Those were the words of high school coach whom I recently interviewed concerning changes in coaching high school athletics. Although that statement might seem a bit cynical, consider Rick Reilly’s recent column, “A Tale of Two Little Leaguers” on ESPN.com. Reilly compares the stories of two Little League players who are injured. Following their respective injuries, one player learned to be the scorekeeper for his team, while the other’s parent filed a lawsuit. With respect to the parent who filed suit, Reilly wrote as follows:
A little more than five years ago her 12-year-old son, Martin, got a hit and the first-base coach waved him on to second. The problem was, Martin did not generally get many doubles. In fact, he’d never slid in a game before. So when he got to second, he slid clumsily, wrenching his knee, ripping his ACL and tearing his meniscus.
So what did his mom do?
She sued the manager. She sued the first-base coach. She sued the local Little League. She sued Little League Baseball, Incorporated. She sued everybody but the kid who cuts the outfield.
She said the manager — Leigh Bernstein — hadn’t taught Martin the proper way to slide. (The coach said he had.) She said the local Little League had the wrong kind of bases — Soft Touch detachable bases. (But the bases were on Little League’s approved list of bases. They detach when you hit them with too much force.) She said it was everybody’s fault but Martin’s.
And just over two weeks ago, she settled for $125,000.
Coaches are facing increasing pressure from parents, and moreover, they face increasing liability. The question is, when will coaches – especially volunteers at the Little League level – decide that coaching isn’t worth the risk? Does a Little League coach need to keep a detailed log of the various drills covered in practice in the case of a lawsuit? Must a Little League coach assume that a player has no baseball skills and teach everything from throwing, catching and sliding – if not for his team’s benefit, to protect him or herself?
Better risk management techniques may not lead to better baseball and they may not encourage people to assume the inherent liability in coaching. They certainly won’t lead to more fun. But these protective measures may become part of youth sports regardless.
Thanks to Dan Schwartz, publisher of the Connecticut Employment Law Blog, for the link to Rick Reilly’s story.