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Gold Stick Program

In order to provide the best experience possible for the youth who currently or will be playing the sport of lacrosse, the US Lacrosse Gold Stick Standards of Excellence represent the Best Practices that should be incorporated by quality youth lacrosse programs, whether they are in established, well-resourced areas or serving emerging, less resourced communities.

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US Lacrosse Gold Stick Program Standards

US Lacrosse has worked with a select number of leagues throughout the country to pilot the Gold Stick Program, and has now opened the application process to all organizations that are ready to become Gold Stick Affirming Leagues (GSAL). US Lacrosse defines a league as being "an organizing entity that oversees and manages lacrosse play for multiple lacrosse teams within a designated geographic area and/or age group and level of play." Read our full definition below.

An organizing entity that oversees and manages lacrosse play for multiple lacrosse teams within a designated geographic area and/or age group and level of play. In essence, inter-organizational play which is governed by an entity designated to oversee said play will be deemed league play. The managing entity will be deemed the “league”. Where no league exists, organizations of significant size may qualify as a league based on location and feasibility of inter-organizational play. At this time, the Gold Stick recognition program is available only to leagues.

  • Gold Stick for Leagues is created to ensure that leagues across the country are following the best practices for the safe and consistent play of lacrosse.
  • The Gold Stick Standards are not meant to create a police state that governs league play, nor are they intended to discount the efforts of any league that does not currently meet all of the standards.
  • The Gold Stick Standards are benchmarks by which every league can measure its progress and create a plan for continued improvement. Every organizational leader (league or otherwise) nationwide should see the value of the stated standards, and should embrace the challenge of creating a culture where young women and men can acquire the love of our sport, the lessons of teamwork, and exposure to the “Life’s Lessons” that only youth sports can provide.

Background

In order to provide the best experience possible for the youth who currently or will be playing the sport of lacrosse, the US Lacrosse Gold Stick Standards of Excellence represent the Best Practices that should be incorporated by quality youth lacrosse programs, whether they are in established, well-resourced areas or serving emerging, less resourced communities. At their best, youth sports programs provide young people with a safe environment in which to have fun, build character, learn sportsmanship and develop life skills that help them become responsible adults.

Adoption of the US Lacrosse Gold Stick Standards of Excellence provides an extraordinary opportunity for parents, coaches and sports administrators to positively influence the development and growth of the next generation of lacrosse players. The Gold Stick Standards embody the “Honor the Game” culture of our sport, and articulate the most worthy objectives of youth sports programs. The Gold Stick Standards present a framework of values that establish high but attainable standards of quality, benchmarks to which all youth sports programs should aspire. Lacrosse leagues that adopt and practice these standards are US Lacrosse Gold Stick programs.

The Gold Stick Program is a critical element of US Lacrosse’s effort to develop and deploy national standards for the youth game. The first step in this endeavor was the US Lacrosse Youth Rules, rolled out in 2012. Part of the continued deployment of USL National Standards will be solidifying US Lacrosse regional and chapter infrastructure. US Lacrosse is moving to an 8-region structure, with regional staff serving as the key point people to assist our chapter network in deploying US Lacrosse programs and services to the local constituent organizations embodied by groups/leagues. Supporting the Gold Stick program will be a critical point of emphasis for the regional staff and chapters.

Development History

The USL Sport Development Department led the development efforts of the Gold Stick Standards by working with an internal core team that included staff members from the following departments: Programs, Education & Training, Membership & Groups, Games Administration, Marketing & Communications, IT and the COO. Target focus groups were conducted to vet the purpose, definition, appropriateness and desired impact of each standard, with specific focus placed on the boys’ and girls’ youth game constituents. Furthermore, to ensure the integrity and viability of the standards, countless telephone calls, meetings and interactions were made over a period of 18 months to vet the standards and future self-recognition program with a large and diverse group of USL Board, Game and Chapter leaders, as well as youth league leadership across the country.

League must adhere to all current US Lacrosse youth rules and age guidelines, have them publicly available and regularly communicated to program coaches, administrators, and parents.

Rationale:

US Lacrosse Youth Rules for boys and girls are age appropriate regulations designed to emphasize player safety, enjoyment and retention through the development of individual stick skills, team play, safety and sportsmanship. US Lacrosse firmly believes that in order to establish the safest and most positive playing environment for youth players that all coaches, officials, league administrators and parents have a responsibility to know and appropriately implement the rules within all aspect of youth play.

