Every child has the right to experience sport in a safe environment, free from abuse and bullying.
Sports organisations play an important role in creating a positive club ethos that challenges bullying. They should empower young people to understand the impact of bullying and how best to deal with it, and to agree to standards of behaviour.
We have put together some information and advice to support your organisation with creating a positive environment for young people. This will help to equip you with resources to ensure that anyone attending your club respects each other and works together to stop bullying.
Every child has the right to experience sport in a safe environment, free from abuse and bullying.
What is bullying?
Bullying can take many forms. But it usually includes the following:
Physical – hitting, kicking, pinching, punching, scratching, spitting or any other form of physical attack. Damage to or taking someone else’s belongings may also constitute physical bullying.
Verbal – offensive name-calling, insults, racist remarks, sexist jokes or comments, homophobic, transphobic or gender-related jokes and comments, teasing, threats, or using sexually suggestive or abusive language.
Sexual – abusive sexualised name-calling, inappropriate and uninvited touching, inappropriate sexual innuendo and/or proposition.
Indirect – spreading nasty stories or rumours about someone, intimidation, exclusion from social groups.
Bullying and disability
Children and young people with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to being bullied for a variety of reason. These include:
- the increased likelihood of social isolation
- having fewer outside contacts than non-disabled children, and perhaps having limited access to someone to disclose bullying to
- an impaired capacity to resist, avoid or understand bullying
- being viewed as a ‘safe target’ for bullies
Homophobic and transphobic bullying
Homophobic and transphobic bullying can be hard to identify because it may be going on in secret. It may include a person being made to feel unwelcome, belittled or harassed (through gossip, name-calling, jokes and other hate acts – both in the virtual and ‘real’ world.)
Sometimes athletes witness homophobic or transphobic bullying. Even if they aren't lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) and the subject of the abuse, they may be reluctant to report it in case the participants, or coaches or other adults assume they are also homosexual, bisexual or trangender.
We've produced a briefing paper on homophobic bullying in youth sport.
Cyberbullying is a form of bullying that uses technology to deliberately harm or upset others. This type of bullying can happen in many ways, using mobile phones or the internet, and could include:
- sending hurtful messages or using videos and images to humiliate
- leaving malicious voicemails
- a series of silent calls
- creating a website about other people to humiliate them
- writing hurtful comments on social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter
- excluding them from chat rooms or messaging forums
- ‘happy slapping’ – sending videos or images of people being bullied, so others can see
The damage bullying causes – the facts
These statistics are derived from a number of sources, as indicated within each section below.
Disrespectful and emotionally harmful treatment of young people was reported as common in children’s experiences of sport in the UK. For some, this included being criticised about performance in ways that could be disproportionate or unhelpful, or being humiliated, teased, sworn at or bullied.
2/3 of this behaviour occurred mainly between teammates and peers, and 1/3 of those reporting it said coaches were involved, either participating directly, or indirectly by creating an ethos where such behaviour was condoned or not effectively dealt with.
Source: The experiences of children participating in organised sport in the UK. Alexander, Kate; Stafford, Anne and Lewis, Ruth (2011). London: NSPCC.
A male, aged 13, who contacted Childline, said:
"I feel like killing myself. My mum and dad beat me and I'm getting bullied at school. I don't have anyone else to turn to except Childline. No one else would be able to help me. I'm scared of telling anyone."
- during 2011/12, Childline dealt with 31,599 counselling interactions with children and young people about bullying (10% of all counselling interactions)
- during the same period, a further 9,892 counselling interactions were dealt with where bullying was an additional concern
- bullying is the main reason for boys contacting Childline, and the second main reason for girls
- bullying is the main primary concern for children and young people aged 7-11 years
Sources: NSPCC / Childline facts and figures; quote is from Childline Casenote, March 2009.
According to the Rainbow Project:
- 85% of young LGBT people, who have been the victims of homophobic bullying, have considered suicide
- 35% of young LGBT people have attempted suicide and 41% have self-harmed
Source: Out on Your Own – The Rainbow Project (2006).
