Physical guidance – effective but sensitive method of coaching and teaching sports

Eystein Enoksen
Norwegian School of Sport Sciences

Heather Piper (red) Touch in Sports Coaching and Physical Education: Fear, risk and moral panic 194 pages, inb. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge 2015 (Routledge Research in Sport, Culture and Society) ISBN 978-0-415-82976-2
Heather Piper (red)
Touch in Sports Coaching and Physical Education: Fear, risk and moral panic
194 pages, inb.
Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge 2015 (Routledge Research in Sport, Culture and Society)
ISBN 978-0-415-82976-2

This book is focusing on different perspectives in protecting children and young people from abuse in sports coaching and physical education. The authors come from different countries with diverse historical and cultural characteristics. Some contributors are experienced researchers while others are at earlier stages in their careers. This will explain their different methodological approach. In their texts, the authors demonstrate the imperative of keeping children and young people safe from abuse, showing that in different sporting environment this is variably problematic. For sports and physical training in schools this reduces the effectiveness of teaching and coaching and undermines aspect of human behavior, personality and trustfulness. In the following I will try to describe the content and focus of the authors in the different chapters.

The Chapters

In chapters 1 and 2, by Heather Piper and Piper, Bill Taylor and Dean Garatt respectively, research done in the UK is presented, focusing on issues around the individual and collective identity of sports coaches and PE teachers, and the impact of high degrees of anxiety concerning child protection. Touching behavior and related practices were analyzed in relation to effective teaching and coaching as well as child abuse and protection. The research indicates how a particularly crude understanding of risk and protection is propagated through child protection in sports training, resulting in fear and extremely precautious behavior. In conclusion, sports coaching is characterized more as adult protection than real safeguarding for children, thereby missing important values of humanity and caring behavior.

Chapter 3, by Richard Johnson, is focusing on the US. The author has previously been occupied with research and coaching practices around touch and care in intergenerational contexts. In this chapter the author presents his reflections based on his experiences from a long commitment as a volunteer soccer coach. He shows that the panic around child safety and the abusive non-parental adult has a negative impact on the role of the coach (in terms of self-confidence and self-efficacy). His arguments about this topic, caring for other people’s children in various contexts, in his practice led to the implementation of comforting programs of risk management and also of adapting to the safeguarding and coach training programs of the American Youth Soccer Organization.

The author of chapter 4, Clive Pope, is from New Zealand. His experience is based on his teaching practice and teacher training for more than 30 years in Secondary school PE. Exploring the growth of panic around child safety, and risk-adverse practice, he demonstrates how the individual dangerous teacher has been transformed into an archetype. Based on his long experience as a teacher, Clive Pope makes a passionate argument that coaching is best understood as a deeply human and emotional activity. He means that by presenting intentional definitions of what is “good” or “bad” practice talking about “touch”, it inevitably leads to diminished chemistry and effectiveness. This perspective is supported by visual data from sustained research at diverse school sports events.

The authors of chapter 5, Marie Ôhman and Carin Grundberg-Sandell, focus on the ideals and responsibility of PE teachers in Swedish schools, demonstrating that issues and dilemmas around touch, abuse, and protection do not have sectorial boundaries. In their research they explore the tensions between teachers’ and coaches’ practices in different PE activities/sports, and compare them with a general expectation of what should be happening in school gymnasia and sport fields in particular. To prevent bad things from happening in teaching and sports contexts, they suggest the promotion of a moral statement to ensure that good things happen. If not, acts which are neither good nor bad can be interpreted as overtly sexual. They argue for the importance of caring and why an holistic understanding of child protection as a pedagogical interactional process is essential to build on fundamental elements of children’s rights.

Faced with this new information many PE teachers, pupils and parents have decided that touch of any type is unwise.

In chapter 6 Mari Papaefstathiou presents data comprising discursive interviews with Cypriot track and field athletes and their coaches. While Cypriot culture has been based around imperatives of society, she describes the present situation in terms of neoliberal imperialism, associated with the European Union and international frameworks around child protection. This brings forward a tension around the practice of coaching and varies responses from the interviewees. The author discusses the importance of international definitions to be sensitive to local cultures and traditions and thus avoid provoking unhelpful tensions and responses. She argues for the addition of educative assistance for coaches to underline the distinction between mere protection of young athletes and real emotional caring for children without anxiety and guilt.

In chapter 7, Simona Petracovschi from Romania shows that issues in pedagogy around PE, touch and perceptions of abuse in her country are just as sensitive as in other nations. With forty years of communist regime in the baggage, education, and particularly PE, is characterized by a dominant teaching behavior where the ownership of the body, children’s rights, touch, punishment and abuse take on distinctive meanings influences by the ideas of Marxism-Leninism. Based on interviews with twenty-four PE teachers having varied practice in PE before and after 1989, she draws a reflective picture how the changing ideas about education, the role of the teacher, the rights of the child and of touch and abuse in PE, are affecting both teachers and pupils. Faced with this new information many PE teachers, pupils and parents have decided that touch of any type is unwise. However the dominant role exposed by sport coaches and PE teachers over many years makes this a difficult role for some teachers and sport coaches, depending on their age and biography.

