Dealing with Bullying

Bullying in sports can take on a variety of forms:

  • Targeting team members who do not perform as well as others.

  • Intimidating the most promising players in order to eliminate the competition for the best positions and the limelight.

  • Targeting, intimidating and coercing new team members and forcing them to prove they belong on the team.

  • Ganging up on team members because a "leader" on the team does not like them.

  • Targeting someone because they get more attention and praise from the coach or because they appear to be the coach's favorite.

  • Harassing team members when they make a mistake during the game.

  • Threatening team members about doing well in games and practices because they might steal the limelight.

Bullying Prevention for Safer Sports

One of the best ways for coaches to commit to bullying prevention is by carefully listening to each child on the team. Every report should be taken seriously and should be followed up with mediation and the appropriate consequences. In addition, coaches should consider the following for their teams: 

  • Establish team-building exercises as part of practice. 

  • Adopt a zero-tolerance policy and clearly outline the consequences for violating this policy. 

  • Create opportunities for off-the-field team activities to build stronger relationships. 

  • Promote a clear line of communication between team members and parents to help identify problematic behavior more quickly and easily. 

  • Encourage self-advocacy skills in children and empower them with a method for confidential reporting


Did You Know?  See The Statistics
28% of U.S. students in grades 6-12 reportedly have experienced bullying or are feeling bullied.  70.6% percent of teens have seen bullying occurring in their schools.  And approximately 30% of young people admit to bullying themselves.  A recent report found that 47% of students experience some sort of hazing before graduating high school and 74% of college students on a varsity athletic team report going through hazing.

Coaching for Growth

Coaches, you can do your part by setting some ground rules for the field, beginning with a zero-tolerance policy on hazing or anything that resembles that at practice.  Keep the field and your team safe.  Set clear expectations for what sorts of behaviors are and are not appropriate. It is important that you and any other authority figures on the team, establish a zero-tolerance policy. This means that bullying, teasing, name-calling, or mean-spirited behavior in any form are not acceptable, even if the perpetrators view their comments as a joke. 


Of course, not everyone on the team is going to be the best of friends. However, the existence of cliques on a team can lead to bullying, especially if a group of kids attempts to exclude one of their teammates. You can help to break up these cliques by organizing practice in such a way that young athletes are forced to interact with kids who are not in their friend group. Team building exercises are also a great way to reinforce the fact that everyone is on the same side, working toward the same goal.


What to do if you notice bullying

While coaches do their best to notice and stop incidences of bullying when they occur, it isn’t possible for you to see and hear everything. It is important that kids on a sports team feel comfortable coming to the coach when they are being bullied.  

1.  Speak directly to the player that is causing the issue

2.  Remove the aggressive player from the field and set up a time out area

3.  Engage with both sets of parents to form a clear line of communication

4.  Establish team building exercises that encourage group effort

5.  Listen closely to your players and what they are discussing.  If a situation continues to occur request the player be removed from the team and added to another group