Over the past year, I’ve worked with several organizations on the topic of safety – helping them manage through crisis and supporting them through the healing process. Through my work, I discovered that the performing arts are turning to intimacy coaches for support. Intimacy coaches? It’s a growing industry in the wake of #metoo for directors and actors unsure of how to navigate sexually-charged performances. As stunning harassment allegations continue to engulf the performing arts world, discussions on how to navigate the complexities of the ‘human experience’ have become increasingly necessary. Intimacy coaches specialize on staging scenes that involve nudity and sexuality in various forms. These coaches work with their clients to demystify the scenes and plot out body movements such as hand positions and eyeline. In addition, the intimacy coaches can help actors work through any personal anxieties and to protect themselves physically and psychologically from unwanted contact.
So, what can sport leaders, trainers, coaches, and athletes learn from this?
As an Integral Master Coach(TM), I am often asked to support people through change initiatives by developing a coaching program. This involves setting the intention for how the client wants to shift and building the required muscles to support and sustain the transition. If I look at our sector’s desire to shift on the topic of safe sport, I believe we can learn from some of the proactive measures created by the performing arts sector and some of our own sport organizations, to support healthy dialogue between athletes and coaches/athletes and athletes/athletes and trainers related to touching, the use of language, and proximity.
In speaking with others on this topic, there are good practices in place to support healthy training and competition environments for athletes and coaches. For instance, Gymnastics Canada recently updated its coach training program to speak directly to safe spotting practices. Gymnastics Canada defines spotting as “physical contact between a coach and an athlete that is reasonably intended to respond to the needs of an athlete.” Don’t all coaches, regardless of the sport, use spotting as defined here at some point? Embedding this language within your sport may be a healthy way to speak about appropriate contact. Important points on spotting:
In addition, more sports are hiring Safe Sport Directors to oversee the organization’s commitment to safety. Moreover, Respect in Sport is a national initiative that has been working since 1992 to educate and inform athletes, coaches, community leaders, staff and volunteers on topics related to bullying, harassment, abuse and discrimination. And the Coaching Association and the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport have partnered to launch the Responsible Coaching Movement to ensure key safety measures in sport are upheld. While there is a growing movement to ensure we are providing a safe, respectful learning environment for athletes, there is much work left to be done.
Until we can speak about this (the stuff that makes us uncomfortable) openly, we are less able to effectively initiate change. For instance, I’ve been told by many sport coaches that they struggle to find the right words to address some of the more intimate and emotional topics that arise. If we aren’t comfortable talking about it … it continues to weigh us down, thereby limiting our potential. By learning from other sectors and turning to those organizations in sport that have been proactively putting in place safety measures, we can speak directly to these issues and by doing so, remove some of the stigma associated with it.
In reviewing some of the good practices to support a healthy conversation on topics such as appropriate contact, I offer up the points below. If coaches and leaders are uncomfortable designing a process to facilitate a dialogue on this topic, we are here to help. A few ways that I can see the sport sector dealing proactively with this includes:
By learning from some of the great practices in other sectors and applying some of the proactive measures already in place among sport organizations, we can reduce the likelihood that unintended contact gets misconstrued. In the end, we cannot eliminate bad things from happening, but we can reduce the risks associated with unsafe practices by making the invisible, visible. Send me a note at DBL@sportlaw.ca – I’d love to hear from you.
Note: The tips and practices offered here assume that those in positions of power and authority over others have no ill intention. In addition, a special note of thanks to Gymnastics Canada for sharing their good practices in the spirit of supporting others.