TORONTO – Players cannot be touched on the bench, there are restrictions on when you can enter the locker room, social media interaction is banned, and email communication is limited.
Those were the directives given to coaches of a Toronto girls hockey league earlier this week after a complaint was received regarding a parent volunteer slapping a player’s bum during an on-bench celebration.
According to a report in the National Post, Toronto Leaside Girls Hockey Association house league executive vice-president John Reynolds sent an email to all coaches on the “guidelines.”
“On bench behaviour – under no circumstances should there be contact with the players, in any way,” Reynolds wrote.
“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.”
The volunteer organization issued a statement Wednesday clarifying its position on the matter and that the guidelines are in no way a strict “no contact 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,” said league president Jennifer Smith.
“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 idea is not to prevent reasonable celebrations and acts of positive encouragement, but to ensure these acts are appropriate and comfortable for everyone involved.”
Coach and player relationships in minor hockey have been placed under the microscope ever since revelations emerged of sexual abuse suffered by former NHL players Sheldon Kennedy and Theoren Fleury during their youth.
Hockey Canada has since developed its own bullying, harassment and abuse guidelines outlining the appropriateness of contact and player safety.
A code of conduct is present in many hockey leagues across Canada with varying rules of appropriate interaction between players and coaches.
But Mark Allen, a spokesperson for Respect in Sport, an organization which trains coaches to recognize issues of abuse, says the policy may go too far.
“There can be benefits to appropriate, supportive, positive touching in the right circumstances such as an encouraging pat on the back for a good play, or a high-five,” he said. “Or even to console. You may have a five or a six year old that comes off the ice and is holding back tears, so a touch on the shoulder or on the back, saying you ok? That’s an appropriate touch.”
The Ontario Women’s Hockey Association OWHA maintains a “no physical contact with players” policy whereas the Ontario Minor Hockey Association guards against unwanted behaviour, but a pat on the back or the shin pads is acceptable.