When you think of bullying in youth hockey, you probably think about opposing teams being mean or cruel to your team. And, while this can certainly be a real problem, it is also true that the most serious and damaging type of bullying, believe it or not, often happens among players on the same team. What’s worse is that coaches and others often do not notice the problem until it has already caused serious damage to the bullied player or players.
The key, as a coach or other adult involved in the game, is to closely observe players and their interactions with others. If any player seems to be picked on, especially scolded, or just simply left out from other players, this is a good indicator that bullying is already happening or is likely to happen. Fortunately, however, there are many things you can do to stop bullying in its tracks or even to keep bullying from happening altogether, especially if you catch the problem early.
Make Your Team a Family
The most important thing to stop and/or prevent bullying is to make a team feel like an inclusive family. Make sure that each player is heard and validated and asked to speak up in group meetings. If each player’s thoughts and feelings are respected and validated by the coach, everyone else should fall in line, creating a supportive, family type of atmosphere. When everyone pays respect to everyone else and everyone is treated equally and this is established as the norm, bullying is less likely to occur.
Work Closely with Those in “Power”
Try as you might, there is no denying that some players are going to find themselves in positions of more power than the others. Instead of trying to fight this, figure out who the “power players” are on your team. This might be the players with the strongest personalities, the “best” or “most important” roles, or simply those who are the most likeable and powerful.
Whatever the case may be, if you can work closely with these “power players” and teach them to be kind and respectful to everyone on the the team, you can rest assured that everyone else, more often than not, will fall in line and follow suit.
Once you have established a non-bullying policy among your players, make sure this extends to other players and teams you may encounter. The goal, as a team, is to have a 100% bully-free policy and outlook, including extending that to others outside of the team and even outside of the sport itself.