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Bullying: Managing the Club Environment to Manage Athlete Behavior

09/01/2017, 10:00am CDT
By Suzie Riewald, USA Fencing Safe Sport Coordinator

Bullying … It seems we hear this term used so often that there might be a tendency to either gloss over educational information pertaining to it as we feel we know enough or to disregard allegations of or comments about bullying as we don’t believe it to be ‘actual’ bullying.

True, some allegations of bullying don’t rise to the level of bullying as defined in our SafeSport Policy. Instead it can be categorized as “rude,” “mean” or “hurtful” behavior and not “an intentional, persistent and repeated pattern of committing, or willfully tolerating by another person, physical and non-physical behaviors that are intended to have the reasonable potential to cause fear, humiliation or physical harm …” 

But, should we be any less concerned or bothered?

It might be helpful to think of these behaviors along a spectrum with bullying or, worse, on one end and meanness and hurtfulness further down the spectrum. No matter where on the spectrum the behavior lies, none of these are behaviors we want to see from athletes in our fencing clubs or our own children.

By viewing it along a spectrum rather than as a label, it prompts us to be less concerned about whether it is actual bullying and more concerned about how to address it or how to proactively create an environment that doesn’t support behaviors along this “bullying spectrum.”

Recently, the U.S. Center for Safe Sport hosted a webinar to provide guidance and education as it relates to bullying. Offered to NGBs and their members, you can watch the webinar here.

One of the most relevant points, especially as it relates to creating an environment to deter these behaviors, is that as adults, we often adopt a reactive role that is, responding to mean or bullying behaviors. But, it is important to recognize that as coaches and individuals in the club environment, you can have a proactive role through the culture/environment established. To help prevent bullying or other “mean” behaviors, it is suggested in the webinar to be C.A.L.M. (be sure to listen to the webinar for more detail). Let’s look at how you can do this:

  • Connect … with your fencers.  When they walk in the door, give them a high-five, smile or offer words of encouragement. It is suggested that a cohesive team and welcoming environment is going to deter bully-like behaviors. For example, my daughter plays hockey and within minutes of stepping on the ice to warm up, a coach is asking her about her day, giving her a fist- (I mean, glove-) bump ... the mood created is infectious. She rushes to get on the ice as it is a fun, engaging atmosphere, one that seems to be counter to mean, hurtful behaviors. What are things you can do on a daily basis to connect with the fencers in the club?
  • Acknowledge … your fencers and their differences. Athletes that are often “targets” of meanness or hurtful comments are those that are perceived as different. Therefore, coaches, parents, volunteers within the club, think about how to make these fencers feel valued for who they are. Comments and questions such as “How was GameCon on Saturday?” or “It’s hard joining a new club, isn’t it?” can help prevent kids from feeling “different.”
  • Listen and validate … don’t just hear, but really listen to what your fencers are saying to you and to others. Listening and trying to understand the fencers can help you identify those that are feeling isolated or picked on and those that, for a variety of reasons, may be rude to teammates. You can ask questions such as: “You seem off today, did something happen at school that has you upset?” or “You’re more quiet than usual, is something going on?” and then listen to his or her response.
  • Model … appropriate behavior. You know this, right? It is just hard to do consistently. Young athletes watch what you do and listen to what you say more than you may realize. Model respect to others and they are more likely to also show respect. Treat others as you would like to be treated and our fencers are more likely to do the same. 

By being CALM – Connect, Acknowledge, Listen, Model – you will be taking steps to create a club environment that can deter hurtful, mean or bullying behaviors.

Tag(s): Blog