Coach's Guide to Bullying in Sports

How to Keep Athletes Mentally Tough

Parents and coaches can help kids by sharing with them tips from bullying experts like Pickhardt.

First of all, kids should understand it's okay to feel afraid of bullies, says Pickhardt. However, they shouldn't show that they're afraid. In fact, they should identify how kids look when they're afraid, and purposefully avoid looking like that.

For example, they should not slump their shoulders and should not avoid eye contact with the bully. Their goal is to look confident--even if they don't feel it.

Next, kids should throw the bully off-guard, says Pickhardt. "Just when he thinks you'll step away from him, step up and maybe say something friendly." Young athletes might say, "After you're done teasing me, maybe we can shoot a few hoops together."

What Parents Can Do

Parents can be very helpful at this stage. "The goal of the parent is to coach the bullied child and give that child choices. They have choices they can try out." Parents, for example, might help their kids come up with one-line responses to bullies, Pickhardt says.

When young athletes step up and respond to bullies with seeming confidence, they will likely throw the bully off-guard. Athletes can take this idea one step further. Next time they see the bully, they should approach him or her and say, "Hi, how are you?" or ask a question about sports.

"Bullies aren't looking for people who will take the initiative," Pickhardt says. "They are looking for people who will manifest fear."

If adults can help children take these steps, the young athletes will learn critical life lessons. They'll discover that they can handle very difficult situations--a discovery that will likely boost their confidence and enjoyment in sports.


Award-winning parenting writer Lisa Cohn and Youth Sports Psychology expert Dr. Patrick Cohn are co-founders of The Ultimate Sports Parent. Pick up their free e-book, "Ten Tips to Improve Confidence and Success in Young Athletes."

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