Bullying and Basketball: Keep Bullying out of Sports

California kids face an epidemic of bullying. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 77 percent of school-aged children will be physically, verbally or mentally bullied at some point in their education. Bullying isn’t confined to the playground. Bullies target their victims wherever they can, including on the football field and basketball courts. Let me be quite upfront. I was one of the many, many kids who experienced bullying at school. I spent most of middle school in a state of near-constant anxiety and fear, always tensed for the next shove, punch or verbal assault. Classrooms were relatively safe, corridors and bathrooms less so. The gym and changing room, however, were the locations where I was most vulnerable. I share this not to gain anyone’s pity, but to clarify why I am so passionate about bullying. I’m long since past the point where the thugs who entertained themselves at my expense can hurt me. Like many bullied kids, I assumed that the jocks--the talented, popular athletes--were immune to bullying. The fact that some of the kids who bullied me were “jocks” only strengthened my belief. I was firm in this attitude and, as I now know, completely wrong. Bullying can completely negate the benefits of playing a sport. At its worst, bullying can drive a child out of a sport she loves. Sometimes the bully plays on an opposing team, but bullying by teammates is all too common. Why would a child be bullied by teammates? Kids who aren’t as strong, fast and fit may be picked on. A kid who played football once told me the “weakest” boy on his team was referred to as the “girl” by other players. The casual and simultaneous denigration of both the player and women was horrifying. Bullies target the skilled players as well as the weak. A jealous teammate may rally other members of her basketball team against a talented player. Such bullying may stem from competition for a coveted spot on the team. Successfully bullying a rival out of a team eliminates competition for the position. Some of the worst sports bullying, sadly, is encouraged by misguided parents or coaches. The football team members who used “girl” as an insult were actively encouraged to do so by their coach, a man who I am glad to say has since been relieved of his position. Sports should provide opportunities for children to develop physical skills and, more importantly, healthy mental attitudes towards teamwork and competition. In many cases, that’s exactly what kids get out of sports. Most coaches value sportsmanship and encourage respect for both teammates and the opposition. Still, parents should watch for signs of bullying in sports. Bullying can result in anxiety and depression. Kids who once looked forward to practice and competitions may suddenly start avoiding sports activities. If you suspect bullies have targeted your child, talk with the team coach rather than risking confrontation with the bully’s parents. Don’t accuse the coach of negligence: even the best coaches can miss the subtle signs of bullying. California’s young athletes shouldn't live in fear of bullies. Schools, coaches and law enforcement take bullying very seriously. Gone are the days when bullying was seen as an inevitable part of childhood. Today’s bullies face very real consequences, including expulsion and criminal charges. Many incidents of bullying go unreported. Encourage your children to report bullying to adults. Explain that it’s normal to feel frightened of bullies, but staying silent only encourages further bullying. References: Cohn, P., & Cohn, L. (n.d.). Coach’s guide to bullying in sports. Retrieved 21 March, 2011, from http://www.active.com/mindandbody/articles/Coach_s-Guide-to-Bullying-in-Sports.htm U.S. Department of Education. (2010). Indicator 11: Bullying at school and cyber-bullying anywhere. Retrieved 21 March, 2011, from http://nces.ed.gov/programs/crimeindicators/crimeindicators2010/ind_11.asp Sidebar: Baseball Camps, Teamwork and College Recruitment Attending a college’s summer baseball camp offers players a chance to prove their skills to college recruiters and coaches. Mere talent often isn’t enough to impress a college recruiter. Players also need to display excellent teamwork skills. Working well with both teammates and coaches is essential to a successful college career. Competition is fierce at college baseball camps, and some players may be tempted to try bullying tactics. College coaches and recruiters are well acquainted with such tricks. Coaches don’t want players who disrupt the team with bullying and drama. They are, however, impressed by players who handle intimidation with maturity.

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