As sad as it is to say, coaches aren’t the only ones in youth sports that can take advantage of their position of power to abuse a player. Too often we are hearing stories of older players intimidating, bullying, harassing and even physically abusing their younger teammates. Earlier this month 3 Bronx Science students were arrested on hazing charges (although the allegations go far above and beyond what you might think classifies as simple “hazing”). One student on the track team said that hazing was a fairly common thing, with the juniors and seniors regularly picking on the freshman.
As coaches and parents it is our duty to make sure this kind of behavior stops among our players! Sports should be a safe place for kids and no one should ever be the victim of bullying or hazing; they should especially be safe from abuse from their own teammates.
“Kids will be kids” is no excuse!
If kids will be kids then parents should be parents and put a stop to bullying and harassing the moment they suspect something is going on! Some parents and coaches may feel that adults need to step aside and let kids fight it out for themselves. After all, you can’t expect the parents to swoop in and save the day every time can you? No one likes helicopter parent and kids need to learn to work it out on their own. But there is a big difference between letting kids work out a playground disagreement and sitting silent while a child is being harassed by their teammates time and time again. Taking a hands-off approach to bullying just condones the behavior and teaches our players its okay to treat their teammates like that. It also tells the teammate being bullied that no one is willing to help them and they are on their own.
“It’s all in good fun” doesn’t make it better for the victim.
It’s probably safe to say that everyone has been the butt of a joke at some point or another in their lives. And while getting teased by your friends for a few minutes is one thing, getting repeatedly teased, pushed around, made fun of, shut out and bullied is no fun for anyone. Some kids might feel so isolated and tormented that they want to quit the team altogether and we should be doing everything in our power to encourage kids to NOT quit sports, and that means making sure every player feel safe. Other kids might try to grin and bear it because they want to be accepted by their team but that doesn’t make it okay either.
Just because it was a “rite of passage” for you that doesn’t mean the tradition should continue.
A lot of coaches and parents that played sports as a kid probably underwent some hazing of their own. Hopefully it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as what was going on with the Bronx Science track team, but just because it was “just how things were” when you were a youth athlete that doesn’t mean it needs to stay that way! There is no reason older players have to pick on, bully and abuse their younger teammates in order to foster team spirit or see “who can take it” the best. No player should be forced to survive being bullied by their own team just so they can grow thick skin.