limits, if any, of actual coverage in such situations. Just as importantly, the liability protection still applies to other areas of volunteer coaching that medical personnel would not necessarily be more expert in than any other type of volunteer – such areas as adequate supervision and instruction, safe conduct of the activity, or coaching judgements about skill levels or risks.
9. How should I handle parents who occasionally offer to assist with coaching?<br />
Remember that the state law protects only those volunteers who have attended a program comparable to the Rutgers S.A.F.E.T.Y. Clinic. Should one of your young athletes become seriously injured, the first question asked will be, “Were the coaches safety trained?” Any parent who had not received proper training has greater exposure to lawsuit than you, or other assistant coaches who have been safely trained.
On this point, however, there is one additional consideration. Having attended the Rutgers S.A.F.E.T.Y. Clinic; you were informed of the requirements for civil immunity under the state law that is, attendance at a course which meets the Minimum Standards for Volunteer Coaches’ Safety Orientation and Training Skills Programs (N.J.A.C. 5:52). Knowing that the standard of care was such, the following question might be posed to you in a legal deposition, “Mr. Volunteer Coach, why did you allow an inexperienced, unqualified parent to supervise an activity which could lead to such tragic consequences for my client?” One could also argue that a competent plaintiff’s attorney would assert that you are also liable, notwithstanding your partial immunity under the law, for the injuries sustained by his/her client.
The bottom line, therefore, for your protection and the safety of the young athletes – do not allow untrained parents to coach.
10. Why should I pay out of my pocket to attend this course when a local agency offers the same training for nothing?
Are you sure it’s the same training? It’s easy for other providers to claim that their program is as good- if not better, but how can you be certain?
The only way to determine if a particular course “measures up,” is to compare its curriculum with the Minimum Standards for Volunteer Coaches’ Safety Orientation and Training Skills Programs. If there are significant discrepancies between their curriculum and the standards, then it is likely that their course will not survive the scrutiny of a lawsuit. The Rutgers S.A.F.E.T.Y. Clinic was specifically designed around the Minimum Standards for this very reason. In fact, the Youth Sports Research Council had a major role in drafting the original standards in 1988, and regularly monitors state legislation affecting volunteer coaches.
Beyond the technical aspect of whether a course curriculum adheres to the standards; there is a practical consideration. What are the credentials/background of the individual(s) who designed the course? For example, learning from a college soccer coach does not necessarily mean that all areas required by state regulation are addressed.
The Rutgers S.A.F.E.T.Y. Clinic was designed to cover all areas mandated by New Jersey State law and regulation. It was developed by experts – sport law specialists, psychologists, and athletic trainers. In addition, their work was carefully reviewed to ensure that the information was accurate, appropriate, and up-to-date. For this reason, the New Jersey Recreation and Park Association (NJRPA), along with several hundred municipalities and youth sports agencies throughout New Jersey, endorse the Rutgers S.A.F.E.T.Y. Clinic. The Rutgers Youth Sports Research Council is widely recognized as the leading authority on volunteer coaches safety training.
Finally, the decision to invest resources in a particular safety course should be based upon its relative value. In other words, what is the return on your investment? Most safety training providers and independent contractors who offer training provide no materials to augment the course content. At best, one receives a handout, or pamphlets, which are usually public relations or marketing devices for the sponsoring agency.
Conversely, each coach who attends the Rutgers S.A.F.E.T.Y. Clinic receives:
1. Way to Go, Coach! textbook
2. The Coaches Reference Manual (5th edition)
3. Wallet sized certification card
4. Permanent registration with Rutgers YSRC
Should you ever lose your card or need proof of your attendance at the Rutgers S.A.F.E.T.Y. Clinic, contact the Youth Sports Research Council at Rutgers University by calling: