Written by: Coach Kelley
“Hey four eyes.”
“Ouch, stop pulling my hair.”
“Hey loser, give me your lunch money!”
I think we can all agree that nobody likes to be called names, have their hair pulled, or their lunch money stolen. I still avoid wearing my glasses in public after being called “four eyes” throughout elementary school. Where was Morgan Hurd when I needed her?
So how do we prevent bullying? First, we need to understand bullying behavior. The definition of bullying is when an individual seeks to harm, intimidate, or coerce someone perceived as vulnerable. Although the fictional bully characters of popular television shows and movies can be amusing and even elicit sympathy on their path to redemption, real life bullying is not so pleasant. Because fictional bullies, such as Nelson from The Simpsons, always seem to get what’s coming to them, it can be easy to forget that real life bullying is not conveniently wrapped up in a 30-minute television show. The ramifications of bullying can last a lifetime for both the instigator and the target.
In the context of sports, it is important to note that almost half of all athletes report some sort of abuse. Often accepted as a rite of passage, locker room antics have existed for generations. I remember getting wedgies, pantsed, teased, my hair pulled, and name called in both school and practice. Hey, it was the ‘80s! While it was all in the name of good fun, I can also remember it often felt pretty crappy. Kids from my generation took solace in the fact that soon it would be our turn to break in the “newbies”, thus, the cycle continued. But when does it cross the line from playful banter to bullying and how do we distinguish between the two?
First, we need to recognize the four types of bullying behavior:
And the methods of bullying:
We also need to recognize that bullying can affect an individual’s physical and mental health long after that last locker room towel snap. Stomachaches, dizziness, headaches, exhaustion, muscle pain, and digestive issues are all potential symptoms of bullying. A sense of learned helplessness, as well as short and long term physical and mental health issues are others.
So, as coaches and parents what can we do to prevent bullying? Here are a few ways we can help our athletes work together as a team:
Despite what the ‘80s movies tell us, bullying is NOT a rite of passage!
Help your athletes develop social and emotional skills
Set clear boundaries and behavioral expectations
Establish trust and pay attention to their feelings
Promote team/class cohesion and bonding – at the end of every practice I have my gymnasts line up and share something positive about another teammate
Partner/group activities – teaching them to work together on tasks promotes team work
Rotating responsibilities during practice, such as line leader
Encourage athletes who witness bullying to become allies, or intervene on behalf of the target of the bullying
Talk to ALL parties involved – remember things aren’t always what they seem!
We will never rid the world of bullies, but helping kids learn to identify bullies and giving them tools to cope with their feelings just might help break the cycle. Kids who learn to stand up for themselves and each other will become adults who do the same. As adults, let’s remember, kids often mimic our behavior, so don’t be a bully!