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Adult-Child Touch Policy in Sport

By David Turner, sports coach UK Coaching Children Lead

This month Edge Hill University’s Dr Melanie Lang produced a video presentation for sports coach UK which is now available through our You Tube Channel.  Dr Lang is a member of the NSPPC’s Sports Safeguarding Children Initiative - Research & Evidence Advisory Group, which means she is one of the leading Safeguarding and Protecting Children in sport experts that both the NSPCC’s Child Protection in Sport Unit and sports coach UK turn to for the latest research in this area.

Dr Lang is a former elite junior gymnast and is passionate about ensuring adult-child touch policy in sport is framed around what is right for children’s enjoyment, participation and development in sport.

In her presentation, Dr Lang discusses the concerns some coaches have around touch in a sporting context, particularly against the backdrop of high profile abuse cases inside and outside of sport.  As such, some of the common myths on this topic, including ‘coaches must never touch children in sport’ are dispelled using the latest research and evidence. 

Dr Lang goes on to explain some of the principles around good practice – i.e. the child’s welfare is paramount, so for example, you wouldn’t not support a child performing a challenging gymnastic move.

As a coach myself, I like to ask the athlete, so I’d say “do you mind if I move your arm here”, that way you’re asking permission and helping the child, not the adult, to determine the boundaries. From a purely coaching perspective I do like to limit touch in some elements of my coaching as I’d prefer the child to ‘feel’ and achieve correct the position for themselves, rather than my placing them into the correct position.  The theory is that this technique helps children to replicate the position in future.

Unfortunately, due to certain media reporting and the spreading of some myths, some of the powerful benefits of touch are forgotten about e.g. as a fantastic communication tool or a way to reassure a distressed or anxious child.  The question that coaches should ask themselves is always will touch benefit the child. 

For me, perhaps the most important aspect of the presentation is Dr Lang’s point that positive and appropriate touch in sport can actually help children identify inappropriate touch should that ever happen at another point.  A powerful point I’m sure coaches will reflect upon.

You can view Dr Lang’s presentation here.

sports coach UK would like to thank Dr Lang and the CPSU for their time and support in developing this video.

If you’d like more information on this topic then you can use Twitter to contact myself

David Turner: @David_T_scUK

Or Dr Melanie Lang: @DrMelLang