Preventing Bullying

Anti-bullying campaigns have been fighting to raise awareness in the past few years. While more people are aware of the problem of bullying in schools, awareness is just as important in athletics. Athletes need cohesive teamwork in order to perform their best, and every incident of bullying degrades the team’s morale.

Awareness is just the first step. We know bullying is a problem. What do we do about it? Read on to find out.

Quick Stats on bullying

  • 1 in 4 people under 18 are bullied on a daily basis
  • 1 in 3 people under 18 experiences bullying at some point in their lives
  • Adult intervention occurs in less than 4% of bullying incidents
  • Peer intervention occurs in only 11% of bullying incidents…
  • … Yet bullying stops within 10 seconds, on average, if a peer intervenes

What does bullying look like?

Bullying can occur in 4 main ways: verbal, physical, relational and cyber.

  • Verbal bullying includes name-calling, taunting, rudeness, threatening, and other similar behaviors.
  • Physical bullying includes any aggressive or violent actions (including some forms of hazing), tripping, shoving, towel snapping, or any other unwanted physical contact.
  • Relational bullying can include ignoring a person, gossiping behind someone’s back, embarrassing the person (especially in front of others), etc.
  • Finally, there’s cyber bullying. This can be any bullying behavior that occurs online, through text message, phone calls, or on social media. These behaviors can include threatening, stalking, trash-talking, etc.

Bullying can cause long lasting effects, especially if it is continuous. Victims of bullying may experience:

  • Depression
  • Low Self-Esteem
  • Anxiety
  • Inability to Sleep
  • Absences at School, Practices and/or Games
  • Lower Grades
  • Suicidal Thoughts

You can imagine how all of these issues compound to make a person feel, especially if you’ve been bullied yourself. Even bullying that seems innocent or that is part of a tradition of hazing can have these effects.

You may have heard that people who are bullied just need to “toughen up” or “get a thicker skin.” While some people are able to let mean comments or physical roughhousing roll off their backs, others are predisposed to be devastated, especially if they have other problems at home, at school or in relationships. The other problem with this approach is that ignoring bullying doesn’t always end it. The bully may progress into more serious violations in order to get a response.

If nothing else, just remember that when bullying is accepted on your team, you create a disharmonious team culture. Anybody could be next in line. This constant stress, drama and anxiety destroy the team’s spirit, as well players’ trust in each other and their ability to work well together.

What to do if you are being bullied

  • If you’re being bullied, remember that you are not alone. Millions of people have been or are still being bullied. You can and will get through it.
    Bullying is a reflection of the bully and not of you. Try not to take their comments or actions personally.
  • You can try to stand up for yourself in a calm, respectful way. Look the bully in the eye and tell him or her in a calm but serious voice to stop. You may also try laughing it off, which may cause the bully to lose interest in trying to get you upset.
  • If this seems like too much to handle, talk to your coach or to a parent or guardian. If you talk to your coach, remind him or her that the bullying can bring the entire team down. Bring up the idea of having a training session on why bullying is unacceptable and what to do if you see it or experience it. Talking with your parent may help you strategize how to handle the situation, but it’s always good to try to get a supportive coach in the loop.
  • You may feel like you don’t want to “tattle.” If that’s the case, don’t give any names or specifics to your coach. Just explain that you’ve seen and/or experienced bullying and you believe it needs to be addressed. If your coach does nothing to address it, consult with a school administrator or a leader in the local league board.
  • Try not to fall for a bully’s goading. This is especially true online. If a bully is taunting you into responding, just ignore them. Don’t give them the satisfaction. Block them, log off, and inform an adult or coach. Howeverdo not delete the messages. You may need to show them to a trusted adult later. Or you can forward the messages to your Internet Service Provider and the police if the messages contain threats of violence.

What to do if you’ve witnessed bullying

Imagine your teammate Sarah missed the winning shot. A few teammates make rude comments to her after the game. Then later that night, there is talk on social media about how badly she “screwed up.” The next day, your teammate is berated and called names. Others ignore her or otherwise make her feel unwelcome. At practice, some of the players physically corner Sarah and tell her she “better not mess up next time or else.”

All of these instances are considered bullying, and it is harmful not only for your teammate but for your entire team (even if only one of these occurs). Sarah is now so distracted, anxious and upset that she cannot focus during practice. The next game, she is incredibly nervous and doesn’t take any chances for fear of messing up and getting ridiculed again.

Now, imagine that we go back in time. Sarah has just missed the winning shot. Someone makes a rude comment, but you step in. You say, “Sarah, don’t listen to them. We’ve all been there. It’s okay. Next time, just try following through with your wrist more, like this.” Chances are the other bullies won’t pipe up with their unnecessary comments. Sarah will feel better and may be able to learn from her mistake. She will work on this at the next practice and go on to perform well in the next game.

When you witness bullying, speak up. It’s a great help to do this at the time of the bullying. Intervening in a non-aggressive way will almost always cause the bully to back off. However, if you are witnessing a dangerous situation or are uncomfortable stepping in, you need to immediately get an adult or a coach.

Try these interjections and actions if you witness bullying:

  • “Hey, coach is coming!”
  • “Come on, let’s get out of here.” (To the person being bullied)
  • “That’s mean. Knock it off.”
  • “Stop. You’re going to get in trouble.” (Appeal to the bully’s sense of self-preservation)
  • Never laugh or chime in with additional comments, as this encourages the bully. Some people will do this because they are afraid they’ll be next if they don’t “get on the bully’s side.”
  • Use strength in numbers. Encourage others to denounce the bullying behavior. Most people are against the bullying, but the “bystander effect” keeps them from speaking up until others start the process.

Afterwards, it may help to boost the confidence of your bullied teammate. Make sure he or she is okay. Tell him or her not to listen to the bully. Let them know you’re there to listen. If they made a mistake, let them know it’s okay: “We all make mistakes. It’s no biggie.” If they are being bullied for something out of their control (their looks, their home life, etc.), you may want to remind them that bullies often pick on others because they themselves are insecure. Again, “Nobody’s perfect. Let’s just focus on our game.”

With these simple actions, you can combat bullying that destroys you, your teammates and your team.

Additional Sources on Bullying:

Athletes Against Bullying

National Education Association

Psychology Today

Stomp Out Bullying

Bullying Statistics



Hi, I'm Zayn. I am a personal trainer and blogger living in Miami, Florida. Welcome to my blog! Zaynez follows my life and my interests in sports, fitness and healthy living.

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