Sports may require intensive training and a lot of self-discipline to excel but ultimately, they’re meant to be a fun, rewarding experience. Your teammates become like your family, your coaches are mentors on and off the field, and the spectators become your fuel. Yet, bullying and harassment continues to be a serious, prevalent issue in the athletic world: a healthy environment is sacrificed for humiliation, disrespect, and intimidation.
Bullying: unwanted, aggressive behavior that demonstrates a power imbalance through physical, verbal, or psychological harm. In relation to sports, bullying can come in a variety of forms:
Coaches alienating a particular athlete and treating them unfairly compared to the rest of the team
Several players harassing an individual member- taking advantage of numbers
Spectators verbally abusing opposing players
Parents putting their kids down and telling them they’re incompetent
Players calling referees, coaches, other players nasty names
There are countless ways to make someone feel less than or trapped– this only goes to show that anyone can be a bully or be bullied. Bullying doesn’t necessarily refer to a singular moment of anger or emotion– it is usually an accumulation of repeated occurrences.
How can you tell if someone is being bullied?
Sometimes, when someone is bullied, they can’t directly express it. They could be fearful or, in some cases, blame themselves for what’s happening. Here are a few signs that someone may be experiencing bullying:
Making excuses for not coming to practices or games: They could mention feeling sick, fake an injury, or just talk about how much they hate the sport. Especially if this is abnormal behavior, then there may be something deeper involved.
Left out from social gatherings and activities: While some people may naturally be withdrawn, there is a difference between being private and being alienated. If someone seems uncomfortable or uncharacteristically shy, that could be a red flag.
Short temper: If someone who is usually level-headed and mild-mannered continuously lashes out and loses their temper, then there might be something in their life that is making them feel anxious and on edge.
Forgetful/losing things: Constantly forgetting things that should be routine, like their jerseys, water bottles, or other equipment could be a sign that something greater is clouding their mind. Similarly, constantly losing things may be a sign of being overwhelmed and stressed.
Generally not acting like themself: This is more applicable if you’ve grown to know someone to understand their usual habits and behaviors. If they’ve suddenly changed for a prolonged period of time to the point where you notice, they might be going through something that no one else is aware of.
Some people won’t show any of these signs yet could still be experiencing bullying. At the same time, someone could be exhibiting multiple of these signs and not experience bullying. It really depends on the individual which makes bullying hard to pinpoint and prove. It’s not usually appropriate to directly ask someone if they’re being bullied, either. Maybe engaging in casual talk- asking questions about their day and their enjoyment on the team- could lead to greater discussion. Other than that, it may be best to word your concerns to a trusted adult so that you’re not the only one looking out for warning signs.
So what can you do about it?
If you’re witnessing a teammate being bullied, do not just be a bystander! If you notice someone is directly being bullied, you can intervene and address the situation calmly. Stay respectful, even if you’re enraged by what you’re seeing. You don’t want to fuel future bullying or humiliate the victim. Be the friend that anyone can go to to feel safe and accepted. Sometimes, the situation may be out of your hands– it is always okay to ask for adult help. It may take authoritative power to settle things down.
Continue to educate yourself on what bullying is and other warning signs to look out for. Especially in such a highly competitive environment, people make mistakes and get angry. When personal emotions and perspectives result in physical, psychological, and verbal harm upon others, that’s when the line is drawn between being rude and being a bully.
“Bullying.” Play by the Rules, www.playbytherules.net.au/got-an-issue/bullying.
“Bullying and Sports.” Stomp out Bullying, www.stompoutbullying.org/bullying-and-sports.
“Respond to Bullying.” Stopbullying.gov, www.stopbullying.gov/prevention/on-the-spot.