Girls from the Leaside Girls Hockey Association at Toronto City council in 2009. (Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star)
A Toronto girls' hockey league issued a new, zero-tolerance policy to coaches forbidding them from having any contact whatsoever with players – including a friendly tap on the helmet. Is this the right thing to do, or oversensitivity run amok?
In news that will be welcome to some and troubling to others, a Toronto girls' hockey league issued an edict to coaches this week that forbids them to touch players on the bench.
On the heels of a complaint to the Toronto Leaside Girls Hockey Association, the league sent coaches an email informing them of the new, zero-tolerance policy on contact with players. The new guidelines also include a ban on social media interactions, and restrictions on when men are permitted to be in dressing rooms and email communication. But the outcry over the email mostly concerns the new rules regarding contact.
“(U)nder no circumstances should there be contact with the players, in any way,” said the directive from John Reynolds, head of the house league. “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.”
Some have already derided the policy as politically-correct overkill that stunts healthy and normal social interaction, but Fran Rider, a fixture on the women's hockey scene for decades and president of the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association, told the National Post she supported the decision and, "(p)robably, you can never be overly protective." Indeed, if you look at the Leaside league's measures as a whole, they're to be applauded for proactivity rather than awaiting a tragedy to knock on their door.
To clearly lay out do's-and-don'ts in areas like social media is necessary in a world in which that technology can be abused; setting strict guidelines for men in dressing rooms around young girls isn't unreasonable in the least; and at a time when we're worried about player concussions and young brains, it's also worthwhile to instruct coaches to temper their enthusiasm when it becomes physical. And let's not forget – there's a possibility there are coaches out there who still think corporal punishment – a push or smack on the helmet to motivate or intimidate a player into raising their game – is a legitimate coaching tool. This directive lays out, in unmistakeable language, that mentality has no place in the league.
Other Toronto girls’ leagues have different policies on this issue: the Scarborough Sharks allow tapping a player's helmet as a form of congratulation, while the Etobicoke Dolphins have an unwritten no-contact rule that resembles Leaside's. But if you're upset that a hockey coach today in the Leaside girls' league or any league is limited in what they can do compared to what they once were able to do, welcome to the modern world. We're much more aware of the dangers and pitfalls that are out there, and acting to try and address those potential dangers isn't a sign things aren't as grand as the grand old days.
UPDATE: Toronto Leaside Girls Hockey Association president Jennifer Smith made clarifications to the email on Wednesday evening.
"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," writes Smith.
"We naturally understand that contact is part of the game. 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. We encourage coaches to consider that not all players welcome such contact equally.
"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."