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Advice Nov 24, 2020

How youth soccer clubs should (and shouldn’t) conduct background checks

Published in partnership with SportsEngine

SportsEngine, Inc., an NBC Sports Group company, is the leading provider of Sport Relationship Management (SRM) software, empowering athletes, parents, coaches, and sports organization administrators with tools and services to manage their organizations and sports lives.


Coaches and instructors play crucial roles in the success of youth soccer leagues and other recreational organizations. They devote countless hours for the betterment of their communities and organizations and often have a positive impact on the athletes they serve. Yet all too often, we come across headlines about trusted adults who have violated a community’s trust and committed acts that have caused serious harm to those they were meant to be helping.

Background checks are a necessary precaution for the protection of children and vulnerable populations, as well as for the organizations themselves. Organizations that fail to adopt the necessary steps to properly screen coaches and instructors put the trust of their communities, sponsors, and patrons at risk. From lawsuits to loss of funding for the negligent hiring of staff, requiring a thorough background check from an accredited background screening provider for all coaches and staff who interact with youth can help protect your athletes, your assets and your league’s reputation.

Beware of ‘do-it-yourself’ Internet searches and companies that provide instant results online. Screening an applicant without their consent is a violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Following the rules of the FCRA is a standard that is adhered to by reputable national background screening companies. Instant-result internet companies that offer background screening services can also put organizations at risk by not providing accurate or up-to-date information resulting in applicants who might have a questionable past to pass a sub-standard check.

“Unfortunately, the name background check is applied to a pretty wide realm of methodologies,” stated Trish Sylvia, co-founder and executive director of National Center for Safety Initiatives (NCSI). “One of the common myths is that a background check is a background check but that is simply not the case. Every organization should clearly know what they are getting and, maybe more importantly, what they’re not getting. It’s often true that you get what you pay for, and when it comes to screening, it’s worth it to really understand this.”

For over 15 years, Sylvia has been on the forefront of helping youth-serving organizations including youth sports leagues and national governing bodies understand the importance of establishing reputable and comprehensive background check programs.

“One caution I always give is to beware of “bargain-basement background screenings” that can cost as little as $5,” stated Syliva. “As with any product, budget background checks are a buyer-beware proposition.”

When searching for a background screening provider, it is important to know the process that is used to verify the identity of the applicant. Running a background check based solely on an applicant’s name is not only negligent but dangerous as incorrect name matches can lead to false positives or false negatives. Credible background screening providers will use a social security trace to help verify the identity of all potential applicants.

In addition to understanding how a provider verifies an applicant’s identity, there are several other key questions to ask when choosing a background screening provider:

  • How do they verify the reliability of the information being reported?
  • Do they use multi-jurisdictional databases including national, state, county and sex offender registries in combination with local (county or state) searches?
  • How frequently are databases updated and what is included in the search?
  • Are they FCRA compliant and do they assist with these requirements?
  • What type of customer support do they provide?

While these are key questions to ask when selecting a background check provider, the bottom line is that an organization must believe in the importance of background checks and the critical role they play in protecting children.

“There’s no sense in comparing the differences in companies that offer background screenings – and how they collect their data – if there isn’t a deep-rooted conviction to keep children safe,” stated Sylvia.

“I’m proud of the progress that’s been made over the years and of the commitments that continue to be made, but there is still much to be done. Until every child in every organization is truly safe, we must continue this conversation and do everything in our power to keep moving forward.”

Protecting our kids is a responsibility we all share together.

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