02/05/2015 01:43 EST | Updated 04/07/2015 05:59 EDT

Women's hockey league clarifies contact rules for coaches

The president of a Toronto girls' hockey league says her organization has not brought in a new "no-touch" policy that governs how coaches interact with players.

Jennifer Smith, president of the Toronto Leaside Girls Hockey Association, wrote to CBC News in response to coverage about an email sent to coaches. The email said coaches were not allowed to touch players on the bench "in any way." According to that email, this included congratulatory taps on the helmet.

The email was sent by John Reynolds, the league's executive vice-president, and directed at the coaches of girls' teams of various ages. 

Reports about the email triggered criticism that the policy went too far. A story published on on Wednesday had more than 600 comments.

- Leaside hockey parents call league's 'no touching' rule too strict.

Smith, however, said the email was intended to clarify existing guidelines for coaches, not spell out new rules.

"At no time did the TLGHA invoke a new policy," her email reads. "The section of the email about physical contact with players did not draw a clear enough distinction between hard and fast rules and guidelines. These are guidelines only."

Smith's email goes on to say there is no rule banning all contact between coaches and players.

"We naturally understand that contact is part of the game. The idea is not to prevent reasonable celebrations and acts of positive encouragement, but to ensure these acts are appropriate and comfortable for everyone involved. We encourage coaches to consider that not all players welcome such contact equally."

Story 'sparked a conversation,' Olympian says

Smith said the guidelines stem from those set out by Hockey Canada and the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association.

Smith acknowledges that some physical contact between coaches is part of the game. She mentioned as examples a coach assisting a player with their skates or helping an injured player off the ice.

"The suggestion in the news media is that we have implemented a no-contact policy," her email says. "Please be assured that this is not the case."

Player Sami Jo Small, who won Olympic gold as goaltender of Canada's national hockey team in 2002 and 2006, said she's happy to see the story has sparked a conversation about rules for coaches and volunteers.

"I think it's an important discussion and it's a starting point," she said in an interview Wednesday on CBC Radio's Here and Now.

"I really don’t want this to prevent males from getting into women's sports. I really think it's important for young girls to grow up with role models, both male and female.

"I'm just glad Leaside has taken it upon themselves to start the conversation."