Around “56 percent of all students have witnessed a bullying crime take place while at school,” according to bullyingstatistics.org, while about one in “every 10 students drops out or changes schools because of repeated bullying,” the site says.
But those statistics can often lead outside of the school yard and into the ever-growing competition on the football field. The World Cup being the most watched single-event in the world, competition and bullying in football continues to grow, even in the youngest of the sport. Any parent with a dream for their child of being the next big star can lose sight in the enjoyment and camaraderie of team sports, and turn the game into a competition that can quickly cross the line of bullying.
So why does bullying in football occur?
Bullying is a complex, and an often frustrating topic that’s hard to understand why it happens at all. On the football field, bullying can occur from a teammate, a coach, a parent or even a fan out in the stands. Many kids bully each other with encouragement from their peer groups, while other kids may use harsh words against their teammates to make themselves feel better about their skills in the sport while making others feel smaller. Younger kids especially often times think they are being funny around their friends at the price of another without understanding the full impact of what they’re saying.
Parents and coaches can end up bullying players as well focusing on the weaknesses of another player to make their own child look stronger by yelling things when a child misses a goal or a kick, or becoming so focused on winning the game they forget about the feelings of others.
So what do we do about bullying in football?
One of the first things to do is create awareness of the subject to all parties involved. Many times people do things without thinking first, and some of them just don’t know better. A parent my have a bad habit of yelling out during a game, unaware that the coach knows about a child that is more sensitive about the parents aggressive nature. A group of younger players may witness one of their teammates being harassed by another teammate, but they are unsure what to do about it.
Establish guidelines for everyone. Organizations can set up clearly defined rules for all coaches on their teams. Coaches can then turn around and provide a standard of behavior to the players on their team as well as the family and friends watching from the stands. Once a standard of behavior and expectations are set it will help raise awareness for everyone to look out for certain things.
The next step in anti-bullying actions is to set up and encourage open lines of communication between the coaches and the players. The coaching staff is one of the most vital members against bullying on a football team because they know all the players, not just their own child. According to stopbullying.gov children tend to keep to themselves after a bullying incident because “Kids may fear being rejected by their peers. Friends can help protect kids from bullying, and kids can fear losing this support.” Team unity is one of the most important aspects of a successful football team. Encourage kids to be open about how they feel things are going on the team in a group setting to prevent kids talking about others behind their backs or in a hostile setting. Let the children know that they wont be judge or discriminated against if they approach the coaching staff with any concerns they have about how they’re treated by other players.
Establish a positive relationship between the parents and the team as well. There is a tendency to have hostility between a parent and a coach or a parent and one of their children’s teammates because they may not see eye to eye with others decisions for their child’s role on the team, yet they have no control over the situation. Many times a child will develop habits from what they see their parents doing, whether it be yelling at them, at their teammates, or the coaches, kids can pick up on those habits, which can turn into a potential bullying situation directed at others.
Encourage parents to be open with the coaching staff on their child’s team about what concerns they have in order to keep those concerns from being yelled out from the stands. However, also urge coaches to share the rules with every parent about where the line is between the coach/parent relationships, and make sure they’re informed of the anti-bullying standards they are trying to set up.
Since world cup is on the way, where do you start with Football Coach Bullying?
There are a great number of teams out there that are trying to change what is happening on the field. The GLSEN sports project has started a campaign called the Team Respect Challenge that encourages all teams to do things like,
-Make a strong public team commitment to live the values of respect and inclusion for all team members
-Believe that Team Respect is a winning strategy, and
-Avoid language that puts someone down because of their differences.
The Team Respect Challenge also encourages all teams to sign the Team Respect Pledge that reiterates the values of the challenge.
You can also urge everyone to promote the acronym, T.H.I.N.K., which people have used through anti-bullying efforts as a means for people to think before they say something that is destructive.
T-Is it True?
H- Is it Helpful?
I- Is it Inspiring?
N- is it Necessary?
K- Is it Kind?
Speak up against Bullying in Football
If you have concerns about Football Coach Bullying, then the best thing that you can do is speak up about it.
If you’re on the team- Stand up for yourself, stand up for your teammates, and most importantly, tell someone. Never be silent about your life because it will never solve anything. Ignoring a bully will only encourage them to continue on.
If you’re a parent- Be careful of what you say at a soccer match. Children are watching you and hearing you whether you know it or not. Your actions and words are not only an example to your own child, but to all children that are on the team and around you. Encourage your children to be open with you, and take their concerns seriously. Don’t tell them to ‘brush it off’, ‘suck it up’, or ‘fight back’. Be extra careful with younger children who may hear things said to them that they might not even know what they mean. Be sensitive to your children’s problems.
If you’re a coach- Be an open line of communication, and a mediator between peers and between parents. You are the example to follow on the field. You are the mentor to the player and the professional to the parents. You can set the standard of how you want your team to treat other teammates and other teams in matches, by the way that you speak, act and deal with situations. Be a leader in your field and share your anti-bullying efforts with other coaches to help spread the word.
Bullying in football won’t stop until we put a stop to it, so be the one who makes the commitment to put a stop to it, today.