US Lacrosse establishes eligibility standards in order to promote the game of lacrosse among the youth of America in a safe and sportsmanlike environment. This goal can be best achieved by facilitating playing opportunities that seek to establish a “level playing field” among players of similar age, size and ability. Teams should be balanced as to physical size, cognitive, and developmental stages.

Meeting the standard:

  • League must adhere to all current US Lacrosse youth rules and age guidelines, have them publicly available and regularly communicated to program coaches, administrators, and parents.
  • Leagues may implement exceptions or special circumstance clauses regarding age guidelines if those exceptions relate to player safety or cognitive/physical development. For example: Players should not be excluded from play in an appropriate age group determined by league administrators.

Best Practices/Exceeding the standard:

  • Implementation of additional rules to further emphasis and “exceed” the published rules (i.e., no body contact at all levels U15 and below, grouping players for competition by individual age/year – U15, U14, U13, U12, etc).
  • League commitment to providing league representation at USL Convention (Rules Interp, Coaching certification opportunities etc)

Tools and resources available to support programs seeking to meet this standard:

  • Rules
  • Boys' and Girls' Guidebooks
  • Recommended calendar and guidelines to changing from grade-based play to age-based play structure
  • FAQ link for girls/boys updated by USL as necessary
  • Annual update to guidebooks either in print or via download
  • Rule difference update (boys/girls)

League has current, written policies for league governance that are publically available and regularly communicated to program administrators, coaches, parents and players through a multi-faceted communication system.

Rationale:

US Lacrosse believes that in order to provide the optimal lacrosse experience for all lacrosse participants, leagues need to have:

  1. Publically available and agreed upon bylaws and operational procedures specifically defining: purposes, governance, committee/officer structure, eligibility, league membership, grievance procedures, conflict of interest, etc. which will ensure consistency, fairness, and transparency.
  2. A multi-faceted communication system in order to keep players, coaches, administrators, and parents clear on league’s policies, practices, and Gold Stick progress.

Meeting the standard:

  1. Leagues and programs must have a written and publicly available set of bylaws. These bylaws must define and address:
    1. Purpose, governance, committee/officer structure, eligibility, league membership, rules, grievance procedures, conflict of interest, and ethics
  2. Leagues and programs must establish and utilize a Communication System that must include at least the following fully functioning elements:
    1. Web site
      1. Provides public/league-wide access to all league administrative, contact, rule, emergency, safety and schedule information
      2. Site is updated regularly to house current and accurate league information
    2. Email platform
      1. Current and accurate email contact information for all parents, coaches and player
      2. Annually confirms accuracy of list
    3. Templated/standardized face-to-face meetings – at a minimum, the following must be conducted annually:
      1. League board/leadership pre-season/off season meeting
      2. Focus: Any changes to rules or policy
      3. Pre-season coaches meeting
        1. Focus: Affirmation of program’s coaching philosophy, address and highlight any rule changes, disseminate any changes made during Leadership meeting
      4. Pre-season parents meeting
        1. Focus: In addition to standard coach-parent content (i.e. when and where practices are, etc.), programs must be able to use parents meetings to disseminate:
          1. Any program-wide philosophies, policies, and rules
          2. Any program-wide expectations for parent behavior and conduct

    Best practices/Exceeding the standard:

    1. Bylaws
      1. 501c3 status
      2. Official entity (LLC, etc.)
      3. Additional “non-required” bylaws/policies - determine
    2. Communication system
      1. Use of USLaxTeams websites (recommended)
      2. Monthly newsletter (for parents and players) – printed or electronic

    Tools and resources available to support programs seeking to meet this standard:

    • Bylaws template
    • Suggested email schedule
    • Meeting agenda template
    • USL recommended proper ways to communicate with 1) parents and 2) coaches

    Assessing the standard:

    • PROGRAM: Almost entirely self-assessed: Regular assessment to gauge awareness of and accuracy of bylaws – leagues must hold their leadership, coaches and parents accountable to adherence to bylaws. Regular test of communications platform to ensure effectiveness.

League has written policies and plans for safety and risk management that are publicly available and regularly communicated to program coaches, administrators, and parents. Unless specifically noted, all policies are followed during all practices and games.

