Discussing Sensitive Topics

  • April 04, 2019


Originally published in the Globe and Mail, “Ontario minor hockey players to get talks on gender diversity, expression” © Gabriele Roy, Associated Press, AUGUST 24, 2018

Before they polish their power plays and develop their defensive strategies, minor hockey players in Ontario will be getting a pre-season chat about gender identity and gender expression next month.

The Ontario Hockey Federation, which oversees the majority of minor hockey in the province, said it has made it mandatory for its coaches to discuss the issues with players in an effort to make everyone feel welcome.

“This is about inclusiveness and respect,” said Phil McKee, executive director of the OHF.

While hockey coaches in Canada already receive training on respect and gender inclusivity, the OHF said coaches in Ontario will now have to discuss issues such as preferred pronoun use and the importance of respecting an individual’s confidentiality with their players as the season begins in mid-September.

“We simply want to make sure that everyone feels included in hockey and can participate in the game in a safe and comfortable environment,” said McKee.

The move comes after the settlement of a case brought before the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario in 2013 by Jesse Thompson, a transgender player who was 17 at the time.

He told the tribunal that he was outed when asked to use the dressing room that aligned with his birth gender – female – instead of the gender he identifies with. The settlement has led to new directives in the years since, with the pre-season chat being the latest.

As part of the new directive, the OHF said coaches have been provided with a checklist, prepared by LGBTQ advocacy group Egale Canada, of matters to discuss with their players and suggestions on how to best approach the topics.

Larry Pattison, a father to three children who used to play hockey and a former coach himself, said he welcomes the new OHF directive.

“I think it is fantastic, especially considering that this may not be taught in school for a little while under this government,” he said, referring to the Progressive Conservative government’s move to repeal the province’s modernized sex-ed curriculum while it conducts consultations on a new document.

“As a father, I want my kids to come out of any education or any time on a team sport being inclusive and kind and understanding of everyone in the community,” said Pattison, who also a trustee on the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board.

“Some people like to be called a different name when you are talking about gender pronouns … We need to be accepting of that and open to it.”

The North Toronto Hockey Association said it was looking forward to implementing the pre-season chats.

“This falls within our mandate as a minor hockey association to teach players not only hockey skills, but also respect,” said association president Claudio Tarulli.

Some, however, questioned whether volunteer coaches were the best people to conduct such discussions with players.

“(Gender diversity) is something that has to be addressed to a certain extent, but the difficulty is in asking our volunteers to do it,” said Dan Bailey Jr., president of Canadian Tire Hanover Falcons, a hockey organization in Ontario.

Bailey Jr. said he worried that the new discussions could discourage some from volunteering to coach.

“Maybe if they had a go-to person in the federation that addressed the situation it would be better, he said. ”But to have the coaches do this on an individual basis, I think they may not get the results that they are hoping for.”

See what Coach-2-Coach is all about!

Coach Responses

What techniques do you use to broach sensitive topics with your athletes during pre-season chats?

Share your tips and best practices!

Craig Freedle – Soccer – Toronto – 12 years

“…I say right from the beginning, everyone here is an equal. I don’t care who you are, where you’re from, or what you believe. That is your right, and when we are on the field together we are all a team supporting each other as a family. I also make the effort every day to get to know my athletes a little bit more and letting them know my door is always open for them to chat about anything. We also do a comment dropbox that athletes can leave a note about how they are feeling and leave an anonymous note about what they would like to see more out of me as the coach.”

Kyle Campbell – Hockey – Guelph – 10+ years

“…While this is 100% supported by myself and my staff it truly is not fair to ask these coaches to do this. We simply took an online course to better understand things ourselves. This by no means makes us capable, prepared, or knowledgeable enough to teach this conversation to our young kids. They all need to know that we’re here as coaches for them. To believe in them and for them to trust us while they figure out who they are. However, after taking this online course – I don’t feel as though I can answer their questions properly. To give them the right answers. This needs to be done by people with some training and understanding of what these kids are going through. I’ve never been in their shoes. I don’t understand as much as I want to – so let’s get them the right people to talk to. Not just me because I took an online course for an hour or so.”

Sean Ferguson ChPC, RGP – Swimming – Region of Waterloo

“…Well the comment I would like to leave is regarding doing on-going chats, and not just doing a ‘one and done’ type of chat with your athletes; that ‘one and done’ approach is part of the problem (reminds me of years ago in health class, when the teacher would quickly go over the sensitive topics, and then never return to them in the course of a semester). So I hope that there are ongoing chats: before, during and after a season – with, of course, appropriate language & exercises, to address sensitive topics in sport. This education also needs to go beyond the scope of just coaches and athletes, as board members and parents need to go through some kind of ongoing educational exercise as well so that the environment and culture of your sports club reflect this new initiative.”

Joe Benedetti – Semi-retired Softball Coach  – Hamilton – 20+ years

“…It is always an important and difficult decision when an authority decides to make something mandatory – as hockey has done on this issue. Of course, the vast majority of coaches are volunteers and volunteers ALWAYS have a choice, – yes a tough one, – but they could resign if they feel strongly about the mandatory policy. I understand the arguments for being pro-active on this topic and many others, but at the same time, I think the topic is best dealt with when a coach is asked by one or more of their players, parents, or any stakeholder specifically about a topic. This then gives the coach the ability to use their own words to express their feelings and beliefs in a more meaningful and respectful way. Players know when a coach is “reading” someone else’s words.”

See the new issue

See past Coach 2 Coach topics.

Sign up to receive Coach 2 Coach webinar updates monthly!