Bullying is an act of aggression by someone or a group with the intent of harming a person either physically or psychologically. Bullying may occur by hitting, threatening, intimidating, teasing and taunting, and name-calling, or by more subtle attacks such as spreading rumors or encouraging others to reject the person. Bullies target individuals whom they perceive are weaker or more vulnerable.
Hazing is any action or situation created by a group to intentionally produce mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment, or ridicule among those wishing to join the group. Bullying excludes the victim from a group whereas hazing is a ritual imposed on a person who wants to join a group. Bullies often act alone or in small groups, but hazing commonly involves an entire group or team.
Some coaches tolerate bullying by older or more prominent athletes on the team. “Boys will be boys” is their attitude, and we should add that “girls will be girls” because hazing is common among girls, although less so than with boys. But even mild bullying may result in unseen but substantial harm to the victim. Bullying often leads to depression when a victim can’t see a way out, and depression can lead to suicide in extreme cases.
As a coach of character you must have zero tolerance for any bullying on your team. You should also have no tolerance for hazing. Hazing of athletes by athletes is recognized as serious misbehavior. In the past, coaches often saw hazing as part of a ritual to build team cohesiveness, and condoned or even encouraged such practices. But hazing is contrary to the moral values of the athletes’ character code. As a coach you should recognize subtle and outrageous hazing practices for what they are—the mistreatment of fellow human beings.
So what can you do to prevent bullying and hazing among your team members?
1. Learn more about the problem of bullying and hazing by consulting these websites:
2. Determine if your league has a policy on bullying and hazing. If it does, incorporate that policy into your team policy. If it does not have a policy, then develop one for your team.
3. Share the policy with your fellow coaches and all other personnel involved with your team. Review the policy with your athletes to be certain they understand how bullying and hazing are harmful and the consequences of engaging in such behaviors.
4. Include your bullying and hazing policy in your Athlete Code of Conduct to which you will ask your athletes to agree.
5. Describe alternative experiences that the team can do to welcome new members and build cohesiveness.
6. Encourage mentoring as a more constructive way for older athletes to introduce newer athletes to the team.
7. Don’t ignore bullying or hazing when you see it or signs of it. Investigate, and then take appropriate action to implement the consequences described in your policy.