Nothing ruins a great sports team like a bunch of bullies.  No matter the social situation that produced such behavior in the first place, dealing with a bully as teammate will drop the morale of the entire group of players to a pretty low standard.

It’s even worse when bullying becomes a group activity and is directed at a single (or select few) members of the team.  You want players on your team to be fighting together and giving each other positive reinforcement as much as possible.  Unfortunately, the realities of pre-teen and teenage kids is that jealousy and fear sometimes get the better of them.

As a parent, there is something you can do to help your child overcome the unwanted attention and continue having fun and learning about themselves – all the positive sides of playing recreational sports.

If your child is dealing with some nasty bullies on their team, here are the steps you should take to ensure it stops as soon as possible:

Speak to Your Child

The most important thing you can do as parent is get an idea of where your child is at.  If they are totally distraught by the bullying, it’s time to take immediate action.  However, if it seems bearable for them in the short term, then take the opportunity to offer some positive reinforcement.  Overcoming bullying through strong self-esteem is one of the most positive lessons a child can learn.  This does not mean you should let the bullying continue; but simply that you can take this unfortunate circumstance and make a ‘teachable moment’ out of it before going through the steps necessary to stop it from continuing.

Contact the Coach

The coach is the first person who should be made aware of the group bullying going on within the team. They have the power to enforce certain structures and rules to keep the team operating smoothly.  Though the coach has a pretty solid grasp of all the kids on the team, they are unable to catch all the internal dialogue between players.  So don’t take it for granted that the coach is aware of the bullying and is complicit.  Let the coach know as soon as you can, and if they are responsible in their position, they will pay special attention to it.

Reach Out to the Family

Usually group bullying springs from one or two influential ringleaders.  These ringleaders have strong social influence and seamlessly guide the attitude and behavior of those around them.  Ask your child who those ringleaders are, and make a point of speaking with their parents.  It’s not to say that you should be direct and confrontational with the parents, but simply letting them know the impact of their child’s behavior should be enough to engage their attention.  This, in combination with alerting the coach, is probably all you need to do to end the unwanted attention on your child.  However, it depends on the severity of the bullying.

Ask to Change Teams

If the first and second steps have not made measurable improvements over a couple of weeks, it’s time to ask for a team change.  Speak with your child and see what team they would like to play on.  Usually, if they have friends playing on another team, it will be possible to ask the league administrators to place them together.

Don’t be an Absent Parent

It’s important not to lose sight of how your child is doing in their recreational sports endeavors, and whether bullying is something they face every practice.  Follow these steps to ensure that if bullying is something they experience, it is only for a short period of time and that you are offering support to your child to help them get through it.