Bullying is an epidemic in our society today. And it's especially a problem in sports.
A recent survey of 22,000 high school students across the U.S. found that 48 percent of the respondents had been targets of hazing--a form of bullying in which kids are humiliated or required to take part in dangerous activities.
What Bullying Does
Athletes who are subjected to bullying will often lose focus, play or perform tentatively, feel anxious, drop out of tournaments or competitions, or quit sports altogether.
In addition, they're reluctant to tell their parents or coaches they've been bullied because they're embarrassed or feel shame.
Solution to Bullying
But here's the good news: Whether you're a coach or a parent, you can help your young athletes stay mentally tough in the face of bullies--and you can help them learn critical life lessons from this experience.
Bullies target all kinds of young athletes. They can set their sights on kids who are overweight, small or who lack confidence, for instance.
Bullies also target gifted athletes, generally because the bullies are jealous and want to intimidate the gifted athletes into leaving the competitive arena. No matter what the reason for the negative behavior, your job is to stop the bullying.
Role of Coaches
Coaches set the stage for how kids on a team treat one another. They should be very clear that they want to create an atmosphere of respect, support and team unity. They should also state clearly that they won't tolerate players bullying each other or members of other teams.
"The coach can say, 'On my team, this is how we are going to communicate and treat each other,'" says Carl Pickhardt, Ph.D., a psychologist and the author of Why Good Kids Act Cruel.
If they don't show that kind of leadership, their team members may engage in what he calls "social cruelty."
"At the beginning of the season I say: 'If I hear you talk negatively about anyone on our team, anyone on other teams, or the referees, or umpires, you will sit,'" says youth sports coach Doug Donaldson, president of PlaySportsTV.
"I make it something they understand from day one. The key is to really make sure they understand the impact their behavior has on the rest of the team."
If coaches or parents witness or become aware of teasing, exclusion, threats or other forms of bullying, they need to take action.
Parents should talk directly to the coach and not try to talk to the bully's parents. Parents shouldn't accuse coaches for being responsible for the kids' behavior, but should solicit their help.