Bullying in Youth Sports

In Articles by Naomi Hardy

Read on to find out more for about bullying in youth sports.  As well as useful ideas and strategies to overcome this potentially harmful issue.

In Australia, 1 in 4 students report incidences of bullying.  Unfortunately, many children won’t come forward about their experience for fear of making the bullying worse, meaning the actual number of children who experience bullying may be much higher than statistics indicate.  Bullying comes in many forms and is defined as repeated and intentional verbal, physical, social or psychological aggressive behaviour.  It intends to cause harm, distress and/or fear.  This behaviour can be directed toward a group, or at an individual, and may be perpetrated by one person or multiple.

The reasons for bullying

Children may bully one another for numerous reasons.  A child may bully another for social acceptance, power or admiration from onlookers.  Also, a bully may have been bullied themselves previously, or may have been influenced by aggressive role models, at home or on TV.  They may be lacking in empathy and not care about the distress they cause their victim, or even see it as justified.  Any child may become a target of bullying.  In sports, many children who are bullied because their team mates see them as a competitive threat.

Bullying has links to many negative outcomes for victims.  Including, impacts on mental health, physical health and academic results.  Kids who experience bullying are at a greater risk for developing depression and anxiety, which can manifest as changes in sleeping and eating patterns, sadness, feelings of isolation, and a reduced interest in the activities that they used to enjoy.  Children who experience serious, ongoing bullying may lose their self-esteem, engage in substance abuse and may even become suicidal.  These mental health problems can persist well into adulthood.

What can you do if your child experiences bullying playing sport?

We often recommend kids join a team sport if they experience bullying at school.  As it gives them another support network.  But, what can you do if your child experiences bullying within that sport?

In a sports context, bullying may take many forms, including:

  • Continuous put downs about an athlete’s abilities
  • Isolation
  • Intimidation
  • Verbal abuse from the sidelines
  • A group of players ganging up on a single player

The signs of bullying

Signs that might indicate that your child is experiencing bullying include:

  • They no longer want to participate in the sport they used to love
  • Avoiding seeing their friends, or one friend in particular
  • They complain of stomach aches or other ailments that prevent them from playing or training
  • Other behavioural changes

These signs do not necessarily mean that your child is being bullied, but may serve as a reminder to bring up a conversation with your child about bullying and their well-being.  After having this conversation, if your child denies being bullied but you are still concerned, perhaps you could ask another adult that they trust to talk to them.  This could be a teacher, older sibling, coach or another family member.  Your child may be afraid to tell you for fear of getting into trouble, making the bullying worse, or embarrassment.

If your child opens up to you about being bullied, ensure you are supportive and listen to your child’s feelings without judgement or blame.  Don’t ask your child what they have done to incite the behaviour, and don’t minimise their concerns.

What coaches and clubs can do to prevent bullying

In team sports, it’s the responsibility of the coaches and club presidents to ensure bullying doesn’t occur.  Emphasising team-building activities and fostering a family-like environment reduces the occurrence of bullying.  Environments which are highly competitive and promote winning at all costs, are more likely to foster bullying behaviours.  Alternatively, bullying is less likely to occur, when enjoyment, team work, sportsmanship and skill development are given priority.

If you witness any bullying on the field, directed toward your child or another.  Firstly, arrange a meeting with the coach.  Explain what you’ve seen and put the responsibility onto the coach to stop the bulling.  If their response is unsatisfactory, escalate the problem to the President of the club.

It may be tempting to confront the bully’s parents about the problem.  But, this could make things worse.  Also, it’s difficult for a parent to hear that their child is a bully.  As, they may feel under attack or disbelieve you.  Often, it’s best to discuss the situation with the other parents in a neutral environment, with a coach acting as mediator.

Homework

At home, work with your child on strategies to eliminate the bullying.  Promote positive body language, like eye contact.  A child that appears confident in themselves is less likely to be a victim to bullying.  Practice assertive things your child could say if bullying occurs.  Retaliation will only aggravate the bully.  If they appear unfazed by the torment, the bully will eventually give up.  When your child tells you how they successfully diffused harassment at training, or you see them stand up for themselves or another child at a game, make sure to praise them to encourage the positive behaviour.

It’s important to help your child, but also to encourage independent thinking and not provide all the answers.  If your child suggests retaliation or escalating the problem, ask them what could happen if they did that.  Help them to see the consequences of actions.  If you show trust in their problem-solving abilities, you will build their resilience and they are more likely to believe in themselves as well.  You can read more tips for raising resilient kids here.

What if your child is the bully?

Children who bully others are at a higher risk of criminal convictions and risky behaviour in adolescence and adulthood.  If your child is the bully, it is important to address the problematic behaviour early.  You may need the help of your child’s coach to do this.  It is not about blaming anyone, but realising that negative behaviours need to be replaced with positive ones.  It may take time, and the behaviour may become worse before it becomes better.  However, once you change one negative behaviour, it’s much easier to eliminate another.

Focus on positive behaviours too and reward your child when they display them.  Teach your child empathy and talk to them about how the other child may feel.

So, we hope you enjoyed this article.  At Australian Sports Camps, we do not tolerate bullying behaviours and have comprehensive policies, procedures and staff and supervisory structures in place to prevent and manage any incidents.  We treat all children with dignity and respect and take reports of bullying very seriously.  Our camps focus on skill development and good sportsmanship, to encourage positive behaviours.  To find more about us, please see: https://australiansportscamps.com.au/about-asc/