4 Ways to Deal with Bullying In Youth Sports

Written By Steven Hawk

The main reason that kids sign up for sports is because they want to have fun. While Parents want their kids to develop their skills, improve team work and ultimately improve their fitness, your child’s willingness to participate will be determined by how much fun they’re having.

However, nothing is more upsetting than discovering that your child’s sporting activities are being eclipsed by bullying. Unfortunately bullying in youth sports still occurs and may take a variety of forms which may include:

  • Team members targeting less skilled players who do not perform as well
  • Intimidating new team members as part of ritual to induct them into a new team.
  • Coaches abusing or yelling at team members for mistakes
  • Jealousy due to other team members with high skills or performance levels
  • Body shaming and put downs that occur in change rooms.
  • Over encouraging parents who expect too much from their child’s performance.

The experience can have a significant affect both emotionally and mentally while seriously affecting a child’s wellbeing. For instance, your child may:

  • Lose confidence and start performing poorly.
  • Develop mental or emotional issues
  • Lose interest in sports and physical exercise
  • Become excluded and lose friendships
  • Develop body image issues.

So how do we prevent bullying? We’ve put together some tips for parents, coaches and clubs that can help.

  1. Teach kids how to communicate effectively

Winning is a great feeling and more often than not, winning comes from effective team communication on the field. Teaching kids to communicate effectively, with training drills, can help improve team cohesion, develop friendships and teach kids that on field success starts with how they treat each other.

As part of regular training, coaches should train their team to identify bullying and negative player actions that can have an adverse effect on other players and team performance.

Drills you can try:

  • Have players call each other’s name before passing
  • Have team mates compliment strong on field play such as saying “great pass” or “top shot”
  • Use words that help teammates have more awareness like “got time”, “man on” & “take a shot”.
  1. Train coaches to identify bullying

Every coach should be trained on effective communication too. Understand that your tone, body language, and messages set the standards of behaviour for your team. If you tease or scream at a player, you are giving permission for their teammates to do the same.

Coaches should also be educated on bullying so they can work with parents and clubs to prevent harmful behaviour. The coaches are often in the best position to be able to spot bullying first while also setting a strong example through their own actions.

It’s important to know that coaches aren’t just developing players; they’re developing lifelong skills for young adults. Club coaches need to lead by example.

  1. Listen to your child

As parent, it’s important you know how to spot the warning signs of bullying. While some kids might be open to discussing bullying others may try to internalise their feelings.

Some warning signs are:

  • Unexplainable injuries
  • Frequent headaches or stomach aches, feeling sick or faking illness
  • Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations
  • Decreased self esteem
  • Complaining or frustration when going to training or games.

Learning how to spot the warning signs will allow you to encourage the conversation so that you can listen and understand what has occurred.

So what can you do?

  1. Listen to your child. Find out what is going on, how does the bullying makes them feel and what they would like to do about it.
  2. Empower your child. Provide them with toolsets for dealing with bullying like walking away, telling them to stop or speaking to the coach.
  3. Speak to the coaches. The coaches can’t see everything and you might need to inform them that bullying is occurring for them to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Make a commitment to help resolve the issue, but pay attention to your child’s wishes. It is always a good idea to ask for your child’s opinion before you go straight to the coach or another parent.

  1. Establish a zero tolerance policy.

It’s important for clubs to make it very clear, at the beginning of the season, to both players and parents that there will be a zero tolerance for bullying.

While it’s impossible to foresee every potential scenario that counts as bullying, make sure that both players and parents understand that it won’t be accepted.

Implement policies to suspend, counsel or remove players from the club for recurring incidents if they cannot adhere to the clubs policies.

In Summary

Creating a bully free environment should be the responsibility of every youth sports coach, sports parent, club and league volunteer. You may not mean to cause any harm but ignoring bullying can have damaging effects on kids for the rest of their lives.

Players need to know that they are respected and should feel safe on and off the field. Encouraging team mates to continue to improve communication and team work will ultimately bring success, lifelong friendships and memories.

As they often say “the whole is greater than the sum of all of its parts” and kids need to learn how to incorporate skill levels, player abilities and personalities if they’re going to win on field.

If you’re looking for a great introduction to sports why not try a local sports camp so your child can choose and trial a sport they think they might enjoy while learning and interacting in a fun and safe environment.

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