LUCY doesn’t do PE. She tells the teacher she has period pain, and if she isn’t excused she skives for the afternoon. Jack won’t get changed in front of his friends. Every Tuesday at break time he slips into a toilet cubicle to put on his T-shirt and jogging bottoms in private. Sarah represents the school in cross-country running, and her shorts don’t quite cover the cutting scars on her thighs. Greg is star striker on the football team, but he tenses up any time his team-mates rush to celebrate one of his goals.

It’s exposing, playing sport: not just physically, but psychologically too. It’s not like any other school lesson or extracurricular activity. The changing of clothes, the exposed skin, the scraped knees, the bumped heads – it’s a lot more risky and less predictable than the controlled environment of a school orchestra, chess club or after-school art group. But the risks must be weighed up against the potential rewards, and the wealth of opportunities for adults to make meaningful connections with young people.

Keeping physically active and joining a team isn’t just good for children’s health but also for their self-esteem and sense of belonging. Very few young people will progress to elite level in their chosen sport, but just taking part can make a life-changing difference, whether it’s an academic high achiever developing leadership skills while playing rugby, or a child with learning difficulties earning silverware for the school’s trophy cabinet.

So the publication this week of new standards for child protection and wellbeing in sport, which incorporates the SHANARRI indicators (safe, healthy, achieving, nurtured, active, respected, responsible and included), is to be warmly welcomed. Yes, this constitutes additional “red tape” for the organisations running clubs, many of which are heavily reliant on volunteers, but that’s a price worth paying if it means this generation are better protected from predators, and given more opportunities to speak up when something is wrong.

The launch of the new standards by Safeguarding in Sport, the partnership between sportscotland and Children 1st, comes months after a flurry of allegations about child sexual abuse within Scottish youth football in the 1980s and 90s, and the discovery that more than 1800 coaches across a range of sports had not been background-checked as part of the Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme. In the spring a BBC investigation uncovered fresh abuse claims against Celtic Boys’ Club founder Jim Torbett, who was jailed in 1998 for abusing young players in the 1970s, and former Hibs and Rangers coach Gordon Neely, who died in 2014. Neely was reportedly sacked by Hibs after parents complained about his behaviour, but the club failed to inform the police or warn Rangers about him. PVG background checks may be a good place to start, but if concerns are not passed on to the appropriate authorities they cannot subsequently be disclosed.

With hindsight it might seem obvious that coaches should never have been allowed to be alone behind closed doors with the boys in their care, and that any form of touching was inappropriate. But a blanket ban on physical contact between adults and children in sport is neither practical nor desirable. The Child Protection in Sport Unit, which provides guidance to groups in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, sets out five different contexts in which it may be necessary: to develop sports skills or techniques; to treat an injury; to prevent an injury or accident from occurring; to meet the requirements of the sport; or to comfort a distressed child or celebrate success.

It’s obvious to us as adults that there’s a world of difference between a high-five after a goal and a hand on a knee in an empty changing room, but the distinction may be less clear to a child, especially if they are being showered with positive attention for their sporting achievements, and especially if no-one else in their life seems to care. Guidance about physical contact therefore emphasises the importance of communication, with adults required to seek permission for contact and explain its purpose in all but emergency situations.

Of course it’s easy to forget, when hearing chilling testimony from those abused in youth clubs or care settings, that the majority of abuse happens at home, within families. A television advert launched last month by the NSPCC powerfully illustrates the role all adults – including those involved in sport – have to play in following up concerns that don’t involve them directly. It shows a forlorn wee girl in an oversized netball bib who’s afraid to talk about what’s happening to her but knows it’s wrong. Her internal monologue is matched exactly by that of her perceptive coach, who’s also trying to work up the courage to start a difficult conversation.

Sports instructors aren’t social workers, and no-one is expecting them to step into that role. But the standards for organisations require each to have at least one named contact (the phrase “named person” is deftly avoided) who is specially trained in child protection and can follow up any concerns. They can ask Lucy if everything’s OK at home, or gently suggest a referral to a school nurse or guidance teacher. They can start a conversation with Jack about body image, boundaries or bullying. They can make sure Sarah and Greg know that someone will be ready to listen – properly listen – whenever they need to talk.