First off I hope that you have a great end to 2015 and enjoy a Happy New Year. One item that was recently announced and could have a dramatic effect on the entire youth football landscape is the Donovan Hill Case vs. Pop Warner in California. The principles in this case apply to every youth league across the country, and please share with your members as it stresses the importance of a strong certification program that is enforced.
This case has been in the court system since 2012 but the most recent ruling by a judge there indicated that the youth league could be found in gross negligence. Although, this league and the National program had waivers, they did NOT hold up in court. When coaches or individuals inquire about the need and importance of coaching certification, this is an example that must be shared with them.
In November 2011, Pop Warner football player Donovan Hill was playing in a Pop Warner tackle football game in Southern California. The lawsuit, filed on March 6, 2014, in California state court, alleges that Hill and his teammates were instructed by coaches of his Pop Warner team to tackle opposing players by leading with the head, a practice known as “face tackling” or “spearing,” in violation of Pop Warner’s rules. The suit claims that Hill’s coaches repeatedly saw him unsafely tackle opponents head-first in both practices and games but did not attempt to correct his technique. The complaint alleges that the league and Pop Warner’s national organization are responsible for Hill’s injury for failure to properly train and supervise its coaches. According to the suit, Hill’s head coach did not complete a required coaching course, yet was allowed to continue coaching.
In mid-December, the judge denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss, allowing the case to move forward to trial in April 2016. An espn.com story discussing this new ruling can be found here:
espn.com (12/22): Judge lets paralyzed player’s claim against Pop Warner proceed
The Heads Up Football program aims to provide solutions and risk management on these issues.
- 1. USA Football’s online certification course allows an effective means for leagues to certify and recertify coaches. The court in this case has found that there are sufficient facts to support a claim that Hill’s coaches were grossly negligent for not being certified and for teaching improper techniques.
- 2. Through Heads Up Football, the Commissioner dashboard enables a league to track coach certification and help its PSC monitor compliance. The court in this case has found that there are sufficient facts to support a claim that the league was grossly negligent for failing to enforce compliance with its coach certification requirements and for not enforcing the non-spearing rule. The Heads Up Football dashboard provides leagues with a mechanism to track coach certification, and the Player Safety Coach monitors safety practices across the organization. Every coach is to complete USA Football’s Level 1 Certification.
- 3. Sufficient insurance to cover liabilities will protect your organization and your league. All organizations need to evaluate whether they have adequate insurance to protect their players, volunteers, and the organization itself in case of a catastrophic accident. HUF membership requires minimum levels and all coaches who complete USA Football’s Level 1 Course, made accessible through Heads Up Football, receive up to $1 million in general liability insurance, providing coverage while performing their coaching duties.
With these three elements in place, leagues take affirmative actions to provide safer conditions for their young athletes. Again, coaches must be certified and the league must enforce certification.
Feel free to reach out to me anytime to discuss.