VNN’s Romy Glazer sat down with Justin Kaufenberg and Lance Anderson from Yardstik to talk about how ADs can create a safer environment for their athletes, including comprehensive safety measures they can take in their athletics office.
Romy Glazer: What’s up everybody I’m so glad you’re here. I’m Romy, Chief Marketing Officer for VNN sports, and we have a really exciting topic to talk about today. Again, so glad you’re here. Before we get started, we’ve got some great guests to come to talk about safety in the athletics office. But for starters, I always love to run down kind of some of the ground rules and some of the reasons why we do what we do.
For starters, our VNN mission, connecting community through sport, we love to do these webinars number one, because we like to show you products and all the ways you can work better and promote your athletes better and all that fun stuff, but also we just love to have conversations with really interesting companies making a difference in the space that you can kind of go out into the world and be educated and kind of know what’s on the cutting edge. So really exciting stuff there.
So the structure for today, we’re going to try and probably keep it to maybe like 30 minutes, but we’re going to do a conversation. So we’ve got two guests I’m going to introduce here in a second, we have a little bit of a deck to show, and then usually we try and get to a Q&A. If you’re on the go to webinar system, you can take a look at the right-hand side of the screen, there’s a Q&A, there’s also a chat. We have someone set up as a moderator, if we can’t get to it we’ll be sure to follow up with you right after. It’s going to be really fun, so just like I said before our topic today is safety in the high school athletics office, and so we’ve got two special guests here, heavy hitters in the space.
We go way back, they go back with our current CEO Rick Ehrman at his last gig, so we’re all friends. They’re also both out of Minneapolis, Minnesota where I’m sitting today, but we’re all on zoom together, it’s very funny, so we have Justin Kaufenberg, who is chairman of Yardstik, and Lance Anderson who is VP of enterprise sales at Yardstik safety company, who works on a whole lot of things that they’ll be able to talk about.
Hey guys! Nice to see you. So how’s it going? I think maybe it would make a lot of sense for starters as you do in a lot of these meetings for you guys to maybe start out by just introducing yourself, giving a little bit of background, you from our shared history together, but you know a lot of people here, there’s a lot of athletic directors, you imagine there’s maybe some coaches that are here, yeah give them the deets. What’s your background, how did you get into the space, and just all that fun, and maybe we’ll start with Justin and then we’ll go to Lance second.
Justin Kaufenberg: Yeah thanks Romy appreciate it. So yeah, quick background for me, prior to Yardstik I was co-founder and CEO of a company called Sports Engine, and similar to VNN in the high school space we built software specifically to serve the needs of youth sports organizations and provided player statistics engines and communication tools and marketing tools and coaching certification tools and referee certification tools and player registration payment processing tools, and probably the most impactful thing that we ever did at Sports Engine was rolled out our safety division. And that safety division allowed for the background screening and the certification and verification of millions of coaches per year. And it kept our tens of millions of youth athletes safe as a result.
So it was an incredibly inspiring, and frankly what makes me so excited to now be chairman and co-founder of Yardstik, a company that makes capable of that available to everybody else, not just the youth sports industry.
RG: Amazing. Lance, what’s up!
Lance Anderson: Yeah so, Justin, well I would say professionally the last 10 years I’ve spent, I spent my last 10 years with Sports Engine, working with Justin and many others to develop that safety program and plan. I worked with governing bodies of sports, lots of youth sports organizations, helping them pull together like what should a proper safety program actually look like across the nation, and hopefully across the world at some point here, is what it will be. So again, near and dear to my heart, keeping kids safe. I’ve got two young girls, and it’s really meaningful to me. So that’s the person side of things for me as well, that makes just this topic so impactful.
RG: Great. And so you guys, I know Justin you mentioned it, but I mean so you guys do use for, you know, we’re talking high school sports today, but like I feel like Lance when we were having lunch the other week talking even just about doing this, there’s some other really interesting fields that you do screening for. Would you go into a little bit of detail? I mean I think it’s crazy, they’re so cool.
