By STOMP Out Bullying Volunteer Chelsea Bell

lets-talk-sports.jpgAttending live sporting events will always bring about positive feelings for me. It reminds me of growing up and playing sports myself, and the support that teams can provide for each other. For me, it was through soccer and track that I was able to not only find myself, but find a genuinely kind group of friends and supporters – I was lucky, and will always treasure the positive experiences and memories that sports have given me. I recently read an article about a teenager who was bullied and used athletics to cope and eventually overcome the bullying. Athletics can be a great outlet for positive energy.

There were times, however, that it was difficult to differentiate between the competitive nature of my teammates/competitors, and bullying. The line between competition and bullying can often be blurred, and it is important to be able to recognize the difference. For some kids, like me, sports can provide a safe haven from everyday uncertainties and help boost confidence. For others, it can be a place of torment – but there are easy steps for all adults in an athlete’s life to take to ensure that bullying is not a hurdle (sports pun intended.)

PARENTS:
It’s important to start a dialogue with your kids who play sports, not only to show encouragement and support, but to gain knowledge as to whether or not your child is being bullying during their sporting practices and competitions.

STOMP Out Bullying has a list of simple, yet effective questions to ask your kids:

• Do they enjoy being on the team
• Who are their close friends on the team
• Have they ever seen someone on the team being bullied or teased
• Have they been bullied on the team
• Have they ever bullied anyone on the team

COACHES:
Too often coaches bully kids. Being a role model is what being a coach is all about. You are not only an expert in sports for the kids on your team, you help to set the tone for the students on your team. Setting a zero tolerance policy for any kind of bullying behavior can go a long way in team moral and ensuring that your athletes are not victims of athletic bullying.

When coaching – it is also extremely important to be aware of your own tone during practices and games/meets. Verbally abusive coaches can severely affect an athlete’s ability to play their sport, as well as their self-confidence and desire to play sports all together. I found an article detailing bullying accusations that hit a New Jersey football coach, and how blurred the lines can be between aggressive coaching tactics and bullying.

The most important team in the battle against athletic bullying is perhaps parents and coaches. Parents and coaches should be sure to keep an open dialogue about bullying or suspected bullying on the team in order to stop it before it gets out of hand. If you have questions or are looking for additional resources, please visit STOMP Out Bullying.