Law and coaching go hand in hand
For teacher-coaches there is a delicate balance between being aware of delictual liability and accountability towards the children in their care and allowing their fear of the implications of these liabilities to prevent them from doing their job. This is the opinion of Professor JP Rossouw from the school of education at North-West University.
“If educator-coaches do not understand the implications of the Schools Act and other legal provisions, they may feel vulnerable and be reluctant to coach,” he said. “Our South African law is more than adequate in its protection, but what is lacking is an understanding on the part of the educators.”
As people have become more aware of their human rights, there have been more and more cases of schools or individual teachers being sued for injuries that have occurred on sports fields or in classrooms. Understandably, this has led to nervousness. “We are not as bad as the United States or Australia where parents are quick to sue,” Rossouw said, adding that he “trusts we will never reach those extremes”.
NWU has one of the few education faculties in South Africa that provides training in education law. “We have education law modules for undergraduates as well as postgraduates, but it is a field that is sadly neglected in many of the education faculties in South Africa. There is a huge need for more awareness among our teachers,” Rossouw said.
During October, more than 100 teachers and seven staff members from the department of basic education visited the university to find out more about their legal rights and responsibilities in the sport-coaching context. Some of the people had previously been interviewed as part of the empirical research in sport law done by three of the university’s master’s students.
“I hope that we allayed many of their fears,” Rossouw said. “Many educators do not realise that there are only certain cases where they would have personal liability if an accident happens. Usually the state or the school’s own insurance would cover them.”
The circumstances under which compensation can be claimed are clearly set out in the Schools Act and are covered by the South African law of delict, which covers the circumstances in which one person can claim compensation from another for harm that has been suffered. These include cases of sexual, verbal or psychological abuse and other clearly wrongful behaviour.
“When an injury happens in the context of the rules of a rugby game, for example, then the coach will not be held liable. But if there is negligence or a serious lack of supervision, or the injury could have been foreseen and prevented, that is when the law will take its course,” Rossouw said. Negligence is determined by the application of the standard of the reasonable teacher-coach.
For Rossouw, his research has two main purposes: it must be scientifically sound and it must also go beyond the walls of the university and be used to inform teachers and parents about the results of theresearch so that the nation’s children are safe when they take part in activities.
“If those are in place, then we will not see the kind of overprotection that happens in Canada and elsewhere,” he said. “Sport is one of the best ways to teach children how to take calculated risks. When you wrap children in cotton wool, you create an unnatural situation and they don’t learn where their limits are. As long as educator-coaches know their liabilities, they will keep on coaching our children and that will benefit all of us.