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Coaches of children's sport in New Zealand need 'right education' around protocols - researcher

An Auckland researcher wants to find out whether some volunteer sport coaches are being put off wanting to help by new laws to protect children's safety.

A million New Zealanders volunteer at sports clubs, with parents in hot demand to coach their kids' teams.

It's now compulsory for government-funded organisations to police check all paid employees and volunteers who work with children, while all others, like sports clubs, are strongly advised to do it.

When the final whistle goes in a game, is it a high five, a cheer, or a hug maybe from the coach to celebrate.

University of Auckland researcher Blake Bennett says pressure on sports clubs to keep children safe from predators can be tough on volunteer coaches to work out what's acceptable and what's not.

"The most important thing for a lot of coaches is 'how do I go about touching athletes that's not going to be misconstrued in a way that's inappropriate," Mr Bennett said.

"To have misunderstandings or misconceptions of what's expected - turning people away from that pursuit, that volunteer pursuit, would be such a shame."

Mr Bennett says recent examples of child abuse, like that of former rugby coach Alosio Taimo, found guilty in February of abusing 17 boys, have only added to society's scrutiny of coaches.

"We need to make sure that coaches have the right sort of education wrapped around that so that they know what the protocols are."

New Zealand rugby is leading the way.

Last summer cricket followed suit. Seventy-eight per cent of it's junior coaches did an online child protection module. Sixty-four per cent agreed to a police check. Only two were stood down.

The country's biggest junior cricket club, Cornwall Cricket Club, says the initiative has worked well.

"We really haven't had any negative feedback on whether the police checking was a good or bad thing," said Nick Butler, Cornwall Cricket Club junior chairman. 

Other sports like football are establishing a vetting process.

Sport New Zealand chief executive Peter Miskimmin says the organisation wants as many people volunteering as possible.

"And we want to make sure they create the right experience for children so they can have a good experience and stay in sport for life," he said.

Blake Bennett hopes his research will uncover just what effect these measures will have on coaching numbers.

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Around 1 million New Zealanders volunteer at sports clubs around the country. Source: 1 NEWS


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