Rationale:

US Lacrosse believes all leagues/organizations/programs need publicly stated policies that are regularly communicated to all stakeholders to ensure the safest possible environment is provided for its athletes.

Meeting the standard - Part 1:

US Lacrosse believes all leagues/organizations should have a committee whose sole focus is creating and managing safety and risk management issues. This committee should be represented by local coaches, league board members, parents and medical professionals; they should be charged with not only creating the standards but ensuring compliance at every level.

This board should create minimum safety certification standards for all head coaches to be met before commencement of their first season, and those same standards must be met by all on-field personnel before commencement of their second season at the latest (this includes non-concurrent seasons)(standard)

Meeting the standard - Part 2:

Leagues and programs must have documented, promoted and publicly available policies and resources that at a minimum must include the following safety and risk management components:

  • Alcohol/Drug/PED policies for players, coaches and parents/spectators
  • NCSI background check requirement for all head coaches
  • Emergency Plan in place, including (minimum):
    • Coach on-field checklist: includes items coaches need to have at all times such as emergency contact list, first aid kit, etc.
    • Sudden cardiac arrest and commotio cordis protocol
    • CPR: Awareness and educational resources training for all head coaches(standard) as well as all on field personnel (exceed)
    • AED: Awareness and educational resources and one unit (standard), training for all head coaches and multiple units (exceed)
    • First aid plan, including how to handle blood
    • Concussion awareness training
    • Heat and dehydration policy and training
  • Return to Play policy for suspected head injury
  • Safe Sport Environment Policies, including:
    • Abuse awareness and prevention
    • Appropriate communication
    • Safe team practices
    • Drop off/pickup time policies
  • Age appropriate policy for maximum duration/frequency of practices and games
  • Extreme weather policies: Lightning, Tornado/Severe weather
  • Field inspection checklist
  • Practice policy
    • Dynamic warm-up
    • Duration
    • Water breaks
    • Number of required coaches

Exceeding the standard:

Safety certification standards met by head coaches and all on-field personnel before commencement of their first season.

Tools and resources available to support programs seeking to meet this standard:

  • USL Policy Templates (in development)
    • Severe Weather Policy
    • Drop off / pick up policy
    • Coach/Player/parent ejection policies
    • Return to Play policy for suspected head injury (in development)
  • Available web resources:
    • USL Risk Management & Emergency Plan
      • Risk Management Manual
        • Guide to prevention of abuse
        • Background Screening Recommendations (NCSI)
        • The Preventing Physical and Sexual Abuse Guide
      • Emergency Plan
        • Guidelines
        • Lightening
      • Additional Web Resources
        • Field & Facility Inspection Checklist
        • Incident Report
        • Liability
        • Safety Tools for Coaches
        • Coach as Supervisor
        • Chaperoning Team Travel
        • Vehicle Safety
        • Risk management for Parents
        • Financial Responsibility
      • USL Health and Safety web resource
        • Concussion awareness training
        • Injury prevention & Conditioning
        • Equipment
        • Nutrition
        • Athlete Development
        • USL research
        • Heat and dehydration policy
        • US Lacrosse Position Statement: Boys and Girls Youth Lacrosse Participation Recommendations
        • USL Research

Assessing the standard:

  • PROGRAM: Almost entirely self-assessed: Regular assessment to gauge awareness, accuracy and compliance – leagues must hold their leadership, coaches and parents accountable to adherence to policies. Regular test of communications platform to ensure effectiveness.

League demonstrates a commitment to the safety of their players by publishing and promoting current information related to healthy lacrosse activity.

Rationale:

US Lacrosse believes that all lacrosse players, coaches, officials, parents and fans have a responsibility to prioritize player safety and sportsmanship as a fundamental tenant of their lacrosse programs. We also believe that each constituent should embrace and be held accountable to know the appropriate on-field and league rules and support the health development of the youth player and league culture by adhering and supporting these rules. To create and maintain the most safe and positive playing environment, this includes, but is not limited to: age-specific rule adherence, codes of conduct, use of appropriate fitted equipment, positive sportsmanship, constituent education and injury awareness and prevention.

