Hockey club enforcing strict rules to prevent abuse between coaches, athletes

WESTMINSTER, Colo. -- Sexual abuse in youth sports is a tough subject to talk about, but it happens.

“That’s the first step. To acknowledge that abuse and misconduct happens,” said Michelle Peterson, a consultant with the Colorado Youth Hockey Association.  “And once you acknowledge it then it’s easier to have prevention.”

“When I first started hanging around the hockey rink I saw lots of concerns about a predator could be here and have access to our kids."

Peterson, who specializes in abuse and bullying prevention, questioned practices involving locker room supervision, the way coaches and players interact on social media and how teams travel.

Over the past five years, Peterson has helped shape a new policy for youth hockey across Colorado geared toward keeping players safe.

This is in addition to the SafeSport program USA Hockey requires of all its affiliates.

Last weekend, Peterson taught a mandatory 90-minute class to every coach, player and parent involved at Hyland Hills Hockey Association.

The club has about 500 athletes ages 4 to 18.

“We always want to make sure our kids are in a safe environment and it’s a sanctuary where they can come and play, have a good time,” Hyland Hills Hockey director and coach Tyson Davis said.

“Where we think we’re doing the right thing sometimes and we’re pushing kids and we’re challenging kids but we don’t want to make it uncomfortable.”

In the past, most of the training happened online. This year, Davis decided to hold a class in light of recent abuse scandals involving USA Gymnastics.

“It definitely makes me worried. It makes me angry and worried and it’s great that there are more and more people willing to speak out,” said Jonathan Bahe, parent of a 7-year-old female hockey player.

At Highland Hills the rules are strict and they are clear to everyone involved.

“We don’t allow our coaches to be alone with an athlete in a car, in a locker room, in a hotel room. If they want to talk to an athlete privately they can do it out here on the ice or on the bench or have another coach join them,” Peterson said.

Coaches and athletes are also barred from having private text conversations and they aren’t allowed to follow each other on social media.

“We want our coaches to be role models to our kids but that doesn’t mean you have to go to dinner with them or go to their hotel room,” Peterson said.

Goalie Konnor Erdman, 12, says despite the strict rules, his coach is still his role model.

“Some kids might think it’s overprotective or whatever but I feel it’s necessary,” he said. “Even the people you trust the most can be deceiving.”

In addition to safe practices and training on spotting red flags, the Colorado Hockey Association emphasizes that reporting uncomfortable situations is OK and encouraged.

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