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Local girls’ hockey doesn’t need to revise physical contact policy

By Alisa Howlett [1]

Women of Belleville [2]

BELLEVILLE – The president of a local girl’s hockey association [3] says the league is so small that it is easy to monitor physical contact between coaches and players on the bench.

This comment comes after a girl’s hockey league in Toronto [4] recently imposed a ban on physical contact between coaches and players on the bench after a complaint was made about a congratulatory gesture from a volunteer parent.

The girl’s minor hockey association in Belleville is small, with around 300 members, Lisa Neill, vice president of the Belleville Bearcats, said.

“For us, it’s a little bit easier to manage. Everybody knows each other – they go to school together, they work together,” she said.

Neill was comparing the local league to the Leaside Wildcats in Toronto, where the physical contact ban originated. The Toronto league is almost four-times larger than Belleville’s, she said.

A former coach of the Bearcats said coaches have to know the difference between appropriate and inappropriate contact with players.

“A pat on the helmet – I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. A pat on the shoulder telling them they’ve done a good job – I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that,” he said. But a pat on the behind, which is not uncommon in sports, is considered inappropriate, he added.

There are other ways of being congratulatory, the former coach said.

“You can still be verbal and tell (players) they’ve done a good job, or that type of thing.”

The coach declined to give his name because he is no longer associated with the league.

The Ontario Women’s Hockey Association [5] is the governing body that establishes the general policies to protect players and volunteers.

The association prohibits harassment, abuse, bullying and misconduct. The policy applies to coaches, players, volunteers, and anyone involved with the association.

Each of the volunteer coaches must follow a code of conduct, along with general ethics and skills, which are taught in coaching and training programs before the start of the season. They must also go through a 10-step screening process that includes a police check, Fran Rider, the president of the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association, said.

But, leagues are permitted to be more restrictive than the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association policies, she said.

“Today’s society is very very complex. It is not simple to run an organization anymore. So that’s why it’s really critical the associations take these policies and make sure they are being at least as restrictive, not less restrictive, taking the needs of the kids into account from both their physical and emotional well being,” she said.

The Belleville Bearcats don’t see further restrictions to be necessary at this point, Neill said.

“Well I mean it’s sad the (Leaside) coaches have to police themselves in that manner,” she said.

Congratulatory pats on the back are usually in order after winning a tough game, but now the coaches will have to hold back, she added.

It comes down to coaches being aware of their players’ individual backgrounds, Rider said. Sometimes a traditional tap on the shoulder to signal to a player it’s their shift on the ice might have different meanings among players.

“Often times, it’s treating all the children equitably, but sometimes there’s a child that comes into the program with a different background than others and some of them perceive contact in different ways,” she said. “There’s a responsibility that you don’t necessarily treat every child identically, but you do take into consideration the needs and perceptions of the individual kids. That is what is so important.”

Neill echoed Rider’s sentiments: “You have to know your audience and their comfort level; the coaches would really have to know their players.”

One of the past players had Asperger’s Syndrome [6], Neill said. Physical contact was something that might have made them uncomfortable, so all of the coaches were made aware of this in advance to act accordingly.

Both the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association and the local league have the players’ best interest in mind, each president said.

Since the ban of physical contact between coaches and players in the Leaside league made headlines, the president of the association, Jennifer Smith, has issued a clarification on their website [7] stating that the ban is only a guideline.