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Hockey League’s No-Touch Policy Touches Off Debate

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A Toronto girls’ hockey league has drawn some attention this month, not because of its performance on the ice, but its policies related to player-coach interactions. 

Following a complaint regarding a volunteer coach who congratulated a player by slapping her on the butt and squeezing her shoulders, the Toronto Leaside Girls Hockey Association’s executive vice-president sent out an email to coaches with the following message: “Putting hands on shoulders, slapping butts, tapping them on the helmet, NOTHING, this can make some of the girls uncomfortable and you won’t know which ones, so no contact, period.”

Following criticism from parents and a flurry of online commentary, the league issued a statement clarifying the league’s policy, stating that the email was only intended to remind coaches of the league’s existing policy, not replace it:

“The issue about physical contact is a guideline only. Please know that we naturally understand that contact is part of the game. We also acknowledge that it is normal for volunteers to touch players in certain circumstances – e.g. helping with skates and helmets; assisting a young player on and off the bench; helping an injured player off the ice. The suggestion in the news media is that we have implemented a no contact policy. Please be assured that this is not the case.”

League president Jennifer Smith went on to explain, "At no time did the TLGHA invoke a new policy. The section of the email about physical contact with players did not draw a clear enough distinction between hard and fast rules and guidelines. These are guidelines only."

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Still, the zero-tolerance position of the email touched off what many players and coaches feel is an important discussion about the roll of physical contact between players and coaches in sports. Reactions were mixed, with some feeling a no-contact policy went to far and others that it only made sense to discourage unnecessary contact between players and coaches. 

“Obviously we’ve been taking steps ever since we’ve known that some bad things have happened to kids back in the ‘60s and ‘70s,” Twenty-year hockey coach David Trombley told CTV Toronto. “Definitely we’re out here to protect the kids.”

“I think it’s a real shame in a public situation on the bench that they’re not allowed to give a congratulatory tap,” said one parent. “I absolutely understand behind closed doors and in the locker room, but maybe on the bench and on the ice, it’s a different situation.”

For Dave Cmar, president of Sun Parlour Female Hockey Association in Ontario, it’s a logistics issue. 

“We wouldn’t have the resources to be at every arena, at every game,” he told The Windsor Star. “The difficulty would be in uniformly applying that.”

Sports psychologist Kate Hays defended coach-player contact as an important aspect of player development, telling CBCNews, “It says, 'I'm paying attention to you, you've done a good job, I know you are really engaged, you are important to me, you are important to the team.'" 

Perhaps more important, Hays says that it’s part of teaching children the difference between appropriate and inappropriate contact. "The idea of learning about non-sexualized, non-aggressive touch is something that indicates a positive connection among human beings.” 

 {module Youth Sports Poll}

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