It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen. -John Wooden
The popularity of sports camps continues to rise across the American sports landscape. These camps can be mutually beneficial to coaches and athletes. For athletes, camps often bring superior instruction and exposure to the coaches at the next level of play. For coaches, camps offer an opportunity to earn extra income during the offseason and perhaps more importantly, coach prospective players and assess their skills.
The increased emphasis on specialization in youth sports and the economic incentive to receive athletic scholarships have undoubtedly contributed to the proliferation of summer sports camps at colleges and universities. Another factor of this growth is that camps also offer coaches the opportunity to supplement their salaries and the salaries of their assistant coaches.
The structure of camps can vary widely. One of the most common, and most lucrative, arrangements allows the coach to own, operate and receive all profits from the camp. The school provides the facilities and often some equipment for a specified fee. Ownership of the camp allows the coach to build brand equity, which may last beyond his or her tenure at the school. Significantly, ownership also allows the coach to control every aspect of the operation, from hiring coaches to entering agreements with local vendors. The camp essentially becomes a separate business venture for the coach. As with any business, there are legal issues to consider. The following are some primary legal issues for coaches involved in running a sports camp.
A coach must be certain that the ability to own and operate a summer camp is addressed, in detail, in a written contract with his or her school. (Such clauses are typical in the contracts of Division I college coaches, which often include a dedicated section concerning camps.) Whether the subject of camp is covered in the coaching contract, or in a separate written agreement, the need for specificity is the same. All details of the camp, including ownership, the payment of expenses, any costs to use the school’s facilities, and liability insurance should be delineated. In addition, whether the coach has the right to use the school’s name, colors and logos in advertising efforts should be discussed, and set forth in the agreement. Last, but not least, indemnification arrangements addressing the handling of potential claims against the coach, camp, or school should also be contemplated and outlined.
A sports camp is a business and must be treated accordingly. Considering the risk, there is no reason for a coach to run the business under his or her own name. Rather, a coach should form a business entity, such as a Limited Liability Company (LLC) to own and operate his or her camp. The business entity will serve to protect the coach from individual liability from claims made against the camp. With an established business entity, a coach will not be required to personally enter into contracts with vendors and employees; these agreements can be made directly in the name of the entity. It is also important to secure a website URL and perform a trademark search before investing in the camp name and associated marketing materials.
A coach faces a number of liability issues in the operation of a camp. First and foremost, adequate insurance must be in place. Second, liability to camp attendees must be considered, and addressed by way of a liability waiver. Liability waivers, especially those that deal with sports and fitness, can be difficult to enforce. Nevertheless, they are effective tools to prevent lawsuits and negotiate early settlements, if necessary. Therefore, a coach must ensure that the attendees of his or her camp execute a well-drafted liability waiver. Third, a coach should seek indemnification from the school for injuries or claims arising from the school’s facilities or actions for which the school should be responsible. Finally, a coach should document the techniques that were taught to the attendees during the camp, should a subsequent issue arise concerning whether an attendee was properly instructed.
Coaches and Staff
An employer is generally responsible for the acts of its employees or representatives committed during the course of their employment. Accordingly, coaches must be very careful about whom they hire to work with camp attendees. Comprehensive background checks should be run on any employee of the camp with particular attention paid to employees who will be in direct contact with camp attendees. Coaches also must be aware of, and comply with, state and federal employment laws, including wage and hour laws.
Coaches must be vigilant in complying with school and league rules when hosting a camp. College coaches must be particularly sensitive to NCAA recruiting rules, and should also make efforts to ensure that other camp employees and volunteers adhere to NCAA rules. Contracts requiring all assistant coaches and volunteers to strictly comply with school, league and NCAA rules should be prepared and signed. In addition, coaches and volunteers should be reminded prior to the camp, in writing, of any pertinent league, school and NCAA recruiting rules that may come into play.
A successful camp can assist young athletes maximize their potential, provide a competitive advantage for the coach, and also produce revenue for the coach. However, it is crucial for coaches running their own camps to recognize both the opportunity and responsibility that accompanies such an endeavor. As Coach Wooden said “ the little details are vital.” Identifying and dealing with the details, including legal issues, involved with owning and operating a sports camp is crucial to the vitality of the camp and the security of the coach.