Bullying is a growing problem in sport and performance settings. Bullying falls under the umbrella of “athlete maltreatment,” which includes any form of harm and all relationships where harm could occur in sport and performance. Specifically, bullying is defined as repeated hostile and deliberate behavior from one person (the perpetrator) to another (the target) with the intent to harm or threaten harm to the target; it is marked by an imbalance of power. Often, after extreme bullying, the target feels terrorized.
Athlete maltreatment in sport and performance has been categorized into one of two forms: relational maltreatment and nonrelational maltreatment. Bullying is a relational problem. In particular, sport and performance bullying can occur from coach to player, parent to player, or player to player, and often takes the form of (1) making unreasonable performance demands of the target, (2) repeated threats to restrict or remove the target’s privileges or opportunities, (3) screaming or yelling directed at the target that is unwarranted, (4) repeated and continual criticism of the target’s abilities, (5) discounting or denying the target’s accomplishments, (6) blaming the target for his or her mistakes, (7) threats of and/or actual physical violence toward the target, and (8) social media or e-mail messages with threats or insults toward the target.
Sport and performance organizations should develop and implement antibullying policies. Six potential steps toward policy development and implementation include: (1) defining bullying behaviors, (2) referring to existing “best-practice” bullying policies, (3) specifically outlining the reporting of bullying incidents, (4) outlining clearly investigation and disciplinary actions to be taken, (5) outlining specific assistance for bullying targets, and (6) including prevention and training procedures. In the meantime, coaches as well as parents and players can recognize that they are role models for everyone with whom they come into contact in sport and performance settings. Coaches, parents, and players can also accept responsibility for creating a respectful and safe sport and performance environment, have a pre-season meeting to discuss antibullying policy, foster open and honest communication, accept critical feedback, not engage or allow bullying behavior themselves, create acceptable boundaries between themselves and others, and teach players to trust their instincts when things do not feel right. More advanced bullying prevention and training procedures can then take place.