Following a few simple protocols can help players stay safe and respectful of one another
By Greg Bates, Special to AHAI
It’s the kind of scenario that plays in the back of the mind of every coach: a player pulling out a cellphone in a crowded locker room to record a teammate dancing and goofing around while in the background an unsuspecting kid is getting undressed after a game.
The video gets posted to every social media site and quickly the embarrassing scene goes viral.
It’s bad for the program, players and coaches.
“What was very innocent now becomes a much larger issue,” Illinois Coach-in-Chief Jim Clare said.
The scenario really drives home the importance of having locker room supervision at all times for kids of any age.
One way of eliminating that potential problem is banning cellphones in the locker room since no video usage is allowed. During a preseason meeting, the coach can tell their players that the team manager or a parent will be collecting cellphones prior to a game or practice and the kids will get them back once they are ready to head home.
Over the last few years, Clare noted there have been “several” locker room incidents reported to the Amateur Hockey Association Illinois (AHAI). The majority of those have centered around bullying, hazing and sexual harassment from teammate to teammate.
Clare, who was the club president for the Sabre Youth Hockey Association for 13 years, has noticed over the years that all the locker room incidents that were brought up to him were a result of a screened adult not being present in the locker room when a problem occurred.
“My point to coaches is something’s not going to happen if you’re in [the locker room],” Clare said. “If you’re in there, the odds of it happening go drastically down. The kid’s not going to bully another kid, make a sexual comment, or anything like that when the coach is right.”
AHAI always takes a proactive step and is trying to help nip all incidents in the bud. The locker room supervision topic arises every year and is discussed extensively at all coaching education clinics at Levels 1, 2 and 3. Clare spends 20-30 minutes per session talking about locker room policy and USA Hockey’s SafeSport Program.
“The safety of its participants is of paramount importance to USA Hockey. USA Hockey SafeSport is the organization’s program related to off-ice safety,” says USA Hockey’s website in referencing SafeSport: https://www.usahockey.com/safesportprogram.
“USA Hockey has long had systems in place to protect its participants from physical abuse, sexual abuse and other types of abuse and misconduct that can be harmful to youth hockey players and other participants. These include without limitation physical abuse, sexual abuse, screening, locker room supervision and hazing policies, in addition to codes of conduct applicable to administrators, coaches, officials, parents, players and spectators.”
The SafeSport Program mandates that all coaches and managers go through background screenings which the individual clubs are responsible for scheduling.
Clare tells his coaches the policy is set for the safety of the kids, but also to protect coaches. Clare stresses to coaches — head or assistant — and managers to never be in a locker room or meet alone with an athlete.
“In today’s world of litigation, you don’t want to put yourself in a position where you’re in the locker room by yourself with one other player,” Clare said. “There’s several parts to the policy, which is all locker rooms have to be supervised by a screened adult — preferably a coach, an assistant coach, a manager. But it has to be somebody that’s screened.”
If there is only one kid left in a locker room, there are ways to maneuver around that. “What I would tell a coach to do is stand at the door with the door propped open and you just stand by that door and make sure that you can hear what that kid is doing in there or peek your head in,” Clare said. “But you’re outside the room with the door propped open, and that keeps you from being alone and you can still monitor if the kid pulled out his phone and you can peek in there every once in a while.”
In the event that the coach of a boys’ program has a girl playing on the team, it’s that coach’s responsibility to make sure there is an adequate place for that player to dress and undress before and after a game.
“The policy is, at least with AHAI and most of the clubs, provide a safe place for the girls to get dressed and undressed and make sure that they’re part of the conversation in the room, that they are part of the team,” Clare said. “You don’t send them out and then have a conversation just with the boys when the girls leave.”
When there is a girls’ team that is coached by a man or a boys’ team that his coached by a female, the coach needs to be careful about their locker room presence.
“Make sure it’s a safe environment to go in, the girls/boys are fully dressed, that they ask a female/male parent or a manager to open the door and just check before they go in and out of the locker rooms,” Clare said. “I coach a girls’ team, so I have this situation all the time.”
All locker room situations can be preventable, but it’s up to the coach to make sure that happens.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.