Sports and Bullying

The tragic suicides of several youngsters in recent weeks have led to an increased focus on the topic of bullying among children at school. But school may not be the only place bullying occurs. It could be prevalent in the sports we oversee, and if we’re not paying attention, we’ll overlook it and let it continue. Or, worse yet, we may even notice it happening and just think that this is “part of the game” and do nothing.

Since the beginning of time, kids have been picked on and some are more prone to victimization than others. Maybe a child is small and can’t defend himself, is overweight, shy or timid, maybe it is a young girl who isn’t as pretty as others. Imagine the world of these poor young children who face teasing, abuse and ostracism all day long at school. Then imagine them wanting to join a team, to play sports, where they hope they can make friends, have some fun and be treated fairly, only to have their depair continue there.

If you coach a team, one of your primary jobs is to make it safe for every child. Most coaches believe this means ensuring no one gets hurt and, yes, that is very important. But it doesn’t end there. Making your team environment an emotionally safe place to be is just as critical.

Bullying in youth sports can take many forms, and some are more subtle than others. When coaches let children run out to positions on the field without assigning them, there are some kids who feel they are entitled to the “better” spots and always force the weaker players to go somewhere else. This doesn’t necessarily mean you jump in anytime you see this occur and make sure everyone has equal rights. Part of playing sports is learning to stick up for oneself, and to earn respect through performance. But in order to gain that respect, one has to be given opportunities and it is up to you to see to it everyone has that chance.

It is important to monitor what kids say to each other on the field during games and practices. Coaches should not tolerate their players belittling or demeaning a teammate. This is not only bad for the psyche of the child, but bad for the team as a whole. When a player makes a mistake, I want my team to “pick him up,” when he’s down, not kick him. Far too often I’ve watched youth league games when a kid made an error in the field and the hotshot pitcher throws his hands in the air and yells at his teammate. How a coach can sit idly by and let that happen is beyond me. Not only should this be corrected on the spot, but it should never take place to begin with.

One of the first discussions I always had with my teams, in any sport, addressed this issue. I asked the players to raise their hands if they’d never made an error, or a mistake. Of course, no hands went up. I then asked them to think about the last error they made, and if they’d have wanted a teammate yelling at them, “Come on!” or “You should have had that!” or “You’re terrible!” Obviously no one said they’d like that. I went on to explain that criticizing teammates for mistakes is wrong, not only because of the way it makes them feel, but because it hurts the team. Players who live in fear of being ridiculed or berated by their teammates are much less confident. They don’t want the ball to come their way and that means it is more likely they’ll mess up when it does. But players who know their teammates will be there to support them any time they make a mistake aren’t afraid to try to make plays, and that makes the team much better.

As coaches, it is impossible to be everywhere at all times. But you can pay greater attention to details if you’re tuned in. Listen to what kids say to each other on the bench and on the field. Notice if there are some kids who are always sitting alone at the end of the bench, or are the last ones to arrive and the first to leave. When it comes to youth sports, kids should get out of their parents’ cars and bound to the field with eager anticipation of a wonderful experience ahead. Wouldn’t it be a shame if some of the youngsters on our teams felt just the opposite?

Handling disruptive youngsters

Another contribution from Dennis Hillyard. Some good tips for soccer coaches:

Contributed by Dennis Hillyard, FLMSL Head Coach
I doubt very much if there is a coach anywhere who at one time or another has had one or more youngsters who will talk, bounce their soccer balls or just play around while you are attempting to teach them something. Even worse, the more you tell them to desist then the more they continue.

Tell the youngsters to either sit down with their soccer balls placed behind them or, if standing then to place one foot on their soccer ball. Then tell the players which topic (s) they will be learning and that if they work hard and pay attention then they will be rewarded with a scrimmage at the end of the session.

PAUSE and then, tell them that the scrimmage is their reward for working hard but if you have to stop the session due to one or more youngsters misbehaving then any time lost will be made up by deducting time from the practice.

All kids love a scrimmage thus, the first time any one of them starts to misbehave then DELIBERATELY look at your watch. The immediate effect will be that the other youngsters will tell the offending player (s) to behave.
Trust me it never fails. Where children will often listen to their coach more than they listen to the parents so will they listen to their peers.

Let’s see that again

We’d like to start this week’s post with some humor from the sports world. It’s not every day you see someone swing at a pitch that hits him, especially there. Clip from the Angels – Rangers courtesy of

Players’ Responsibility

Contributed by Dennis Hillyard, FLMSL Head Coach

The younger that children can learn personal responsibilities, the better this will serve them in the long run – and not just in soccer but in life.


Convene a meeting of both parents and children. Introduce yourself and briefly explain your aims and objectives. Address the children but ensure that the parents are listening.

Ask them when does a practice or game commence? Naturally they will reply that either when the coach starts the practice or, when the referee blows the whistle to commence the game. WRONG: It starts approximately thirty minutes before you are due to leave home. Then YOU prepare your uniform, cleats, ball etc, so that when mom or dad say it is time to leave then you are ready to go.

NEVER arrive and tell me that mom did not pack your uniform or that dad did not put your ball in the car. Mom and dad do NOT play soccer – YOU DO.

The parents will greatly appreciate this as the kids more often than not will listen to their coach far more than to their parents. This will give you an added advantage when you need to discuss certain things with the parents such as not coaching from the touchline etc, as already they will have seen that you are teaching their children responsibilities


Obviously where young children are concerned then the greater majority depend upon their parents to ferry them back and forth for practices and games.

Again, addressing the children but with the parents listening, tell them that is better to be TEN minutes early than ONE minute late. Arriving late means that it disrupts the practice session or, where a game is concerned then it could mean the player arriving late will start on the bench.

Whilst you are addressing the players the parents will understand that this is a shared responsibility and react accordingly. After each practice and game, have a roster of players who take it in turns to assist with gathering in the cones, bibs, balls etc.

Sportsmanship at the top level of the game is almost a forgotten word today.

As a young player our coach made it a rule that after each game It was our responsibility to thank the match officials, the opposing players and coaches and finally the parents.

This was drummed into us from a very early age but unfortunately, as the game at every level has become more and more competitive then so has this practice declined. Once again, make this part of YOUR responsibility to encourage your players to carry out these functions after each game.