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Bullying in youth football – tackle it head on

Youth football coaches need to look out for signs of bullying and be prepared to take quick, positive action to nip any problems in the bud. It’s our duty as the temporary guardian of children in our charge to know what bullying is, how to recognise it and how to prevent it, preferably before it happens.

What is bullying?

“Behaviour by an individual or group, usually repeated over time, that intentionally hurts another individual or group, either physically or emotionally.”

The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF).

Bullying manifests itself in a variety of forms. It ranges from teasing and spreading rumours to pushing someone around and causing physical harm. It usually happens in front of other people.

Name calling, mocking, kicking, taking or messing about with personal belongings, writing or drawing offensive graffiti, gossiping, excluding people from groups and threatening physical violence, are all forms of bullying.

The effects of bullying

Bullying makes the lives of its victims miserable. It undermines their confidence and destroys their sense of security. It can cause sadness, loneliness, low self-esteem, fear, anxiety, poor concentration and lead to self-harm, depression, suicidal thoughts and, in some cases, suicide. (NHS UK, http://www.nhs.uk/live-well/bullying/facts.aspx)

Bullying will certainly result in players leaving a club. And not just the ones who are being bullied. A football field where bullying is allowed is an unpleasant place for everyone, not just the victims.

Who are the bullies?

The bully can be any person. For example, a bully could be:

A parent who pushes too hard.
A coach who adopts a win-at-all-costs philosophy.
A player who intimidates other players or officials.
An official who places unfair pressure on a person. (http://www.activesurrey.com/)
How do you know if children on your team are being bullied?

There are several tell-tale signs of bullying and, as a coach, you are in a good position to spot them. If one or more of your players,

Suddenly decides they don’t want to take part in activities they used to enjoy.
Becomes anxious or lacking in confidence.
Appears distressed.
Has bruises, cuts or scratches, and gives improbable reasons for them.
Has possessions regularly damaged, lost or “go missing”.
Appears nervous of walking to or from training.
Appears frightened of a particular individual or group.
Becomes aggressive, disruptive or unreasonable.
Starts bullying other children.
Is frightened to say what’s wrong…
you should find out if they have become a victim of bullying.

What can you do about bullying?

Ensure your players know what bullying is and that it will not be tolerated. Tell them that it’s okay to complain if they are being badly treated by one of their team mates or anyone else. And, just as important, they should tell you if they see someone else being bullied. After all, you don’t have eyes in the back of your head and bullies can be very secretive.

If you spot behaviour that can be classified as bullying, you should take prompt action but don’t dive in. You could do more harm than good if you identify a child as the victim of bullying in front of his or her peers. So be sensitive. Take the victim to one side (but not out of sight of everyone else) and ask the child to tell you about the incident.

You then have to discuss the incident with the bullies and their parents. This will probably be difficult, but it has to be done. It will be a lot easier to talk about bullying with an ‘offender’ and parents if your club has an up-to-date and well communicated anti-bullying policy.

What to include in your anti-bullying policy

A reminder that players must play within the Laws of the game.
What bullying is and the forms it can take – name calling, making racist remarks, threats, hitting, kicking, unwelcome physical contact, exclusion from groups, making unwelcome remarks on social networking sites.
That bullying is unacceptable behaviour and will not be tolerated at any time.
How to complain about a bullying incident (to the coach if it involves players, to a named club official if it involves the coach).
What will happen when a complaint is made (there will be written feedback to the complainant and how long the process will take).
Who to complain to if the process is not followed.
What sanctions will be taken against bullies (verbal warning, written warning, temporary ban from the club, permanent ban from the club).
Links to websites where bullies, their victims and parents can find more information (see ‘useful links’ below for some suggestions).
This policy should be reviewed and issued once a year to all parents. It should be included in the welcome pack you hand out to new players and be displayed.

Cyber bullying

It’s never been easier for a child to bully another child. Social networking sites such as Facebook can be a fun way to exchange messages, but they have been misused by some children who post spiteful comments with a quick click of a mouse.

You should discuss cyber bullying with your players and make sure that they know that you consider this to be as serious as any other form of bullying.

Useful links

http://www.nspcc.org.uk/inform/cpsu/resources/bullying/bullying_wda60599.html

http://www.anti-bullyingalliance.org.uk/

http://www.childline.org.uk/

http://kidshealth.org/kid/grow/school_stuff/bullies.html

http://yp.direct.gov.uk/cyberbullying/

http://www.bullying.co.uk/

http://www.thefa.com/TheFA/WhatWeDo/FootballSafe/Downloads

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