Stonewall reported that:
- 65% of young LGBT people have experienced homophobic bullying or harassment
- 92% of young LGBT people have experienced verbal abuse because of their sexual orientation
- 41% have been the victim of physical abuse because of their sexual orientation
- 17% have received death threats because of their sexual orientation
Source: The School Report – Stonewall (2006).
A DfE review found that:
- between 8% and 34% of children and young people in the UK have been cyberbullied
- girls are twice as likely to experience persistent cyberbullying as boys
Source: The protection of children online: a brief scoping review to identify vulnerable groups (2011). London: Department for Education.
The following findings were the result of a Mencap workshop:
- nearly 8 out of 10 young people with a learning disability had experienced bullying
- 6 out of 10 had been physically hurt
- 4 out of 10 who told someone found the bullying continued
Source: Workshop with 507 children and young people aged 8 to 19 years with a learning disability, Mencap (2007).
To address bullying successfully, a 'whole club' approach that includes coaches, volunteers, officials, young people and parents is needed.
There are a number of policies and procedures that your club should have in place to address bullying, both in terms of prevention and response. These include:
- codes of conduct – for parents, for staff and volunteers, and for parents and guardians
- an anti-bullying policy
How sports clubs can provide support
Action to help the young person being bullied and to prevent bullying in sport:
- take all signs of bullying very seriously
- encourage all children to speak about the bullying and share their concerns
- help the person being bullied to speak out
- if you are concerned that a young person may harm themselves, seek professional help immediatel (it's believed that up to 12 children per year commit suicide as a result of bullying)
- reassure the person being bullied that you can be trusted and will help them, although you can't promise to tell no one else
- keep records of what is said (what happened, by whom, when)
- report any concerns or allegations to the club's child protection or safeguarding officer or the school (wherever the bullying is occurring)
Dealing with the bullies
Action towards the young person or people doing the bullying:
- talk with the bully (or bullies), explain the situation, and try to get them to understand the consequences of their behaviour
- seek an apology to the person being bullied
- inform the bully’s (or bullies’) parents
- insist on the return of 'borrowed' items and that the bully (or bullies) compensate the person bullied
- impose sanctions as necessary
- encourage and support the bully (or bullies) to change their behaviour
- hold meetings with the families to report on progress
- inform all organisation members of action taken
- keep a written record of action taken
Serious bullying and referrals
Most 'low level' bullying incidents will be dealt with at the time by coaches and volunteers.
However, if the bullying is severe – such as a serious assault – or if it persists despite efforts to deal with it, incidents should be referred to the designated child protection or safeguarding officer.
Here are links to a variety of resources to combat bullying, whether it occurs within sport or off the playing field.
- sample anti-bullying policy
- anti-bullying activities
- template for a bullying incident report form
- LGBT young people in sport – resources
- Homophobic bullying in youth sport – CPSU briefing
- Safeguarding deaf and disabled children in sport – DVD resource
Wider NSPCC resources
- Bullying and cyberbullying – NSPCC's comprehensive review of this topic
- NSPCC – bullying research and resources
- Childline – bullying – information and advice for young people
- Help! I hate PE – Childline video that covers young people's worries about sport, including body image, confidence and bullying
Other useful resources and websites
- Department for Education – School and college behaviour and attendance – the sections on bullying provide the necessary support for designing anti-bullying policies and strategies in your school
- Welsh Government – 'Are you being bullied?' resources – this leaflet and poster offer help and advice to young people who are worried about bullying
- Stop bullying in sport Z-card – good-practice example from Sport Nottingham
- Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA) – the ABA have developed the following useful guidance and resources:
- Bystanders and bullying – a summary of research for Anti-bullying week
- Safe from bullying for local authorities and other strategic leaders
- Safe from harm in play and leisure provision
- Kidscape – a UK charity established specifically to prevent bullying and child sexual abuse
- 'Being Me – isn't it time someone heard your story?' – produced by Kidscape, these 5 short stories give young people an insight into challenges that may be faced by their peers
- Ditch the label – UK bullying statistics 2014