Get A Better Grip On Bullying


By Shaleek Blackburn

There’s more to bullying than most coaches think, says Newport Beach attorney and Concordia University Irvine professor of Legal Aspects of Sports, Erik Woodbury.

“Bullying, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder,” he says. “It isn’t just about the bigger kid pushing down the smaller kid.” It’s a very complicated area because it can involve all kinds of nuances and conduct that, on its face, doesn’t necessarily seem to an outside advisor like bullying.

While evidence of physical bullying can be more apparent to a coach, says Woodbury, sometimes student-athletes can be more subtly ostracized such as when they are excluded from teams, not asked to participate altogether or being talked about behind their backs. The bullying can take on a hazing, discriminatory or verbally abusive tone as well.

With bullying on the rise at all levels of sports, having a policy in place to handle these types of situations should be part of every coach’s game plan.

“All too often we see this time and time again; the schools don’t have any written policy in place to deal with bullying,” says Woodbury. “If there’s a report of bullying, the worst thing that can be done from the school or coach’s standpoint is to ignore it. The reality of it is, in this day and age, litigation is a tool that is too often used. Sometimes it’s used for good, sometimes it’s used for bad. I think coaches, in particular, need to be aware that there are risks in every situation,” says Woodbury.

To protect their student-athletes, coaches and athletic directors need to be engaged and take every threat seriously, advises Woodbury.

“It’s really important that coaches, teachers, anybody working with children in an athletic context or any context, take the time to listen and really pay attention,” he says. “You don’t always know what you’re getting until you look into it.”

The last thing coaches want to do, says Woodbury, is to ignore potential bullying incidents.

We must do whatever we can to protect our children to make sure they’re safe.”

3 Tips To Address Bullying

Take immediate action:

Get off the sidelines and get involved. Pull players aside, address the situation and find out what’s going on.

Take away playing privileges:

Don’t be afraid to bench players – even star players – to correct the problem. Be a good example.

Educate parents too:

Let parents know your team’s policy on bullying and what is expected on the field and at home.

Tags: sports, coaching, bullying, team

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