Youth sports provide kids with the opportunity to have fun, build relationships, and develop skills. Unfortunately, they can also create an environment for bullying. Part of your job as a coach is to attempt to prevent bullying and deal with it appropriately when it occurs.
Recognizing bullying is an important first step in working to stop it. Bullying involves an imbalance of power and aggressive, repetitive behavior; it can cause lasting problems for both the aggressor and the victim. There are three broad kinds of bullying: verbal, social, and physical bullying. It includes name-calling, threats, intentional exclusion, tripping, and damaging the victim’s reputation. Although the range of bullying is wide, all of the actions are aggressive behaviors by kids who use their power to hurt or control others.
Begin the season by sharing your expectations with the team and letting them know that bullying is unacceptable. Decide on consequences for bullying, such as sitting out a game, and then stick with them. Keep the tone positive by emphasizing the goal of having fun and how following these rules helps everyone achieve that goal.
As the coach, you set the tone by what you do more than by what you say. Your attitude and treatment of people provide an example for the kids on your team; treat others with the same respect you want your players to show to each other. This includes not only the kids on your team, but also other coaches, parents, and referees. If you have assistant coaches, make sure they are setting a good example too.
A child who is singled out is more likely to be bullied. Help prevent this by playing everyone during games and including all players in drills. Some kids may not be as skilled as others, but they are all part of the team and should be included and encouraged. Praise team members for things they do well and avoid harsh criticism or singling out a player. Team building activities during practice can be a great way to include everyone and encourage the development of positive relationships.
If you or assistant coaches see bullying happening, step in and take control of the situation. Promptly enforce the consequences established at the beginning of the season. Showing the kids that you are serious about dealing with bullying will help prevent future acts of aggression. If one child repeatedly is caught bullying others, considering removing them from the team. Make sure your players know they can talk to you if they experience bullying, then listen carefully and deal with the situation if someone does.
Handling aggressive behavior can be challenging for a coach, but the importance for your players and the team as a whole make it worth the effort. Don’t wait until bullying becomes a big problem, deal with it promptly and establish a positive team environment where everyone feels safe and has fun.
Jessica Kane is a writer for SteelLocker Sports. A leading provider of sporting goods and training programs for coaches, players, parents and institutions with a primary focus on youth sports.
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