LA: Yeah yeah. As far as training and other types of businesses that we’re in, you know a lot in the trucking space, a lot in the nanny and tutoring space, we spend you know, on the health care side of things, we do a lot in that area as well. So yeah, it kind of rounds out, I mean it really affects anywhere there’s vulnerable kids that are out there. I think that’s the key to thinking as a high school hockey coach for 14 years, I think I’ve got some experience in that space too that I’ve spent time in and have seen a lot from those years as well.
RG: So I mean catch us up. So the landscape’s gotta have changed in the past couple years from where we were before to now, like you going maybe a little bit of detail as to like what’s changed since the last time a lot of us have tuned in to safety.
LA: Yeah I’ll start off on this with just a couple of comments. I think, unfortunately, abuse towards children continues to increase, it doesn’t decrease right it has not gone down it’s going up. I think in the most recent study here that says that 1 out of 10 students actually experience very potential lifelong consequences based on school employee sexual misconduct, which is, it’s a very tragic figure that it’s 10 basically, right. So but I think on the positive side of things, we’re seeing some parents that are much more informed now, and kind of understand and help and point things out here, but in the past, there’s just way too many examples of these, that are so close to home for us.
So that’s kind of my perspective as to how it’s changed over the past couple of years.
RG: Anything you’d like to add Justin?
JK: Yeah I would agree, I think Lance hit it on the head. When we were at Sports Engine, you could feel a change. There had come a time where moms and dads we no longer comfortable dropping their sons and daughters off, and simply trusting that they were in a safe environment. They felt as though it was their duty to ensure that it was a safe environment, and it was the first time in a long time that you saw a really meaningful bottom up pressure from the families, from the moms and dads themselves, and it’s terrific. It’s exactly what needed to happen, and now we’ve seen administrators, club presidents, high school athletic directors, governing body presidents, all the way up to the very highest reaches of sport, just take notice and frankly just really quickly changing course.
Putting safety programs in place, and I don’t think there’s a person now in sports leadership that doesn’t fully appreciate how critical this issue is. And the fact that it took moms and dads and parents from the bottom up to really raise that flag and apply pressure and push for change, it’s been a meaningful change these last, you know, 5 to 10 years, but it’s resulting in a lot of good now.
RG: That’s good, and so you know it’s interesting as you guys say those things because I think for a lot of us maybe on the line, we are kind of thinking, okay great, so you know Sports Engine clubs, a little bit different than high school, as it pertains to just kind of the setup. But, what was really interesting even just the lead up to this where we were working with Audrey, Jackson, Drake, and the Yardstik team, you know we did a study with some of our big schools, and I mean the numbers were really interesting. So it was, you know, 89% of ADs are responsible for ensuring screening is completed, so you know the buck stops at the athletics office.
But 56% either don’t have a mandated process, or don’t quite know if one exists. And then we just also saw that 0% are re-screening current people that you know on staff. So you do it once, and then you forget about it and, you know, over the years or whatever, and so I would just be curious if you guys had any thoughts on those numbers. Are you surprised or not so surprised based on that?
JK: Yeah I would say that I am not surprised, but what we do expect to happen is that it’s going to change rapidly. So the fact that 89% of schools acknowledge that the responsibility lies in the athletic office, that’s great. You know, nearly 90% of schools that understand who is responsible for screening certifications of coaches, and those that are in proximity to youth athletes. So that’s good, I think that’s actually a good statistic. The fact that, you know, roughly half are not sure if there is a formal or a mandated program, or the exact details, that’s actually not surprising either. This is an industry that’s going through a lot of change, and in the cases of many schools this is the first time that they’re putting in a place, a formal mandated screening and certification program, for not just their head coaches who are sometimes currently being screened, but making sure that that extends to assistant coaches, to team managers, to locker room monitors, to chaperones, to all the different adults who are in proximity to youth athletes. So I’m not actually surprised by those numbers.
