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Church Recreation Safety

Recreational events can certainly have a positive effect on the growth and health of a church. However, churches that sponsor such events have a responsibility to ensure the safety of congregation members and guests who participate in these activities.

First, what do we mean by sponsorship? The answer, at least for the purposes of this discussion, includes churches that are involved in the advanced planning, coordination, and participation of recreational activities for its church members and staff.

When thinking about recreation safety, many church staff members focus on protecting youth. However, it's important to realize that data shows a significant number of injuries occurring to adults and leaders participating in these events.

The good news is that by developing and implementing an appropriate recreational safety program, your events will be remembered for the fun and fellowship generated instead of a tragic ending.

Encouraging Participation
Since not all church members have the same interests and physical abilities, churches should consider balancing the number of events between those who are physically active and those who have limitations. Being "inclusive" is a means of expanding your ministry.

Be aware that there is a fine line between reaching out for participation and pressuring just to get attendance at an activity. Invitations to participate should be free of anxiety, particularly when an individual may be apprehensive about his or her ability.

If the activity requires rigorous physical effort (such as a basketball league), it's a good idea to encourage each participant to obtain a physical to determine their functional ability, exercise tolerance, and physical limitations. If an individual is not physically up to the activity, you can encourage that they participate as an event coordinator, scorekeeper, coach, judge, umpire, referee, concessions attendant, or even a spectator.

Also, remember that competitive sports are not the only form of recreation. Activities such as hiking, biking, running, walking, and exercise classes can be designed for people of all abilities and everyone emerges a winner.

Sporting Events
Second only to slip, trip, and fall hazards, recreational events comprise a significant exposure to injury for church members and guests. The top 10 categories for recreation-related losses include: football, basketball, water sports (swimming, boating, skiing), baseball, volleyball, park slides, skating (ice and roller), running/jogging, and, finally, swings, rock climbing, and jungle gyms.

Because of prior problems arising from sporting events, many church recreation leaders and event planners now require compliance with "codes of conduct" from participants, parents, and coaches. By establishing the expectation for fair play and sportsmanlike behavior, codes of conduct set the stage for the safety of players, parents, and coaches. Churches are encouraged to identify the expected behaviors and share and reinforce these responsibilities. Many churches require all participants to acknowledge and sign codes of conduct as a means of reinforcing their commitment to provide fun and fellowship in an environment free of confrontation.

Parents also play an important role and should be encouraged to set a good example as spectators by showing respect for the other team, officials, and rules of play.

Coaches should be required to have a minimum amount of training focused on how to help participants develop their skills, gain a good understanding of the rules of the sport, and model and teach sportsmanship by showing respect for the other team, officials, and rules of play.

Pre-Event Planning Checklist
Recreational planners should consider the type and location of all church-sponsored events and the associated risks for each. Here are a few items to think about before events:

* Obtain permission slips for all children.
* Encourage parents to supervise their children's participation.
* Obtain acknowledgements for codes of conduct from players, coaches, and parents.
* Encourage participants to wear sunscreen, sunglasses, and hats for outdoor sunny events.
* Encourage participants to wear insect repellent for outdoor events, particularly if the event is in a wooded area or if the event occurs in the early morning or at dusk.
* If the event includes food, be mindful of food allergies and food handling safety.
* Provide hand-washing facilities where meals or snacks will be served, especially for food handlers.
* Encourage participants to drink plenty of water.
* Encourage participants to wear comfortable clothing appropriate for the type of event.
* Organize a safety equipment check with a certified athletic trainer.
* Have a first-aid kit and, optimally, an automated external defibrillator (AED) available.
* Hold first aid/CPR certifications and coaching education workshops for recreational coaches.
* Identify the closest medical facility to the event location and identify how quickly emergency services can respond.
* Call your community's fire department or local emergency services and alert them that you are having a special event (tournament) on a specific day.
* Ensure that the "field of play" for sporting events is free of obstacles that could cause injuries, such as glass, rocks, debris, potholes, and movable soccer goals, which could tip over if climbed on.

This article is courtesy of Zurich Services Corporation and Church First.

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