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We all talk a good game, don’t we? Everyone hates bullies. They are vile cowards; their behaviour is despicable; our hearts go out to the poor victims. But talk is cheap, and such words carry little value.
Sensitivity married with ignorance is a trap many of us fall into.
If you saw a child being bullied by a teammate in one of your coaching sessions, how would you react? You’re probably thinking, ‘I would know exactly what to do in that situation, don’t you worry.’
If your advice would simply be to stand up to the aggressor, then think again.
If incidents of bullying are not handled in the appropriate manner, it is like putting a sticking plaster over a broken leg – you won’t cure anything. And you could end up making things a whole lot worse.
Educate, enlighten, empower
The Annual Bullying Survey 2015 asked 4800 young people across the country aged between 13 and 20 about their experiences. The study found:
These statistics cannot be ignored. Bullying is widespread, and you need to be on the lookout for the signs as there is a good chance it could rear its ugly head at your club.
This article, in support of National Anti-Bullying Week, is aimed at educating coaches on how to spot bullying and what to do if it occurs, while spelling out how coaches too can inadvertently be guilty of bullying behaviour.
Bullying can be defined as using deliberately hurtful behaviour, usually repeated over a period of time, where it is difficult for those being bullied to defend themselves.
Put another way, it is using superior strength or influence to intimidate someone, typically to force them to do something.
It can be verbal, physical, emotional or written.
And it isn’t restricted to peer on peer. If you have ever witnessed a parent of one of your players use intimidating or threatening language or even make consistent sarcastic comments to one child, then the alarm bells should be ringing.
Coaches need to be equipped with sufficient knowledge to empower them with the confidence to challenge either a teammate or parent who turns an enjoyable experience for a child into an unpleasant or frightening one.
According to Jane Fylan, UK Athletics’ Welfare Officer and England Athletics’ Lead Welfare & Safeguarding Officer, signs that coaches should look out for within a sporting environment include:
While behaviour that can be termed bullying includes:
Only fools rush in
I know, that’s a lot to watch out for. Consider too that the child being bullied will quite often want to keep quiet about their ordeal, through fear, shame or embarrassment, making the signs even harder to spot.
But general surveillance goes hand in hand with your responsibility as a coach, for the competitive nature of sport makes it an ideal environment for the bully to operate in.
It is important, once you have identified a concern, that you don’t steam in, all guns blazing. Establish the facts before taking any action.
Walking a tightrope
Coaches can be bullies too, don’t forget. It is a fine line that coaches tread.
You may think you are being motivational when you make your players sweat for the cause in training, or drill them on technique and tactics.
But what one player thrives on, another may recoil against. If you lambast someone for failing to follow your instructions, it could leave a lasting emotional scar without you even realising. Indeed, the whole team could be affected by an over-authoritarian coaching style.
Harassment and bullying are dangerous bedfellows so know when to curb your approach, and do not make a habit of teasing players in the mistaken belief you are ‘having a laugh’ with them.
The following can all be construed as bullying behaviour:
In recent years, the debate has raged over cyber-bullying. This isn’t simply a buzzword trotted out by the media for dramatic effect.
The adolescent population are addicted to the Internet and its assorted charms. But there is a heavy price to pay for this rapidly evolving digital world that we live in. There is dark side to the Internet, with many children infatuated but also tormented.
And don’t for one second think advice on cyber-bullying is purely the domain of parents and teachers. It falls under the remit of sports coaches too.
Inappropriate text messages flying about before or after a game or training (spreading a rumour, gossip, joke or secret), or sharing offensive images or videos of a teammate on social media is, unfortunately, a common occurrence. Anything on a phone, computer or other device that embarrasses, humiliates, threatens or harasses counts as cyber-bullying.
Coaches must also be careful how they use technology to communicate with club members. Here are some factors to take into consideration:
An informed coach is a good coach. So don’t think a dash of common sense will suffice or that you have all the answers. A small amount of reading can go a long way, and if your knowledge helps provide a victim of bullying with the support they need to confront their fears and conquer their persecutors, then it is time well spent.
This post is based on advice from the UK Coaching (formerly Sports Coach UK) ‘Safeguarding and Protecting Children’ workshops, the supporting workshop resource Safeguarding and Protecting Children - a Guide for Sports People and the following websites: www.kidscape.org.uk; http://www.nspcc.org.uk/
This blog is also available as a podcast on a number of platforms including iTunes. Listen here.
UK Coaching has developed, in partnership with the NSPCC’s Child Protection in Sport Unit (CPSU), the ‘Renewal: Safeguarding and Protecting Children in Sport’ eLearning course, which includes a Safe Communication with Digital Kids module that will increase your confidence when it comes to communicating with children about sports sessions. Find out more.
Have you ever had to deal with a bullying situation? What did you do?
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