Meeting the standard:

Leagues and programs must have documented, promoted and publicly available policies and resources that at a minimum must include the following safety and risk management components:

  • Program publishes information in a consolidated format for players, coaches and parents: (all provided by USL)
    • USL Sports Science & Safety Committee recommendations for age appropriate youth lacrosse participation
    • Youth lacrosse rules, rule differences (b/g) and USL’s recommended best practices for age appropriate play
    • Concussion awareness, signs and symptoms
    • Overuse injury and burnout prevention
    • Nutrition information
    • Hydration guidelines
  • Implement USL game specific Sportsmanship programs (Honor the Game, BFF)
  • Codes of conduct: annually sign by all players, coaches and parents
  • Game day policy (includes post-game procedures such as hand-shake and pre-game procedures as per officials)
  • Sportsmanship Card program
    • Sideline managers at all games
    • Culture keepers
  • Fair Playing Time policies
  • Positive Coaching Alliance
    • Double Goal Coach
    • Second Goal parent
    • Triple Impact Competitor
  • Properly equipped players
    • Program follows all guidelines for refurbished or used equipment
    • Meets all safety requirements
    • Designed specifically for lacrosse
    • Proper fit (including mouth guard)
  • Age appropriate rules
  • Age appropriate physical contact
  • Participation limits/rest guidelines
  • Parent Education
    • Overuse/burnout issues
    • Avoid specialization
    • Positive parent

Exceeding the standard:

Organizations can require (1) coaches to be fully USL Level certified before their first season (2) all parents to complete the PCA 2nd Goal Coach.

Organizations can have in place (1) Sportsmanship Card program (2) participation limits and rest guidelines (3) formal parent education program. League commitment to providing league representation at USL Convention (Rules Interp, Coaching certification opportunities etc).

Tools and resources available to support programs seeking to meet this standard:

  • Fair Playing Time Policy
  • Coach, Parent, Player Codes of Conduct
  • USL Policy Templates (in development)
    • Fair Playing Time Policy
    • Coach, Parent, Player Codes of Conduct
    • Game day policies
  • Positive Coaching Alliance
  • Compete with Class – Honor the Game Sportsmanship Program
    • A boy’s game safety and sportsmanship initiative.
    • Goal: Encourages all lacrosse players, coaches, officials/umpires and spectators to "COMPETE WITH CLASS and HONOR THE GAME" by adhering to the spirit of the rules, especially those that minimize risk for players and those that pertain to participant sportsmanship. Encouraged by teaching, following and enforcing the rules of the both the girls and boys game means that you share the responsibility to do the following: Honor the origins of the game, Commit to the core values of the game’s culture, Respect all participants and Recognize the value of fair play and both the letter and the spirit of the game.
    • Helmet/Stick Decal Program
    • Compete With Class Honor the Game

Assessing the standard:

  • PROGRAM: Almost entirely self-assessed: Regular assessment to gauge awareness and adoption of positive culture and philosophies. Assurance of accuracy and compliance to all policies and management of participation in required workshops and activities. Regular test of communications platform to ensure effectiveness.

All head coaches are NCSI background checked, trained, and certified through the US Lacrosse Coaching Education Program.

Rationale:

US Lacrosse believes that all lacrosse coaches need to have baseline, sport-specific training in order to provide the most effective, safe and enjoyable playing environment for participants. We also believe that the US Lacrosse coaching education program provides the most comprehensive lacrosse training curriculum with a solid platform to deliver national standardized training to all lacrosse coaches in any program at any level. We also believe that full Level 1 certification represents a high standard of achievement and comprehensive suite of training, insurance coverage and screening unparalleled in the youth sports arena. The components of certification are: Current USL membership, Level 1 Online Course, Level 1 Instructional Clinic, Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) Double Goal Coach Workshop (online or in-person) and the NCSI background screening (non-expired).

Meeting the standard:

Leagues and programs must require, at a minimum, that all coaches complete the hold a current US Lacrosse NCSI background screening and the Level 1 online course before commencement of their first season. Coaches must complete the remaining Level 1 certification requirements ( PCA and the Level 1 instructional clinic) before commencement of the second season of coaching at the latest. (This includes non-concurrent seasons)

Certified coaches must renew membership annually and background screening every two years in order to maintain a non-expired certification.

US Lacrosse strongly encourages most of a program’s coaches to complete the certification before the completion of the first season but also recognizes this may not be feasible.

