Risk Management Plans: Existence and Enforcement at NIAAA Member High School Athletic Departments
Palmero, Mauro, Dotterweich, Andrew, Lhotsky, Gary, Walker, Joseph, The Sport Journal
In college athletics, risk management plans exist in order to reduce medical costs, prevent liability and to help schools afford insurance (Anderson, 2006). What about high school? Today, suing the schools, their coaches and officials for any reason is very common. Thus, high schools have to be prepared to defend themselves against legal claims, especially those related to interscholastic sports. Millions of teenagers participate in organized school-sponsored interscholastic sports programs each year. Competitive sports are an integral part of the lives of high school students and have the potential to offer them many benefits. Increased participation and rapid body changes make the risk of injuries for high school students engaging in interscholastic athletics a real threat (Ballard, 1996). In addition to the well-known mental, physical, economic, and spectator benefits provided by high school sports, the possible costs or hazards of interscholastic athletic participation are always present (Lipsey, 2006). Supporting that idea, an epidemiologic study commissioned by the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System showed that 55.5% of American high school students participated on at least one sports team, and 21.9% of those students reported seeking medical treatment as a result of their activities (Eaton, Kann, Kinchen, et al., 2007). These data justify the need for increased efforts in developing and implementing strategies to identify and treat potential risks related to interscholastic participation. With that in mind, it is important for interscholastic athletic administrators to become familiar with commonly utilized best practices related to risk management in high school sports.
Gray (1995) studied risk management at physical education and athletic programs at the high school level in the state of Iowa. He investigated high school principals' perceptions of a 20 item list of best practices related to risk management and principals' supervision of programs. The author found that these administrators perform most of the risk management behaviors within the survey in a consistent basis. He also found that the size of the school had little influence on the behavior among the surveyed principals.
A similar study conducted by Bezdicek (2009), examined 463 high school athletic directors in Minnesota. The study was conducted to determine to what extent do athletic directors develop, implement, and manage a risk management plan for their athletic department, and the levels of familiarity that athletic directors have with risk management standards. The study revealed that the majority (56%) of athletic directors in Minnesota did not have a written risk management plan. In addition, the reasons for not having a risk management plan, as expressed by the respondents, were: lack of time (26.3%), lack of expertise (20.8%), and no need for a plan (19.7%).
Mulrooney and Green (1997) determined that the following characteristics must be present for a risk management plan to be considered bonafide and functioning: (1) a staff member is the risk manager, (2) a written risk management plan should outline policies and procedures in detail (including audit checklists), (3) periodic risk audits are conducted by staff, (4) periodic staff training programs related to risk management should be in place, and (5) the risk management plan is created with legal counsel.
Doleschal (2006) points out that: "ongoing risk management programs, the preparation of written material to be disseminated to coaches, participants, and parents or guardians, signed informed consent forms, inspection of equipment, etc., are examples of proactive steps that can be taken by school districts and their athletic programs" (p.295). He argues that unfortunately "many schools either do not have/use a risk management plan or do not follow good risk management practices" (p. 295). To assist interscholastic athletic departments in developing efficient risk management plans, Doleschal (2006) recommends 14 duties of care (proper planning, proper supervision, eligibility assessment, safe playing conditions, equipment maintenance, proper instruction, proper matching of athletes, proper conditioning, risk warning, proper insurance, emergency care and response plan, safe transportation, and proper selection, training and supervision of coaches) which schools should incorporate in their plans as preventive steps to minimize possible liability for the school or coaches. …