A vast majority of SafeSport reports to USA Hockey involve bullying either by a coach or by a teammate. The key for parents, locker room monitors and coaches is distinguishing between behavior that is just plain mean or rude and actual bullying can be difficult.
So what exactly is considered bullying? USA Hockey SafeSport provides the following guidelines:
Rude = accidentally saying or doing something hurtful.
Mean = saying or doing something to hurt a person on purpose, once or maybe twice.
Bullying = cruel behavior, done on purpose and repeated over time, that involves an imbalance of power.
When bullying does occur, it affects everyone involved. Whether the child is the target, a witness, or the person who bullies, the end-result is everyone feels less safe – vulnerable, compromised and nervous. Once you recognize signs of bullying within your team, it’s important to address those behaviors and issues as soon as possible.
The best way to stop bullying from having a negative effect on your team though is preventing it before it occurs. Here are some quick tips to prevent bullying this season:
- Put an emphasis on team-building and creating a “family” atmosphere. This can reduce the chances that bullying will occur and create a cohesive team experience that will benefit everyone. One of the best protections against bullying is a sense of belonging and connection.
- Let your parents and players know that if they witness bullying or any other inappropriate behavior (whether the target is their child or not), you expect it to be reported – to you – immediately.
- Sometimes you may see actions by older players that seems harmless. Remember if the behavior has a power imbalance (like a group of players ganging up on one player), is intentionally hurtful and repeated, you may be witnessing bullying behavior. Check it out!
- Sometimes the player being bullied may be trying to ignore or avoid confrontation, so they do not complain or might even laugh it off. Just because the player does not appear bothered by the treatment does not mean the behavior is acceptable.
- If you think a player is being bullied, talk to the player and tell them what you have noticed. Provide specific details (hanging out alone, missing articles of equipment, level of play has decreased, interest in game has decreased). Then listen to the player. Discuss your concerns with the player’s parents and the association’s SafeSport Liaison.
- Enforce a zero tolerance policy regarding bullying, hazing and any similar behaviors.
- As a coach, you can often defuse a situation by acting quickly and helping correct the misbehavior.
- If you need to make a report about bullying, you can do so at www.usahockey.com/safesport.