Best practices:

  • To more easily meet this standard,
    • Ensure that your program’s timeline for identifying coaches is long enough before the season that most coaches can make plans to attend the Level 1 instructional clinic, which is the only live requirement of certification.
    • Adhere to the coaching education department’s timelines and procedures for scheduling Level 1 instructional clinics for your area. Work with your local chapter to pool resources and hosting duties.
    • Communicate early and often with coaches how and when to complete their training requirements (resources available from US Lacrosse)
    • Use the online tracking tools available to you from US Lacrosse to view your coaches’ training progress and certifications.
  • Additionally it is recommended as best practice to:
    • Require the passage of the background screening before engaging the coach in the program. Use this as the first “gate.” It is much easier to deny participation if this occurs before the coach is identified with the program or assigned to a team. (see MBYLL CORI model).
      • Read and know all USL policies regarding background screenings. View USL on-demand webinar on this topic at www.uslacrosse.org/xxxxx
  • Before “hiring” a coach, it is strongly recommended that programs have a formal application process, interview process, and reference check of last coaching positions (see USOC SafeSports handbook)
  • Require coaches to complete a free concussion awareness course. Currently there are several on the market and USL does not require this as part of Level 1 certification at this time nor does it endorse one training over the other. General concussion content is touched on in the core Level 1 curriculum and Gold standard leagues have the policies and resources in their distributed materials

Exceeding the standard:

  • All head coaches have Level 1 certification before season begins
  • All coaches complete all Level 1 certification requirements before their first season begins
  • PCA requirement is mandated before or during coaches’ first season
  • Coaches with three or more years must be Level 2 certified

Tools and resources available to support programs seeking to meet this standard:

  • Chapter grants/chapter sponsored Level 1 instructional clinics with underwritten registration fees
  • Free PCA Double Goal Coach I online workshop access with any clinic registration
  • Free Level 1 online courses as a benefit of membership
  • Web-based Program Administrator views of coach training credentials and certifications available real-time online at both uslacrosse.org and at the program’s uslaxteams.com site
  • Ability to purchase an NCSI background screening at www.uslacrosse.org
  • Personal/individual look-up online to track progress toward certification or recertification

Assessing the standard:

  • PROGRAM: Use program view in uslaxteams.com or uslacrose.org sites to view coaches training achievements.

Leagues must require, at a minimum that all officials are certified by their Local Board, and hold a current on-field rating prior to any assignment to the programs contests. All contests (with the exception of U-9 on a shortened field) will have a minimum of two officials assigned to each contest.

Rationale:

US Lacrosse believes that all lacrosse officials need to have baseline, classroom and on-field training experience in order to provide the most effective, safe and enjoyable playing environment for participants. US Lacrosse officials education program provides the most comprehensive training curriculum and clinicians with a solid platform to deliver national standardized training to all lacrosse officials. Certification represents a base standard of on-field skills and abilities to implement the training that has been received, as well as comprehensive insurance coverage for all reasonable contests following a US Lacrosse recognized rulebook.

Officials regardless of rating(women’s game) or certification level(men’s game) are expected to be active participants in on-going educational and professional development, which means regardless of certification level, officials are current with the latest rule interpretations, and information from all relevant rule making bodies.

Women’s Game Officials:

The components of certification are: Current USL membership, a minimum of six hours of classroom time, a minimum of three hours of on-field instruction, hold current rating (on-field test), complete current year’s rule interpretation session, achieve a passing score on the on-line test, fulfill service requirements, pay local and state dues.

Men’s Game Officials:

The components of certification are: Current USL membership, a minimum of six hours of classroom time, pass an on-field evaluation, complete the current year’s rule interpretation, achieve a passing score on the on-line test and pay local and state dues.

Meeting the standard:

  • Women’s Game Officials:
    Leagues and programs must require, at a minimum that all officials are certified by their Local Board and hold a current on-field rating prior to any assignment to the programs contests. Leagues or programs should either utilize the services of the Local Board Assignor, or should be in compliance with the standards set forth for appropriately assigning games by both the level of play and rules the players will be using, as well as the level of rating the official has. All contests (with the exception of U-9 on a shortened field) will have a minimum of two officials assigned to each contest.
  • Men’s Game Officials:
    Leagues and programs must require, at a minimum that all officials are certified by their Local Officials Association and hold at minimum a Level 1 Certification. Leagues and or programs should utilize the services of the Local Associations Assignor who should be in compliance with the standards for appropriately assigning games by both the level of play and rules the players will be using. The certification level and experience of the official should also be taken into consideration when assigning officials to particular contests. All contests (with the exception of U-9 on a shortened field) will have a minimum of two officials assigned to each contest.

