No matter what sport you coach, bullying shouldn’t be acceptable on your team. If you coach for a long time, you’ll find that some form or another of bullying is almost unavoidable in competitive play. But, that doesn’t mean that it’s acceptable behavior from your team. Here are five things that you, as a coach, can do to deal with and prevent future bullying on your team.
1. Set the Expectations
From day one, players should understand that you won’t tolerate bullying or harassment on your team. You don’t need to overemphasize the point, but you should make it clear that bullying will result in discipline. It’s also important to watch for bullying from the beginning of the season, what starts as teasing or name-calling often turns into bullying, but sometimes it can be nipped in the bud before it becomes a serious problem.
2. Set an Example
As a coach, you are a role model. How you treat your players, whether in practice or at a game, this will end up informing your players about how they should treat each other. You can be serious and hand out discipline, but, as a coach, you should be encouraging and helpful to them, too.
3. Reward Teamwork
In the end, coaching is about making your players work as a team. If they see themselves as members of a strong team, they will find it harder to turn on a teammate. How do you accomplish this? There’s no single answer, but when they are working together really well, it’s important to let them know. After a great play, between periods or at half-time, let them know what moments really stood out as far as their teamwork went.
4. Apply Discipline Appropriately and Selectively
While it may be tempting to “make an example” of problem-causing players, there are many situations where it only adds fuel to the fire. This is where it takes a bit of understanding of the bully’s psychology: if the bully is trying to impress a group of friends, they might benefit from a stern speech in front of the other players. If the bullying is going on in private however, it might be best to deal with the bully in private as well.
5. Encourage Bullied Players
If one of your player is being bullied, a word of encouragement from you as a coach will not only mean a lot to them; it can determine whether or not they’ll be able to perform well, or whether they’ll even want to continue to play for your team. Depending on the situation you may wish to do so privately, as not to embarrass them further.
It Starts with Coaches
We can help end bullying in sports. The responsibility comes down to us; as coaches, we need to recognize this behavior–we need to do something about it.
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.