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Safe Sport Blog: Bullying

03/29/2016, 9:00pm CDT
By Kim O'Shea, USA Fencing Safe Sport Coordinator

During the past few years, bullying has become a frequent topic of conversation in the media as well as in classrooms and sports venues around the country. One of the key tenants of USA Fencing’s Safe Sport program is to help athletes, parents and coaches prevent bullying and learn what to do if such situations occur.

Definition from the USA Fencing Safe Sport Policy Manual:  Bullying is 1. An intentional, persistent and repeated pattern of committing, or willfully tolerating by another person, physical and non-physical behaviors that are intended or  have the reasonable potential, to cause fear, humiliation or physical harm in an attempt to socially exclude, diminish or isolate the targeted athlete(s) as a condition of membership. 2. Any act or conduct described as bullying under federal or state law.

Unfortunately, bullying can happen in any  sport.  Whether it’s one athlete bullying another, a coach bullying a referee, or a parent bullying tournament officials, bullying can occur on many levels.

For our sport to grow, we want new members to feel safe and welcome. We need to train and empower coaches, tournament staff and referees, and we need the adults in the organization to reinforce a positive athletic environment for all. While many think of bullying as primarily an issue related to interactions between athletes, it is unfortunately a problem that occurs with adults as well, including parents and coaches who are often unaware that their behavior not only negatively impacts those they are targeting, but creates a bad example for their athletes as well. 

Each adult in USA Fencing can take on the responsibility of setting the right example for our athletes. The coaches, referees and parents should see themselves as a team, working together to improve the athlete’s experience.  Coaches are the teachers, mentors and guides…leading the athlete through the developmental progression; reinforcing high expectations for behavior and performance; and helping each athlete reach the highest levels s/he is willing to commit to achieve.  Referees are the impartial directors of competition, making each bout an opportunity to learn and improve for the athletes.  And, parents are the unconditional love and support each athlete needs. They’re there to be the cheerleader and shoulder to lean on if the day is challenging…and to give the kids those awesomely cheesy parent-hugs that embarrass them!

For any time those challenges are from bullying, here are resources for handling the situation:

For kids who are being bullied or want to help someone being bullied (from, author Hara Estroff Marano, “Top Strategies for Handling a Bully”):

  1. Avoid the bully…know when to walk away.
  2. Use humor to defuse….make a joke: “Look, Johnny, lay off. I don’t want you to be late for school (practice).”
  3. Be assertive (“leave me alone!”)…may be the best defense for girls
  4. Recruit a friend…may be the best defense for boys
  5. Be a friend….seek out the friendly kids.
  6. Also:  tell an adult!

For adults stepping in to help a kid-kid bullying situation (from Case, Heather and Gray, Laurie.  “How to BEAT Bullying”, LSC Safe Sport Chair Workshop for USA Swimming, Dallas, TX, June 1, 2013):

Stop Bullying:

  1. Intervene immediately. It’s ok to get another adult to help.
  2. Separate the kids involved.
  3. Make sure everyone is safe.
  4. Meet any immediate medical or mental health needs.
  5. Stay calm. Reassure the kids involved, including bystanders.
  6. Model respectful behavior when you intervene.

How to BEAT Bullying:

  1. Break the Bullying Cycle
  2. Empower bystanders (and target and bully)
  3. Administer appropriate intervention
  4. Teach others to do the same

Anti-bullying websites:

Let’s all work together to keep USA Fencing a positive athletic environment for everyone involved!

Tag(s): Blog