Advice for parents about bullying in sports

Bullying UK, part of Family Lives, receives complaints about what happens on and off the sports pitch too. It isn't just other players who can cause problems, but sometimes parents, coaches and team managers can also be capable of bullying behaviour.

Pressure from mums and dads

Research shows that many youngsters give up football because of the stress of parental pressure, the shouting and taunts from the touchline. Football development officers often feel fed up with parents' behaviour with mini soccer being turned into a mega stress with a 'win at all costs' attitude.

If parents are taking the game more seriously than they should, shouting vociferous encouragement from the side, displaying excessive disappointment at the missed goal and of course abuse or invasion of the pitch, this should not be tolerated and neither should abuse between rival team parents in the heat of the game.

Set a good example

If you're a parent think about the example you're setting to your child and other families. A friend of Bullying UK who managed a youth soccer team in Leeds told of one match where there was so much trouble that the police had to be called and they refused to let parents leave until they'd taken their car registration numbers. On another occasion when he substituted a player, the substituted boy's father, who was a linesman, threw down his flag in a display of petulance and shouted to his son: "Come on Thomas, we're going home".

The sports mad parent may be pushing their son or daughter very hard and making unreasonable demands. Parents need to know that they can be guilty of bullying too and that constructive criticism about the effort they put in is acceptable but personal negative comments are not and neither is punishment for an off day.

If your child is being bullied in his/her sports club then talk to the coach or manager about it and ask them to make other staff aware of the problem. Ask for the matter to be dealt with discretely. If the coach catches the bully in action they can't accuse the victim of telling tales.

If the problem continues

If the problem continues and the club doesn't seem sympathetic, ask if there is a complaints procedure and follow it. Clubs may have their own rules or guidance issued by the sport's governing body and there may be appeal procedures over disciplinary matters.

If your complaint is about the coach you need to be fair and objective when making a complaint. Not every child will be picked for the team every week and it's better to approach the coach in a friendly way to discuss any issues of concern. If you can't resolve matters at club level you could consider taking it to the sport's governing body.

How your child might feel

Remember that sport should be about fun and enjoyment and just because your child might not be as capable as another on the sports field doesn’t mean that they should be left out.  Sadly we know that this can happen and it can be heartbreaking for parents to watch their child having to sit on the sideline for excessive amounts of time, especially when they have attended training every week and have shown commitment to their club when others who are played haven’t.   If this continues to be an issue and you can see that your child obviously isn’t enjoying their activity anymore then you might have to think long and hard about whether they should continue.

No one wants to see their child upset or despondent and if getting to games is starting to feel more like a chore than a joy, then you definitely need to sit down with your child and have a chat about how you might find a way forward.  Focus on the positives – perhaps there is another club they can take a look at where things might not be so competitive, or another sport that they could try.  It’s imperative that you emphasise that they have done nothing wrong and don’t deserve to be treated in this way so they don’t blame themselves.

Of course you have the option of speaking to the club manager about this but try to remain calm and think about any impact this could have on your child in the future.  Try to find out how your child would feel about you having a word with the manager beforehand.

How we can help you

If you would like support and advice, you can talk to one of our Family Support Workers by calling our confidential helpline on 0808 800 2222. You can also share experiences and advice with other parents on our Forums. Family Lives is here for you and you can contact us about any family issue, big or small.

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