Jan Toftegaard Støckel has worked for the Danish government to get insight in sport for young people. In chapter 8, he presents his research associated with child abuse and protection in Danish sport. He considers in particular widely reported cases of abuse, debates around the problem and the appropriate police response. He discusses the often frequently incorrect use of the word “pedophile” to describe predatory sport coaches, even though many offenders cannot be classified as pedophiles.

In his research he shows how the risks and abuse in sport is based on the protection strategies of international organizations, and he concludes that Danish sport organizations and governmental agencies have stood for a “light-touch” response. Coaches are told not to exploit their power or to be abusive, but there are no fixed guidelines around touch to regulate their coaching practice.

The author of chapter 9, Keith Lyons, University of Canberra, reflects on the particular ways abuse and touch in sport have been dealt with in competitive and recreational sports in Australia, and he describes how closely this dilemma is connected with family and community life. He underlines that real caring in coaching and teaching requires more than defensive practices. To obtain a safe sport, you need to develop good and caring relationships with your athletes, eradicating the risk of inappropriate touch which may lead to other types of personal damage. Keith Lyons demonstrates how coaches can consider issues around relationships and touch without reducing the effectiveness and humanity of their actions, focusing on how concern and pressure can be directed into a positive influence taking an activist stance as a challenging and caring person.

In chapter 10, Alun Hardman, Jake Bailey and Rhiannon Lord focus on the particular context of trampoline gymnastics. They have professional backgrounds as coaches, academic researchers and experts in moral philosophy and ethics. In trampoline gymnastics many children in the sport is exposed to pressure around touch. In coaching the use of touch is essential in preventing injuries. The authors bring forward the advantages of a caring coaching practice as a natural, individual activity, rather than a behavior being imposed by the views, opinions and framework of others. They claim that policymaking and regulatory approaches harm coaching and have less to do with protecting children than protecting coaches and their employers. Caring coaches do not need predetermined care frameworks, since this actually reduces effectiveness and slows down the whole process. In a reflective conclusion the analysis offered in this chapter indicates practical and theoretical inputs to obtain balance in favor of real care and humanity in coaching.

In summary

Although each chapter in this book presents issue around touch and abuse in sports coaching and PE from personal experiences, different cultural and political contexts, and arguments based on research and empirical data, the content can be understood in diverse ways. However the perception of a widely acknowledged problem still remains. The risk of bad things happening to children in sporting contexts discussed here has caused doubt and confusion about the teaching practices and coaching routines in many countries. Coaches and teachers should be aware of their limitations to help. It is important to include medical and other health expertise when difficult and complex situations appear. The editor of this book, Heather Piper, suggests critical approaches and creative interventions to encourage more people to recognize this reality and to challenge it.

On the other hand «touch» – physical guidance – is an effective method of teaching used by coaches and PE instructors to teach difficult sports techniques. A combination of oral supervision by coaches combined with physical aid/touch should not be misunderstood. As long as this supervision is done in a natural way without exaggeration, this should be an accepted way of coaching/helping young athletes in their learning processes.

In a balanced society we don’t want to have focus on the extreme performance level of an athlete or the sick or disturbed athlete, but the happy and healthy young athlete. To reach this level a daily lifestyle discipline in activities and actions is needed to enhance a positive wellbeing for young people. This reflects a balanced relationship between significant others in education, work, family life, sport and hobbies in a liberal way.

Copyright © Eystein Enoksen 2015


  1. Child Protection in Sports Coaching and Physical Education Heather Piper
  2. Hands-off PE Teaching and Sports Coaching in the UK Heather Piper, Bill Taylor and Dean Garratt
  3. Training ‘Safe’ Bodies in an Era of Child Panic in the United States: New Technologies for Disciplining the Self Richard T. Johnson
  4. Should we be Worried? Risk, Fear and the ‘Greyness’ of Touch: Experience in Aotearoa New Zealand Physical Education and School Sport Clive C. Pope
  5. The Pedagogical Consequences of ‘No Touching’ in Physical Education: The Case of Sweden Marie Öhman and Carin Grundberg-Sandell
  6. “It’s Not What you See, it’s How it Feels”: Touch in the Tactile Context of Cypriot Track and Field Sport Maria Papaefstathiou
  7. Teaching and Touching in Physical Education in Pre and Post-Communist Romania Simona Petracovschi
  8. Exploring the Appropriateness of Contemporary Child Protection Measures in Danish Sport Jan Toftegaard Støckel
  9. She’ll be Right? An Australian Perspective on Caring for Young People in Physical Education and Sport Keith Lyons
  10. Care and Touch in Trampoline Gymnastics: Reflections and Analysis from the UK Alun Hardman, Jake Bailey and Rhiannon Lord
  11. Fear, Risk, and Child Protection in Sport: Critique and Resistance Heather Piper
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