Dear 100 Hour Board,
Among the various types of physical contact a coach/teacher/mentor may have with a player/student/child while interacting with each other (fist bump, arm around shoulder, high five, etc.), how do you view a quick pat on a boy's chest, similar to a pat one might give on a back or shoulder? Perhaps it takes place during a pep talk, congratulatory moment, or as a good bye. For the purposes of this question, let's say it only applies to situations where two males are involved (like a male coach and male player), and it also doesn't take into account any "no touch" policies that might prohibit this outright in certain workplaces. The question is just about the act itself. From your perspective as a player or parent, how would you do you see this- acceptable or inappropriate?
I'm in conflict, as I am about most things.
On one hand, I have always been VERY anxious about physical contact. Even from family members, harmless gestures like a pat on the back or a side-hug have always made me uncomfortable. When I joined 4-H in high school it helped a little (Utah 4Hers are very touchy), and I eased up some more when I started dating my boyfriend last year. However, contact from people I'm not close with still makes me a bit uneasy.
So that part of me says even something like a quick encouraging pat on the chest is a bad move because you never know what people are comfortable with. There are plenty of people like me who would be upset by it.
However, when I initially read this I thought, It's harmless, friendly, and encouraging. Why wouldn't it be fine? I was thinking of a sports-related circumstance especially, where that kind of thing seems to be common and welcomed. I've also seen it with bishops who are sending off or welcoming back missionaries, and between family members at gatherings. Seeing it has never made me think Why are they doing that! That's not okay! So maybe it's no biggie.
Final answer? It depends on the circumstance, but mostly the person involved. If it was my future son, I wouldn't think it was inappropriate and try to file an angry lawsuit against a coach or anything. But if my son told me that it made him uncomfortable, or I knew physical contact wasn't his thing, I'd make sure that was known so it wasn't an issue. I also don't think it's worth getting fired up about. I think physical contact is an important thing about human culture, and if the intentions are harmless, there's not really a reason to get mad about it. I've found it's pretty easy to tell people that you're just not a touchy person, and they tend to respect that.
Personally I would find that inappropriate, mainly because of the position the two people would be in that would allow that kind of physical contact.
It seems like in order to pat someone on the chest you have to be facing them and standing relatively close, so as the non-dominant person in that situation, I would feel vaguely threatened if someone were to get close to me in order to pat me on the chest. I have no qualms about pats on the back or shoulder, because when doing so, you aren’t facing the person or standing over them in a potentially threatening manner.
In the specific situation you described, it's hard to know exactly if it would be appropriate or inappropriate. I think, as a bystander, I would be more okay with it if the coach was using the back of their hand, rather than the palm. It feels more like a casual tap that way.
Ultimately, though, it comes down to how the two people feel about the interaction to really know if it's appropriate or inappropriate. In an interaction like this one, there's a pretty clear unequal power dynamic. One person has to obey the other, and that makes it unlikely that the person with less power would feel okay setting boundaries, even if they were made uncomfortable by the other. When it comes down to it, it's the responsibility of the person with more power (the adult, boss, coach, etc.) to make sure that nothing that could be inappropriate would ever happen, and err on the side of caution.
Maybe this is just me, but a pat on the chest just seems really odd compared to a pat on the shoulder or pat on the back. It depends on where you're standing. If you're standing in front of the person it seems really weird. If you're standing beside them on a sideline, a tap on the chest with the back of the hand might be less awkward of a motion than a pat on the shoulder or on the back.
In general, I agree with Quixotic Kid that the back of the hand seems better than the front of the hand in this situation. I also think that a quick pat seems really normal. If it was a slow pat, or a rub, I would find that inappropriate. In general I would say that celebratory physical contact on a sideline is okay, but contact outside of practice or a game is less appropriate. It might work as a good bye if one person has both hands full and are walking past each other. Personally, I think high fives, fist bumps, pats on the back or shoulder, and hugs in celebration or parting are typically okay. It all depends on the context though.