Kids see and experience bullying and, too often, never mention it to the adults in their life for many reasons. To create a culture that does not tolerate bullying, you need to teach your team members how to identify this toxic behavior and know how to stop it.
Whether you’re a coach or a parent, you should be prepared to recognize and respond to one of the most common forms of negative behavior associated with sports teams: bullying. Bullying is an issue in every part of our kids’ lives — from the locker rooms to home rooms to social media. And statistics show that more than half the time, kids don’t tell adults about bullying situations.
So, how can we help stop something when we don’t even know is happening?
The answer is to put the power to stop bullying in our kids’ hands. We can make sure they have the knowledge to recognize when someone is being bullied and know how to safely intervene. Our kids have the most power to transform team and school culture and we need them to help us build a climate of civility and good sportsmanship. They rely on us to guide them and show them that bullying is never okay. Here are some tips to turn our kids from potential bullying bystanders in to upstanders: people who recognize when bullying is taking place and stand up against it.
To be able to stop bullying, they need to be able to spot it.
What Bullying Is:
Bullying is repeatedly and deliberately hurting someone — physically, verbally or socially. It relies on an imbalance of power or status where one person exerts power or strength over another.
- Verbal bullying is saying or writing mean things, like name-calling, taunting or threats
- Social bullying is hurting someone’s reputation or relationships, like spreading rumors, intentionally leaving someone out or publicly embarrassing someone
- Physical bullying is hurting someone’s body or possessions, like hitting, kicking or pushing and taking or breaking someone’s things
- Cyberbullying is using the internet or cell phones to send hurtful messages, spread gossip or share embarrassing images (Read more about solutions to protect against cyberbullying, here.)
What Bullying is Not:
- Bully is not teasing; Teasing is generally between two equals and is not intended to hurt. Causing hurt is the driving force behind bullying.
- Bullying is not just one thing. It occurs in many different forms with varying levels of severity. And it can occur just about anywhere: at school, while participating in sports, or online. These are reasons why it can be it so hard to spot.
It Takes A Team to Bully
Bullying relies on multiple players taking on different, set roles. There are the bullies and their victims, but the majority of people are bystanders, those who witness the bullying behavior. Bullies seek active encouragement, like laughing, joining in or showing approval of the bullying, or passive acceptance from these bystanders. When bystanders do nothing, the message the bully and the victim both receive is that the bullying behavior is acceptable. And often without realizing it, bystanders can make a bullying situation worse by providing an audience or maintaining silence.
Build A Team of Up-standers
The fastest way to stop active bullying is to teach our kids how to transform from bystanders to upstanders, people who recognize when bullying is taking place and stand up against it. Bystanders contribute to the problem, whether they mean to or not. Upstanders can help stop it.
Becoming an up-stander is about moving from passive silence to taking action. The main difference between a bystander and an upstander is the bystander does nothing while the up-stander intervenes. That intervention can be anything from speaking up to aid the victim, drawing support from other bystanders, or reaching out for help from adults. It’s about standing up for what is fair and right and choosing kindness and inclusion.
Being an upstander takes leadership, courage and action — all traits we want to champion in every team member.
As a coach, you have the power and responsibility to shape a team culture that reduces the likelihood of someone being bullied. Coaches play a pivotal role in the climate of the team and by emphasizing enjoyment, team work, sportsmanship and skill development — and having no tolerance for bullying — you may be able to prevent this behavior.
Here are a couple of tips you can use to create an environment that doesn’t allow bullying:
- Involve your team members in creating your team’s anti-bullying policy.
- Have an adult present in your team rooms before and after practices and games. If gender differences exist between players and coaches, turn to your team captains to monitor these areas.
- Always provide opportunities for your athletes to talk to you in private.
Many times, our kids don’t talk us about bullying. That’s why it’s important to speak to them about it: being bullied or witnessing bullying behaviors can be traumatic. Empower them by making sure they understand the importance and value of being an upstander, knowing when and how to ask for help, and how to report bullying behavior to their coach or teachers. By leading open and honest conversations about bullying, you’ll make them feel more comfortable having these same conversations, too.
Learn more. inCourage delivers research-based solutions for improving the culture of youth sports. Our engaging videos and informative educational resources are available for free to anyone who wants to create better communications and outcomes to keep kids happy, healthy and in the game.
We provide these tools for free because we believe there should be no barriers to accessing the tools we need to improve the culture of youth sports and keep more kids in the game.