LA: Yeah I would just add a little bit to that as well. And it’s the same as Justin, it’s not surprising, but you know there’s always work to be done for all of us. But at the end of the day it’s really just understanding like hey, what does that risk look like internally here for us an, whether it’s an athletic director or whether it’s at the district level, wherever it might be like what is our risk. That’s kind of where you start from, and really evaluate your program, where it is, what technology do you have in place for this, what protocols do you have in place for this, is your staff being screened, are they being trained, all those types of things you know, just really to take a step back and look at it from a deeper lense.
RG: And that makes tons of sense. And actually, this topic, it’s really heavy to talk about. And I know probably a lot of people that are watching, you’re like, okay great, yeah, we totally know it’s really important, you saw the 89% like you said Justin, and all that. And so, we always love to be solutions oriented because these are the people that are making the decisions to make sure that this goes well for their communities themselves. They’ve got, they have a responsibility, so this almost leads to something that you guys have pulled together to help guide high school administrators to a safer athletic experience in their community. It’s called The Playbook for Safer High School Sports. So I’m going to pull that up, I know Lance you were mentioning a little bit about that just a few seconds ago, but I’m going to pull this up and maybe if we run through each one of these, would love for you guys to walk us through each of the steps and go from there.
LA: Yeah you’re right, I touched a little bit on kind of the evaluation side of things first, but I think, the initial piece is just education. Like start to read more around what is happening in this space today, and you know what are other organizations doing. Whether you look at youth sports or you look at even different industries, you know what are our potential risks where we stand with this. Do we be proactive in making this thing happen, and just really get all the information that we can possibly. Is it screening, is it trainings, is it additional education opportunities within there.
That’s very important. So that’s what we do as an organization to help organizations that are on this webinar today.
JK: And I’ll just add on that education front Lance, this does not have to be complicated. Yardstik and VNN teams have teamed up for a reason to truly make this easy for everybody who’s in the audience today. The Yardstik tools and application are available directly through Yardstik, but also through your VNN partner all right. There’ll be easy integration, so in terms of educating on what is going on in the market, and how do I provide a proactive solution, that is something that we are here to help with. And I also think it’s just important to kind of acknowledge during this first step that, effectively not know what to do is not a defense. And we’ve had some, unfortunately, some really catastrophic situations in schools around the country, and is no cases did ignorance stand up. It is the responsibility to become educated and then to begin working towards a solution.
RG: Perfect thanks. Okay, so step one, educate, teach, understand the kind of trends, potential risks, identify proactive solutions, step two?
LA: Yeah so that’s kind of back to the evaluation side that I may have just touched on a moment ago, but yoy know that’s another thing as part of the assessment that we work with organizations, is really sitting down and saying, okay, now we understand where you’re at, now let’s start working through that, and where can we get better, right. How do we make that incrementally better over time as we move forward. We know there’s always, there could be some budget challenges that are within there, but we help kind of work the entire organization through those evaluation steps on what to do next.
JK: Yeah. And I think we’ve seen it across thousands of different sports, organizations that we’ve worked with over the years, this is a stage where you may be frustrated with what you find during the evaluation phase, but you shouldn’t be nearly zero. Of all the thousands of sports, organizations we’ve worked with over the years, have gotten through step two, have been able to put their hands in the air and say we’re done, we’re doing it perfectly, and almost nobody is.
And what’s important here is just to probe one layer deeper, because in some cases we’ve seen organizations come back to us and say, listen, our coaches are screen by the district because they are teachers, however, when we probe on that a little bit and say are 100% of your head coaches teachers, and thus screened by the district, or are you also screening all of your assistant coaches and all of your locker room monitors, and all of your team mangers and all of your chaperones, and all of those other humans, the answer in effectively 100% of the cases has been no.
So don’t be frustrated with your findings here. This is the case that most schools and most organizations find themselves in.
RG: Guys when it comes to a self-audit, it occurs to me people might be wondering like how often does that usually happen, like what’s the best practice?
JK: What we help you with here, is that first off when you go through the evaluation phase and when you get into the next step, into the acting step, it’s really just not that complicated. It may feel a little daunting, but it’s not that complicated. For all intents and purposes, we create a database or a list of all of your coaches, assistant coaches, managers, chaperones, etc, all of the people.
