Bullying Prevention

Photo: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / barr5557

Photo: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / barr5557

Whether you are volunteering as a coach for a town league or a school, coaching youth sports is not easy. Finding the time between busy work schedules and family responsibilities to prepare practice drills and strategies and attend practices and games—although rewarding—can be overwhelming. Coaches also need to be sure their players feel safe and comfortable with teammates. 

Good-natured teasing and competitive attitudes have always been a part of sports, and it has sometimes been easy for coaches and volunteers to dismiss bullying as “kids being kids.” But in recent years, bullying has become a more serious issue, and it is now a coach’s responsibility to ensure a safe environment for players. 

“It is difficult for a parent or adult who is taking time out of their busy schedules to volunteer and coach a team, to have the same knowledge as an educator about preventing and dealing with bullying,” said Jill Spineti, President and CEO of The Governor’s Prevention Partnership in Connecticut. “Coaches aren’t expected to know everything about bullying prevention, but it is important for them to know the basics and the resources available to them so they can create a safe and bully-free environment for their players.” 

How To Spot Bullying Behaviors

As a coach, have you seen players yelling at each other and brushed it off as competitive behavior? Have you noticed a group of team members being hard on a single player and considered it constructive criticism? These types of behaviors may seem innocent, but they are most likely bullying behaviors. 

Bullying is defined as unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance; and the behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. When applying that description to sports, an imbalance of power may be players using their physical strength, superior athletic ability, or popularity to control or harm others. Coaches also need to be aware of any teasing or bullying that occurs repeatedly during games and practices. When “lighthearted” teasing continues, it becomes bullying.   

Due to the nature of sports, distinguishing bullying from competitive behavior may be difficult. In general, it is important for the coaching staff to be observant and intervene when they see mean behavior from their players. Yelling and excitement are inevitable during a game, but it is important that players encourage their teammates rather than put them down. Addressing the mean behavior when it is first spotted will prevent it from escalating. 

Be aware of these bullying behaviors: 

  • Unwarranted yelling and screaming directed at a specific target
  • Continual criticism of the target’s abilities
  • Blaming the target for mistakes
  • Repeated insults or put-downs of the target
  • Denying or discounting the target’s accomplishments. 

Bullying behaviors can also include targeting new team members by forcing them to “earn their spot” on the team; or teammates may belittle a certain player because they don’t like him or her. 

How To React When Bullying Occurs

Coaches or volunteers need to intervene immediately when they see bullying occur. It is also important to stay calm and model respectful behavior to the rest of the team. Once the players have been separated, make sure that everyone is safe and, if necessary, attend to any medical needs. 

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