UNICEF Report Tackles Children’s Rights in Youth Sports

The United Nations Children’s Fund, more commonly known as UNICEF, fights for children around the globe.  Usually its team members battle such challenges as disease or malnutrition.  This most recent World’s Children’s Day, November 20th, saw the agency turns its attention to another area it sees as threatening childhood development: youth sports.

Have we really gotten to the point where our kids’ sports are now a worldwide threat?  As noted in this recent article by Bob Cook in Forbes, UNICEF cites a host of ways that the current landscape of youth sports threatens children.  While highly publicized cases of abuse leap to mind, the report speaks much more broadly about how youth sports organizations should act to ensure that kids enjoy the “right to engage in play and recreational activities”.

Specifically, the report cites ten principles, the first six of which are aimed at youth sports organizations.  The first principle “Commit to Respect and Support the Rights of Children”, starts off with an admonishment that “the ‘win at all costs’ mentality does not always serve the best interests of the child”.  Elsewhere the report provides other seemingly self-evident (but often not followed) reminders about ensuring a safe environment, qualified and background-checked coaches, and of course, protection from violence and abuse.

Some of the findings, however, explored areas not often touched on (except here at SportsOrganized!).  Notable among them:

  • Ensuring a sports environment “free from fraudulent conduct”, including preventing coaches from receiving “rewards that might influence their decisions”.
  • Establishing and publishing codes of conduct.
  • Establishing safe and private ways that problems from abuse to over-training can be reported.
  • Adopting standards for anyone directly supporting youth sports, from coaches to officials to volunteers.
  • Implementing regular training and educational programs that promote the principles in the report.  Note that these programs would not seek better on-field results.  Their goal would be children who benefit broadly from youth sports.

Youth sports leaders may gloss over this report, feeling that this is yet more attention brought on by the abuses of people like Larry Nassar.  Most youth sports, thankfully, don’t have to face the challenges that US Gymnastics is now grappling with.  However, the UNICEF report echoes one of our main themes here at SportsOrganized: Where our kids are involved, we should strive for much more than just avoiding tragedy.

The principles in this report point each and every youth sports volunteer to examine how they operate on and off the field.  Abuses and corruption flourish when policies are non-existent and where transparency and oversight are lacking.  If your organization hasn’t taken affirmative steps to guarantee that children are positively impacted by your programs, then you are simply waiting for failure.

For more information, visit the SportsOrganized.Com website, which hosts resources to help youth sports organizations pursue organizational excellence.  Or drop us a line at help@sportsorganized.com with any questions, comments or suggestions you might have.  We especially love to hear from organizations about best practices that work well.  Share your knowledge with others!