Mar 22, 2022 • 5 min read
Whether you are a coach or a parent on a youth athletic team, you can help to prevent bullying. At the start of the season, begin a discussion about bullying. First identify what bullying is and then figure out your organization’s plan to prevent it. Kids who know what bullying is can better identify it. They can talk about bullying if it happens to them or call it out if they see it happening to others. Kids must know ways to safely stand up to bullying and how to get help. Here are 7 ways that you can prevent bullying on your or your child’s youth sports teams.
According to stopbullying.gov, zero tolerance policies and conflict resolution strategies do not stop bullying behavior. Zero tolerance policies often discourage other children or adults in reporting bullying. Peer mediation strategies don’t work because bullying is not a conflict where both parties are to blame. Bullying is a form of victimization. Instead, use consequences that involve learning empathy or team building to prevent future bullying. Keep the lines of communication open throughout the season with your athletes. Continue to express through your actions and words that bullying is unacceptable behavior.
Kids learn from adults’ actions. Be a role model by treating others with kindness and respect. Practice positivity and encouragement at practices and at the end of games. Circle up and encourage players to say something positive about another player’s actions. For example, “I noticed that Finley cheered the whole game.” Share one positive thing that they appreciate about another team member. For example, “I appreciate that Keenan always waits for me at practice.” Through positivity and kindness, show kids that there is no place for bullying on this team.
Some types of bullying such as physical or verbal bullying can be very obvious. However, other types of bullying such as sexual, prejudicial, cyber, or relational bullying can be harder to detect. Female relational bullies or social bullies are sometimes called “mean girls”. These bullies may tell secrets, spread rumors, manipulate situations, and outcast others from a group. Look for gateway indicators like inside jokes, name calling, eye rolling, or sarcasm.
Watch your child’s moods for signs they may be experiencing bullying. Your young athlete may suddenly lose confidence or start to perform poorly. An athlete might play tentatively and worry constantly what others think of them. Another indicator might be if an athlete loses all enjoyment for the sport or says that they want to quit the team. If you’re a parent, ask your kids about their friends on the team. If your child answers, “I have no friends,” that may be a red flag that you need to find out more.
Many kids will not actually use the word “bullying” to describe what they are experiencing. Take note if your kids say there has been a lot of “drama” on the team or that others are “messing” with them. Find out what is going on and how the bullying makes them feel. Listen and focus on the child. Let them do most of the talking and show you want to help. Assure the child that bullying is not their fault. As a coach, tell your team that if they ever have concerns someone on the team is being bullied, to please come and talk to you.
All kids involved in bullying–whether they are bullied, bully others, or see bullying–can be affected. It is important to support all kids involved to make sure the bullying doesn’t continue. Failure to intervene with bullying normalizes bullying behavior. Kids are less likely to feel safe if they see bullying being minimized, excused or ignored by an adult. They are less likely to report it for fear of it not being taken seriously.
When you are responding to a bullying situation, try not to shame, embarrass, or be a bully yourself. Call the child out on the bullying behavior firmly and ask them to speak about it in private as soon as you can. Afterwards, let the victim of the bullying behavior know that you talked to the bully about their behavior. Tell both parties separately that they can talk to you anytime. Make the choice if more severe consequences such as missing practices or games are in order to match the intensity of the bullying.
Follow-up after the bullying issue is resolved. Because bullying is behavior that repeats, it takes consistent effort. Be persistent. Show a commitment to making bullying stop. Find ways to help the child who bullied to understand how what they do affects other people. For example, praise acts of kindness or talk about what it means to be a good friend. Check in on the child who was bullied to see how they are doing emotionally. Continue to be a role model of kindness and compassion for your family and team.
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