CYO football leagues are more fragmented than Pop Warner, American Youth Football, and other well-known youth leagues. Some Catholic dioceses, financially strapped by abuse scandals and declining church membership, have outsourced their sports programs to their parishes and support clubs, which often run on tight budgets and differ in how rigorously they teach safety.
However, some dioceses are taking more control over their youth sports programs, not less. In Cleveland, Ohio’s largest diocese, CYO is run by a full-time staff that runs 11 sports programs for 20,000 children and has a number of statutes and by-laws to ensure accountability and legal protections. He introduced seven-on-seven selective football to make it easier for young players to play, and significantly reduced the number of contacts in training.
The Diocese is also working with the Sports Medicine Center at Akron Children’s Hospital to monitor concussions and other injuries. University Sports Medicine Hospitals operating throughout Northeast Ohio provide experts to train coaches in the prevention and management of injuries, including concussions.
Dobie Moser, director of CYO for Catholic charities in Cleveland, hopes additional steps will support the soccer sports program, which declined 42 percent among seventh graders and 58 percent among eighth graders between 2014 and 2019. the football program expanded rapidly during the same period.
“CYO is not immune: trends and problems in football also affect us very strongly,” said Moser. “We are not blindly optimistic that what we do will reverse these trends.”
All volunteer coaches are required to take courses in basic medicine and sports teaching methods. Football coaches are also required to attend nine-hour football safety classes so that coaches stop using the outdated fighting techniques they learned as children when head injuries were taken less seriously.
“The biggest asset at CYO is the quality of the coaches,” Moser said. “The biggest risk is the quality of the coaches.”