As a parent or coach, you hope that the kids on your team start to form the type of lasting bonds that you remember from your days of playing. Unfortunately, bullying is a common problem, and its effects can last a lifetime. Developing appropriate social skills is just as important as developing sports skills, so you need to remember that your coaching duties go far beyond teaching the rules of the game.
Take charge of your team. Be aware of what’s happening between the kids and step in when it’s appropriate.
Set the Tone
Start the season off by detailing your expectations when it comes to behavior. Tell the kids that you won’t tolerate poor sportsmanship or bullying. Consider establishing consequences for bad behavior. For instance, a kid caught bullying might have to sit out the game. Once you’ve established these rules, you need to stand by them, even if it means that you’re not able to use your best player.
Be an Example
Kids often mimic the behavior of the adults in their lives. Almost everyone has seen a coach who shouts insults at the referees and belittles kids in an attempt to push them to work harder. If you’re calling people names, you’re creating an environment that enables the kids to feel comfortable doing the same. Instead, work hard to be the type of coach who encourages all players. Show every single person the type of respect you want your players to show.
Kids who are “outsiders” are often the victims of bullying, and coaches can do a lot to make sure that none of the kids feel left out. Plan group outings outside of the traditional practices. Assign partners rather than letting kids choose their own partner to help each kid get to know the other players on the team. While it’s only natural for kids to find a few they feel closer to, a coach can guide the team members to always remember to include everyone.
Play All Athletes
This isn’t a professional league. Kids join sports teams to have fun, make friendships, and develop a few sports skills. Kids who spend most of the game sitting on the benches will not feel like they’re truly part of the team and may be more likely to get bullied. It’s your job to help each boy or girl realize that they have something to contribute to the team. They may not be the best thrower or the fastest runner, but they still have a role to play. As a coach, you can do this by making sure that each kid gets a fair shot at playing the game.
Squash Bullying Behavior
Don’t turn a blind eye to bullying behavior. While it’s normal for kids to occasionally poke fun, you need to watch out for the times when this “rough housing” goes too far. Let parents know that you want to hear about bullying. Make sure that your team knows they can come to you. Talk to the team when bullying becomes a problem and follow through on consequences if you catch a kid bullying another.
Coaching isn’t just about winning games, it’s about turning kids into strong leaders who do the right thing. When you set the right tone and example for all of your players, you can build a team that’s free from bullying.
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.