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Turn it Upside Down

10/11/2018, 12:30pm CDT
By Suzie Riewald, USA Fencing SafeSport Coordinator

Did you know that October is National Bullying Prevention Month? It seems only appropriate, therefore, to focus this blog on bullying. Even though we are all familiar with the term as it is a part of our everyday vernacular, I want to look at the definition as it can shed light on strategies to prevent bullying.

BULLYING: 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. (USA Fencing SafeSport Policy)

Does anything stand out to you when you read the definition? What words best intimate what bullying is all about? For me, every time I look at it, my eyes and my thoughts are drawn to “an attempt to socially exclude, diminish or isolate.” Exclude, diminish, isolate – words that convey negativity and hurtfulness.

What if we take these words and actions and turn them upside down in an attempt to battle bullies and bullying behavior?

  • Exclude becomes Include. 
  • Diminish becomes Strengthen. 
  • Isolate becomes Connect

Include, Strengthen, Connect – what powerful, positive words and actions. 

So, in our efforts to create a safe and positive environment that is free of misconduct, such as bullying, let’s focus on inclusion, strength and connection. A few examples to get you thinking:

Several local middle schools are part of a nationwide WEB program – Where Everyone Belongs – an organization whose sole purpose is to help sixth graders feel comfortable and successful. Eighth grade WEB leaders are trained by teachers to facilitate the sixth graders’ transition to middle school and to lead activities to help connect the sixth graders with the school and other students. Connect … feel comfortable … powerful concepts that are contrary to bullying. Are there elements of a program such as this that make sense in the fencing environment? While the context is different the intent is the same – to connect our fencers with each other and to the sport of fencing.   

At a summer swim programs my kids were a part of for several years, the team had a ‘buddy system.’ Every season, the coaches would connect several new swimmers with an experienced swimmer and they would be swim buddies. Not only did the experienced swimmer mentor the new swimmers but the system ensured all swimmers were included, connected with each other and valued for what they brought to the team. And, from the perspective of the novice, how cool it must feel when his buddy tells him he swam a great race! The buddy system worked for this swim club. What can you pull from it that can be applied to your club and your fencers to facilitate connection, inclusion and strength?

In my endeavors as a sport psychology educator working with students, athletes and coaches, I talk often about building competence and confidence, about strengthening the individual’s perception of themselves to not only enhance performance but to enhance satisfaction, enjoyment and self-esteem. Along these lines, a coach shared with me that he makes it a priority to reinforce or give a positive comment/feedback to every athlete at every practice. The comment may be tied to effort or performance on the field but it may be something as simple as “I’m glad you’re here today” or “I know you did well on your math test today, right?” A simple yet impactful strategy to strengthen … connect.

Now, I challenge you to think about how YOU can help include, strengthen and connect your fencers.

Tag(s): SafeSport