A Simple Guide to Background Checks

Whether for a full-time staff member, part-time coach, or parent volunteer, background checks are a necessity to protect youth athletes. Everybody benefits from doing due diligence screenings to make sure every kid is safe as they return to play. Knowing what level of screening and where to source them can be difficult, if not overwhelming. Picking based on price alone may not provide the protection kids deserve. So, we want to look at what you get with each level of screening – national, state, and county, what works best for your situation, helping simplify the enormous amount of options and information available.

Get the Important Information You Need

You might hear “background check” and think, “Oh, I can save money and just use Google, Facebook, and Twitter, to find out what I need on a person.” The information you may find on social media will be subjective at best and not give you the kind of solid data you need to make a smart, safe decision about volunteers.

Doing screenings the right way keeps potential lawsuits at bay. Just because it is a volunteer doesn’t mean you don’t follow the same compliance a for-profit company has to follow when hiring a new employee. As noted in a Chicago Tribune’s article, “Performing background checks can leave [organizations] open to allegations of discrimination or defamation. Yet failing to perform background checks can lead to liability for the acts of criminals…so-called negligent hiring and retention.” Going the cheap route can cause trouble down the road – whether that’s paying for one of those vague $9.95 checks that does not provide an adequate level of screening or culling together your own Google and social media searches.

What Screenings Are Available?

Before the digital universe, background checks required a bunch of running around and research to find the right paper trail on the individual being screened. In some cases, this is still necessary but not so much for volunteers in youth sports. There are three levels of screening that provide different degrees of information on an individual – national, state, county.



  • Instant
  • Inexpensive 


  • Not the most up-to-date

It is easy to confuse a national with a federal check, but they do provide different kinds of information. Federal checks look for federal law violations, focusing on crimes against federal entities – embezzlement, TSA violations, acts against postal workers. National checks are searching a broader spectrum across multiple state databases, looking for convictions at the state or county level, assuming records are digitized. That’s right, your national check isn’t searching the paperwork at the county courthouse. 



  • Detailed – includes police and law enforcement reports


  • State specific – no information from other states in which someone may have lived

When you do a state-level background check you will only get information available to the state for which you are searching. You will find “criminal charges and convictions that are brought against an individual at the state level, including police and law enforcement reports. This includes misdemeanor and felony convictions, as well as pending cases.” (https://www.goodhire.com/resources/articles/national-federal-state-county-background-checks/) What this means in the big picture is if you are doing a check on someone who hasn’t lived in your current state for more than a few years or lived elsewhere at another time in their life, then you aren’t going to get any information that may be relevant from another state. If you do a search in Iowa you won’t know if they have any record in North Carolina.



  • Specific and detailed to the county


  • Not as accessible 
  • May not be available digitally 

The national and state-level searches aren’t enough. To get the complete picture you must do a county-level check. Where things get tricky at this micro level is that what information is available might actually be sitting in a file cabinet at the county courthouse and not digitally accessible. Depending on how current your county is at upgrading records to digital platforms it is hit or miss what you will find aside from a residence confirmation and maybe motor vehicle information. The right screening tools should provide an indepth county-level check with this in mind.

What Type of Screening Do You Need and When?

You may be looking at a standalone provider or an integrated solution if your sports management software supports it. Either way, you want to know what you should be checking. Are you only looking to see if they have a bad driving record? Or are you more interested in potential criminal activity in their past? More specifically, are you screening out potential child predators? 

Criminal records, as mentioned, vary on the national, state and county levels. “For the most accurate, up-to-date information, a county criminal court search is recommended for each county where an applicant has lived or worked.” (https://www.goodhire.com/resources/articles/national-federal-state-county-background-checks/)

How Far Back Do Screenings Go?

Maybe you know what kind of screening you are wanting to do but you aren’t sure how far back to look. Of course you would like to know everything that may put your kids at risk with an individual but there are regulations on how far back and what amount of information you can use. The state you live in and where you are doing a search, and the software you choose determines how far back any information is available and usable. <https://www.goodhire.com/resources/articles/how-far-back-do-background-checks-go/>

Making the time and effort to do background screenings on any adult working with youth not only protects kids, it protects the league, the community, and youth sports. Whether it’s using TeamSnap’s resources or some other method, a solid background check plan is essential to youth sports.

Looking for a smoother, seamless background check experience? Try TeamSnap Background Checks. Go to Settings > Background Checks in your TeamSnap for Clubs & Leagues account to get started.

Not yet a Clubs & Leagues customer? Talk to a rep today!

Kendall Ruth is a writer, photographer, and strategist finding the best ways to tell resonating, re-humanizing stories. You can find him at kendallruth.com, kicking the soccer ball with his kids, or out on a long trail run.

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