June 2016

There is no two ways about it: bullying has no place in sport. What is bullying? It’s all about power!

  • POWER: At the core of most bullying is the issue of Power: one person or a group of people trying to exert power – physical, emotional, psychological – over another;
  • OPPORTUNITY: Bullies will seize upon an opportunity for bullying. One athlete by him/herself, a smaller or younger athlete, someone who looks or acts different for example may appeal to bullies as potential targets;
  • WEAKNESS: Bullies look for signs and signals of potential weakness in others which in turn provides them with an opportunity to apply intimidation, discrimination and harassment;
  • ENVIRONMENT: Bullying will flourish in teams and even communities which do not value safety, security and responsible behaviour;
  • RESPECT: Everyone deserves respect and to life without fear.

Why does bullying happen? Bullying happens when the need for using power to intimidate and harass another person meets the right opportunity to use it!

It is often difficult to clearly understand why someone or a group of people will engage in bullying behaviour but at the heart of it is difference: physical, gender, racial, social, socio-economic, sexuality, disability or even being different in appearance can illicit bullying behaviour.

How do you recognise a bully and bullying behaviour?

Bullies come in all shapes and sizes. Not all bullies are the stereotypical physical giants of movies and TV.

Bullying behaviour can be incredibly varied. It can include:

Physical bullying:

  • Hitting
  • Pushing
  • Spitting
  • Kicking

Emotional bullying:

  • Name calling
  • Teasing
  • Social bullying:
  • Social exclusion
  • Starting and perpetuating rumours
  • Putdowns

Drawing attention to a physical difference or disability Creating fear, stress and anxiety Threatening (e.g. threats of physical violence).

Bullying can be done in a variety of ways, e.g. directly – person to person intimidation or indirectly through texting, the internet and social media.

One thing is certain. Regardless of the actual bullying behaviour if coaches, athletes and parents do not act to stop it can and will continue often with disastrous effects on person being bullied.

If you recognise a bully and bullying behaviour, what action should you take? Here are some tips for coaches about how to take the appropriate action if bullying is taking place in your team:

  • First and most important.. STOP THE BULLYING from occurring;
  • Listen to both parties involved – give everyone a fair and reasonable chance to put their side of the story;
  • Ask some questions to help you gain a full understanding of the situation:
  • Was this a one off occurrence or has it been ongoing? Were there any witnesses? Who exactly was involved and what exactly did they do?
  • When and where did it happen?
  • Refer the matter to the Team’s Disciplinary Council or if you don’t have one, form a committee of three people to work through the issues in a fair and reasonable manner;
  • If after establishing all the facts there is clear evidence of bullying, adopt a zero-tolerance approach and remove the bully / bullies from the team.

The most important step in eradicating bullying from your team is to educate all athletes, coaches, parents and staff about the issues. There are many great web sites and a lot of outstanding educational resources about bullying, discrimination and harassment available (many are listed at the end of this article). Here are some practical things you can do as a coach to help wipe out bullying:

  • Have clear and fair “zero-tolerance” policy to bullying which every athlete, coach, parent and staff member is aware of and supports;
  • Have a clear and fair process in place to deal with bullying issues in the team, e.g. a Team Disciplinary Council which can hear evidence, listen to the views of the people involved and apply the appropriate consequences and penalties.
  • Have a clear and widely available document which details the consequences of bullying;
  • Conduct regular team education sessions which include open discussions about bullying and harassment;
  • Include some anti-bullying resources in your team diaries, team induction materials etc.


  • Bulling, intimidation, violence and harassment are unacceptable in sport;
  • Understanding bullying is the key: if you know what it is and can recognise the signs you can take action - fast;
  • Look – be aware and observant of the things that are going on in and around your coaching program;
  • Listen – to athletes who tell you they feel afraid, scared or even if they seem to lack the confidence to express themselves;
  • You – are they key. Coaches can be powerful forces for change. With your help we can aim to rid sport of this problem and make sure that every athlete feels safe, secure and happy while they enjoy training and competition.

Wayne Goldsmith is a world renowned coach, performance manager, writer, sports consultant and motivator. His coaching, thinking and teaching has influenced some of the world's leading athletes. For more great articles related to coaching, check out Wayne’s website sportscoachingbrain.com.