*Information provided in this article should not be considered a substitute for legal advice. Readers are strongly encouraged to seek the advice of a licensed attorney familiar with youth sport laws and regulations within your state and local district.
Volleyball club directors and coaches are charged with having safe environments, facilities, and equipment for players, referees, employees, and spectators. A primary leadership skill is the ability to safeguard participants. This is accomplished through the management skills of planning and organizing. Observing, recording, evaluating, and self-monitoring are valuable analytical skills also required.
Safeguarding volleyball areas while using equipment centers around the skills necessary for volleyball leaders to teach, manage, lead, and analyze (1). The International Council for Coaching Excellence supports volleyball leaders through its icoachkids.org initiative. It is a free tool and one you should view to gain a solid understanding of the many dynamics involved in our legal duty to safeguard.
Providing an overall feeling of safety and security while playing, coaching, and watching volleyball is a necessary best practice for volleyball leaders within a risk management program. A Safe Environment involves all physical environmental areas directly involved in and immediately surrounding play and practice. Think of it as a dome over your facility and playing area. Part of promoting a safe environment within this volleyball “dome” is ensuring the playing area is free from hazards or potential dangers that could lead to injuries. (Further discussed in the safe facilities section). The physical environment within the “dome” is different from a beach or indoor perspective, as beach volleyball includes the weather as a constant threat to a safe environment for play. All volleyball leaders should have an emergency action plan in place and notify their players and parents of that plan if severe weather arises. A list of additional resources from the American Red Cross and National Weather Service involving severe weather and outdoor events can be found on the CDC’s website HERE.
When outdoors at a practice or competition, it is the legal duty of a coach to be diligently aware of the weather and warn of any threatening risk. Place a trustworthy parent or assistant coach as the “weather watcher” for the practice or match. Head coaches should be involved in running practice or monitoring games and not pulled away to check their weather app. In the case of a competition, the director can place an employee as the official “weather watcher”. However, ultimately, you are responsible for knowing and warning when inclement weather occurs. Set your weather app to sound notifications for severe weather and lightning. The Weather Bug App, WeatherBug Total Lightning Network, operated by WeatherBug (Germantown, MD), is a great resource to assist you in following the guidelines set up by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association Position Statement: Lightning Safety for Athletics and Recreation, located HERE.
Be sure to consider the needs of your athletes and parents as they drive to and from practice or competition in the threat of severe weather.
Another safe environment issue for beach volleyball leaders is the location of practices and competitions in public areas. A public beach will be under the municipality’s authority. This means lifeguards can assist in weather condition notifications and overall player safeguarding. Please get to know the local lifeguards, law enforcement, and EMTs and notify them of practice and competition times. Encourage attendance of local leaders by offering shade and refreshments while observing the game and monitoring the environment. Coaches and directors should notify the proper authorities if any issues limit their ability to safeguard participants. For example, at larger beach volleyball events, suspicious photographing of junior volleyball players is one issue that should be reported to the tournament director and then to law enforcement.
Volleyball facilities must be adequate and considered safe for use, including proper maintenance of playing surface sand, bathroom facilities, parking lots, waste disposal, and drinking water sources, to name a few. Facilities should meet all local building codes and regulations. The concept of safe facilities includes providing regulation court dimensions, materials, and design. These regulations are provided in the USAV rule book.
Included in the volleyball safe area “dome,” there are surrounding and supporting facilities, such as roads, public bathrooms, public parking lots, and beach accesses that need to be safe and accessible by participants and emergency personnel. Volleyball leaders sometimes own these facilities; however, some are on public municipal properties. We are responsible for safeguarding our participants, warning them of any risk, and notifying the proper authorities if safety or structures are an issue. For example, if the beach access parking lot is damaged or in ill repair, volleyball leaders must notify the municipality in charge of the facility of any issues. In the same way, if a court tile is broken in an indoor facility, it is your responsibility as a coach to stop play/practice and notify the club manager of the needed repair. Discontinue play/practice until the tile has been replaced. Or move to another court after placing ‘out of order’ signs on the court or restricting access. For both instances, document your notification.
Coaches and Club leaders are responsible for ensuring that all equipment used to participate in and play volleyball is suitable and proper for the goals and objectives set for a specific activity while being safe for use. Equipment, such as the ball, net, poles, cables, and the like, should meet safety standards and be regularly inspected for defects. Specifications for equipment can be found in the following Rules Books links:
Defective equipment should be removed from use and labeled as faulty. Follow the guidelines for disposal as provided by your local waste management ordinances. This legal duty should include equipment brought in or used for training purposes. Often, coaches bring exercise bands, hurdles, boxes, floor ladders, and the like for training and conditioning. These items should be reviewed for relevance in training and inspected regularly for defects.
If you decide to bring in outside equipment ask yourself the following questions:
- What is the purpose of the equipment?
- Is the equipment appropriate for the level of volleyball that will be using it?
- Can I use the volleyball and my players to achieve the same goals without the additional equipment?
- Will using this equipment decrease potential overuse and harm to the players or the coach?
- Am I using the equipment effectively?
- Does the equipment’s risk during use outweigh the potential benefits?
Safeguarding participants is a primary responsibility of all volleyball leaders. Putting into place risk management solutions ensures you have promoted safe environments, facilities, and equipment for players, referees, employees, and spectators of the game of volleyball.
(1) Sport Coaches’ Handbook. (2021). International Council for Coaching Excellence. Editors: D. Gould, C. Mallett. Human Kinetics.
This is the second part of the Risk Management Solutions Series.
About the Author
Jenny D. Johnson, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor at American Public University in the Sports & Health Science Department. She played indoor at UNC Greensboro, Class of ‘95, and is a Coach/Coordinator at Coast United Beach in Conway, SC, a JVA member beach club.