Those people are then screened automatically though this system on an annual basis. If there’s a change in staff, if somebody comes in or somebody goes out, then the database is updated accordingly, and then that new person is screen and certified automatically because you’ve set these tools up with VNN and Yardstik, so once you’ve created that list the first year and the first time, it’s really quite easy to maintain because we’re removing people who may have exited the athletics department, and we’re adding people in who join. And it’s really as simple as that from a maintenance perspective.
RG: That was going to be my next question, almost for Lance, was like okay great, so what are some of the risks that you usually, that you guys have seen from athletic programs you’ve worked with in the past?
LA: Yeah I think some of the risks, a lot of it has just been around the level of first off, the level of screen that they have, if they just go with a national database, it’s, you’re really going to miss more than 50% of what’s actually out there because most of the records are held at the county level, so if you don’t have a stream that goes to the county level, that’s a real big challenge, that’s flag number one that we definitely work through. And it’s a pretty simple process to work through that with us, and again, it doesn’t take very much time, but you know again, that’s just more of the education side of things. And then as you look a little bit further beyond that, rather than find the bad actors that are out there, let’s prevent them from even being a part of our program.
So let’s help people understand what abuse looks like, let’s train them on those types of things so they can recognize that so we can remove the bad actors sooner rather than later.
RG: And that’s really interest because I think all the time, at least when I think about safety in general, like I always jump immediately to screening somebody. Like is there a background screen that’s done, or whatever, when I get a new job, it’s like background screen. Not looking for a new job by the way, but when I do at some point in the future or in the past. It is really interesting that you jump to that. There are other things kind of beyond screening though that, you know, it’s also safety related right. So we were talking before we even got on this call things like CPR, concussions, mental health. Can you go into maybe a little bit of detail on that? Because I think when it comes to evaluation, that’s a big deal too. Especially with things like COVID-19 which a lot of kids weren’t able to play sports, and how do you monitor all that, I would love to hear your thoughts. Maybe Lance will start that.
LA: Yeah exactly so you’re right. Screening table stakes, training then as additional training. So if I’m a coach, I should know CPR. I should know how to identify when someone has a concussion, like those types of things should all be a part of this plan as, well right it’s one encompassing thing. It’s not just the screening side, it’s not just preventing abuse, it’s how do we keep these athletes and kids safe. And that’s just the Paramount. I think we all agree, that’s the most important thing. So how do we get to that. Those are, you know, two additional ways to do that.
RG: Justin anything to add there at all?
JK: You know I think it’s actually a good segue to step three, which is really just to Lance’s point. It is a comprehensive solution, and that’s again, you know why Yardstik and VNN have teamed up. Because the software platform itself makes this all flow within a single instance of a tool. So when you run a coach or an assistant coach or a manager or any other person through the platform, they are screened at the right level of screening. To Lance’s point, with the right screening criteria, to make sure that we green light the right people, red light the right people, but then the moment they finish that screen, they are then moved right into the other types of certifications and trainings that you’ve decided are appropriate.
Whether that’s CPR or first aid or concussion protocol training, or sexual abuse prevention training, all of that is part of the Yardstik platform, so you don’t need to think about where to get different types of trainings or where to get screening. It is all truly on portion of a single platform.
LA: Yeah. I think I’d also add even above and beyond that, that there’s you know, there’s newer things that are coming out, social media screening right. So everybody clearly is online nowadays, and so to really be able to kind of dig in and see what kind of person that is, just from a public standpoint, you learn a lot in a short period of time about someone, and if they’re the right fit for your organization. So I think that piece is very important. And then something that’s really even a little more cutting edge here is the continuous screening where you can set that up, where instead of doing it in one piece, in one slice of time, and then wait another year or wait 10 years or never do it again, there could be continuous monitering on a daily, monthly, or weekly basis.
That will just continue returning those reports for that person, so I think that’s, we’re seeing more and more technology being utilized to make this just so much simpler for all of us.
RG: Yeah, and Justin it looks like as I think about it, so when you were at sports engine before, you built this from scratch program like this. How much work is that?
