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Last updated: 28.02.20

Safeguarding: Physical contact and young people in sport

When it comes to safeguarding young people in sport, initiating physical contact, such as administering medical aid, can be a daunting task because of the social and legal frameworks set up to protect children from harm.

While these frameworks are without question a good thing, it can be hard to know where you stand as a teacher, parent, carer or sports coach. In this blog, we ask the question of what is considered appropriate from a physical perspective when you come into contact when working with children and young people.

Guidelines for physical contact in sport

The Child Protection in Sport Unit, part of the NSPCC, has established helpful guidelines for those who work with children in sports. One of the main tenets should be that physical contact should only take place if necessary, to treat an injury, to demonstrate sports skills, to keep the child from being injured or to comfort or celebrate the child’s achievements.

Some of these guidelines include such ideas as:

  • Physical contact should only happen in the interests of the child, and not in the interests of the adult.
  • Communication is key and any physical contact should be clearly explained to the child by the adult.
  • Physical contact should never ever involve touching a child on their genital or crotch areas. their buttocks, their breasts or any other area that might cause shame or distress.
  • Physical contact should always take place in the open and should never be done in secret or in private.
  • Children should always be encouraged to speak up if anything seems to be wrong, inappropriate or out of place.

The full list of recommended guidelines can be found here.

Demonstrating sporting techniques

Generally, when demonstrating sports skills and abilities to their pupils, sports coaches and teachers should use their discretion. Contact with a child should be justifiable and done in such a way that it can’t be misinterpreted by the child or by bystanders. Where possible, demonstrations should take place with different children each time, rather than the same one. Be sure to listen to the child if they become uncomfortable and explain to them each time what you’re demonstrating.

Physical punishment

The physical punishment of a child, such as striking them, holding them down or any other action that is taken as penalty for an infringement is not acceptable and is against the law. The only physical intervention that can be made in response to misbehaviour is to prevent the child from harming themselves or others.

Various sporting bodies for different sports have released their own guidelines on working with young people. These guidelines can help you prepare for specific situations and to know your boundaries. For a more general understanding of physical contact with children in sports from a safeguarding perspective, you can find our informative training courses here.

You can also check out our useful and informative downloadable resources, including this infographic on the importance of safeguarding children in sports, and a poster on the duty of care in sport.