Through a comprehensive partnership with ArbiterSports.com PA assignors will be able to view officials certification completion and level in ArbiterSports.com – hopefully established by time of program launch

Best practices:

  • To more easily meet this standard,
    • Meet with the Local Board Chair or Local Officials Association executive committee to establish a relationship and rapport.
    • When recruiting staff for the league also recruit and refer people to the officials training program. The responsibility to service the game is shared by all participants, so when you’re recruiting parents to coach and volunteer, also recruit them to officiate.
    • Communicate early and often with the Local Board or Local Officials Association regarding your play dates and tournaments
    • Use the online tracking tools available to you from US Lacrosse to view your officials’ training progress and certifications. (see Arbiter note above)
  • Additionally it is recommended as best practice to:
    • Implement and encourage the older youth player participants to be junior officials to service your league
    • Establish guidelines for conduct regarding parent/coach interactions with officials
    • If and when using junior officials on contests implement a game administrator at every field and/or a silent sideline protocol.

Exceeding the standard:

  • In concert with the Local Board or Local Officials Association, utilize the ala carte background check feature of the new database system, and require all officials to have a current background screening through NCSI
  • Provide scholarships for promising officials to attend ongoing training opportunities through US Lacrosse
  • Recognize officials for their part in the success of your program by including them in any award or recognition programs
  • Provide or offset the cost the Local Board or Local Officials Association incurs to put on the officials training – classroom space, clinician compensation, classroom materials, new officials registration fees.

Assessing the standard:

  • PROGRAM: Use ArbiterSports.com to view official’s certifications and make appropriate game assignments.

All players, coaches, officials and administrators are current US lacrosse members.

Rationale:

US Lacrosse firmly believes that the optimal lacrosse experience includes a US Lacrosse membership. US Lacrosse is dedicated to providing our members with the opportunity to discover and ultimately embrace the shared passion of the lacrosse experience. Membership provides leagues the opportunity to impact their participants through growth and development by teaching the values of respect, fairness, teamwork, communication, responsibility, truthfulness, non-discrimination, honesty and integrity. Being a US Lacrosse member allows leagues to provide protection for their players via US Lacrosse's superior insurance program that provides unmatched supplemental accident insurance for players and general liability for the league. Membership also encourages parents to understand the "intangible" value of giving back to the sport that their kids love as dues go to the development of USL programs and services. Additionally, as a member of US Lacrosse, you receive tangible benefits that will enhance your game and directly connect you to the greater lacrosse community. These benefits include, but are not limited to:

  • US Lacrosse team and league development resources and best practices
  • Direct connection to safety initiatives, breaking lacrosse news and ties back to the communal aspect of lacrosse.
  • Educational training for coaches and officials
  • A comprehensive lacrosse insurance program
  • Direct assistance and relationship with local US Lacrosse Chapters
  • Lacrosse Magazine and access to LaxMagazine.com
  • Exclusive invitations to clinics, games and special events
  • Constituent specific newsletters
  • Member discounts, grant programs and much more!

Meeting the standard:

Leagues / Programs must require, and verify to the best of their ability, 100% US Lacrosse membership of all participants, (players, coaches, administrators), within their scope of operation.

Best practices:

  • To more easily meet this standard,
    • Properly maintain league’s/program’s and Program Administrator’s records in the USL database in order to assure that information is accurate
    • Initiate and complete registration with enough lead time to ensure proper membership well before the season begins.
    • Use the online tracking tools available to you from US Lacrosse to view your participants’ membership information
  • Additionally it is recommended as best practice to:
    • Use USLaxTeams.com / LeagueAthletics to integrate registration process to include membership workflow

Assessing the standard:

PROGRAM: Use available tools to assess the gap between number of participants and number of USL members. Work with US Lacrosse in order to ensure proper infrastructure to enforce membership compliance.