JK: Yeah no that’s a good question. It’s incredibly difficult to build. In part, because to Lance’s point, it’s not just about building a background screening program, it’s also about building a flexible certification management and training engine because some of those things are known. Some of those things like CPR training or first aid or concussion protocol training, those are things we all know we need and we should all be administering to the people in our school or in our athletics department. But to Lance’s point, if you haven’t built it correctly, or if you haven’t chosen the right partner, then you’re not able to add on all of these new training capabilities that in some cases, you may not have even thought of yet.
But things like social media screening are becoming critical, I mean our coaches and our adults are influencing young people and young athletes. And for them to not behave in an appropriate way online or on social media, can be just as critical as their physical action and their physical person interaction. And there’s a host of other trainings and certification that, if built correctly, you can add at any time in the future. So we built it once from scratch, but Yardstik exists, so that nobody else has to. This is a comprehensive platform that effectively takes care of all those needs, so you can simply spend your time screening, certifying, and training all of your personnel, not worrying about the technology behind it or any of the details from an actual execution perspective.
RG: Cool, so this is always the fun part where you go through, we’ve got all the steps, educate, evaluate, act, awesome. You know Jackson from your team has pulled together a really cool download that’s going to have all the stuff if people want to go to it, but now is the fun part where I get to jump in to self-promotion with you guys on Yardstik as a whole. So you know we talked a whole lot about why we need background screenings and safety in the athletics office, how to do it. So now is your time, we would love to hear like, Yardstik as whole, like what do you guys do? How are you set up, what does it cost, all that fun stuff.
LA: Yeah perfect, so appreciate that Romy. So I think again, we talked earlier on about the table stakes of screening right, that’s got to be a part of it immediately. It should be, if it’s not happening now it needs to happen immediately on that side of things. So we have a variety of different screening types that we’ll jump into here in just a second, but that’s number one that we have to make sure that is in place.
And then as Justin just mentioned on that certification side of things, whether it’s CPR, whether it’s concussion training, those types of things, you know within that particular cloud, those are very important as well as we pull those together. And then additional training may be related to, you know, how can I be a better coach, how can I be a better mentor to my athletes or to my students. All that different customized training.
Then there’s so many resources that are out there that can be utilized, we can actually accept it from really anywhere, it doesn’t have to be created by Yardstik. So it’s one of those things we can pull all that together and have a coach go through it in a very seamless process, very simple to do.
RG: Cool. So then in general, pricing and things that you guys do, is on this slide. I want to jump in and fill us in, block check.
LA: Yeah there’s a lot of check marks out there which is good right. Some columns are better than other columns, but at the end of the day it’s really about what is the proximity and what is really the level of interaction that someone’s going to have with that with that athlete, and if they’re going to have close proximity and a deep level of interaction, then they should do a premium screen, because then that check really the last seven counties that they’ve been in. It’s the national criminal database, it’s a federal database as well.
So there’s a whole bunch of things that really kind of come into play on that premium side. If it’s someone who doesn’t, if it’s a bus driver or someone who’s just going to occasionally be around the children and maybe not even without another adult, you could probably get by with a standard back check, background check, that will really at least cover their most recent county that they went into, but I think that’s kind of how you look at it, is how close are they and how much time do they spend.
And then we can evaluate what the best solution is there.
RG: Cool. And is that your usual process, with a school or athletic department or district or conference or whoever, they’ll call you guys and you’ll work together to set up something that works really well, that kind of flow?
LA: Yep that’s absolutely the flow. So yeah, we do this every single day, and across the country, so we’re very comfortable with it.
RG: Cool perfect. And yeah, it looks like so anywhere between 10 to 33 dollars per screen, which looks great. And then it looks like turnaround time from a business day, two to three. Cool yeah. Are there any kind of things you want to maybe touch on on the add-on side? I know we were going to talk a little bit about trends but you guys covered off on social media which is awesome. What else, is there anything else in this list that maybe would be worth calling out?
LA: Yeah I think there might be some stuff especially on the coaching side of things, some other professional certification verifications, if they’ve gone through different courses, whether the sport if it’s hockey, there’s a number of those types of things, same thing in football. I mean most sports have those types of professional verification, so those could be an add-on too as well that we could assist you with.
JK: I’ll also just add from an economics perspective, I would not be discouraged or be concerned about budget as a first step. I think it’s really critical to just first make sure that you understand what are we doing and what should we be doing, and you know as Lance mentioned, that’s our job. That’s Yarstik’s job, we are effectively trained to become your expert, so we will be able to determine which state you are, which county you are in, which laws apply to you, what are best practices, what types of people do you have in touch with your young athletes. Based on all of that information, we’ll recommend the appropriate background screen, we’ll recommend the appropriate add-ons, and we will give you kind of a comprehensive recommendation that takes care of both your legal requirements and our best practices to protect young athletes.
The result of that will of course be a price, that price though can be managed in a number of different ways. In some cases, you may have the budget appropriate for that. In an event where you don’t have the budget appropriate for that, there are avenues through fundraising’s. There’s also some avenues through subsidies, it’s just important first and foremost that you understand what should we do, be doing, what is the recommended package, and then we’ll help you to make the economics work.
We don’t want to start with, want to make sure that this is simply something that we help you solve.
RG: Cool thanks guys. So if there’s anyone interested, we have this email set up that people can email into and get the conversation started. I didn’t really leave at the end there for a question mark, but I tried. Lance I don’t know if you want to give us maybe some info because there’s, it looks like you know, a discount going on and an email address so, enlighten us.
LA: Yeah now’s the time to start talking about fall sports. So we’re ready to have the conversations, and we’re, as you can see here, there’s an offer of saving 20% in June for the first 20 screens, so there’s some dollars to come back for the organizations that want to be first movers here on this thing. And quite honestly, if there’s any questions that someone has or they want to set up a meeting with us, they can email us at VNNbashcustomer.yardstik.com. So we’d love to hear from all of you, and if nothing else have a conversation on where you’re at today.
RG: Sweet yeah. I mean and I think to add in from the VNN side, we’re also really curious to see how many of you jump in and email, and take your, pick up on the offer. One of the things we always want to do is make it as easy as possible for you guys to do your job. Whether that’s schedule syncing or whatever it is, so we like these guys a lot. We think safety is really important to the future of high school sports, and just, you know, healthy vibrant pool communities to live in. And it kind of almost becomes like we work together to find out exactly what you’re looking for, because then some of those things could be plugged into our product at some point in the near future.
You know ideally, that would be so sweet, but we also need to see how excited you guys are. So if you’re interested, shoot the email, because that’ll also help tell us how much or how important you guys want to make all of the different things connect together on the safety side, and which comes first more or less, because we think it’s really important.
Cool, so I think that wraps it up, we’re almost perfect on timing. So maybe before we wrap things up, I’d love to ask, maybe we’ll start with Lance, any final comments for the group?
LA: Yeah, I would first off I would thank them all for joining us, and watching this webinar, because I think it’s, again I don’t thing there’s anything more important than keeping the youth safe in this country, in this world, it is the most important thing in my opinion. And I really thank them for taking the time to spend with us and hope that we have a conversation soon.
RG: Justin, how about you?
JK: Yeah, I think you really covered it today Romy. First off, thanks to you and the VNN team, you guys build tools and provide best practices to athletic departments and to schools and to athletic directors, which I think is just incredibly important. And to the athletic directors, you know, you’re in these roles because you wanted to positively influence the lives of young people and young athletes, and we think you know safety is a critical part of that. So it means a lot to us that you’ve chosen to do that job that you do, and we’re here to make this part of it hopefully easier.
RG: Amazing thanks guys. So what we’ll do, is if there were any questions that kind of came in right now, we’ll take care of them, they’re going to get emailed probably directly to me, we’ll follow up with everybody too because Jackson’s got that PDF that was created, so you know we’ll email that out to everyone that was here, and we’ll go from there. I really appreciate both you guys for taking the time and everyone for sitting and listening to us chat about safety.