What is bullying?
The Anti-Bullying Alliance's definition of bullying is:
"The repetitive, intentional hurting of one person or group by another person or group, where the relationship involves an imbalance of power. Bullying can be physical, verbal or psychological. It can happen face-to-face or online."
Bullying can happen anywhere – in a club, at school, at home or online (also called cyberbullying.) Bullying behaviour is often more common in ‘bullying hotspots’ - locations in a club, venue or school that might be more secluded or have fewer witnesses, such as changing rooms.
Examples of bullying
Bullying behaviour can include:
- physical – hitting, pushing, kicking, poking, biting, pinching
- verbal – name calling, insults, spreading rumours, belittling, sarcasm
- emotional - threatening, humiliating, constant criticism, using hand gestures, excluding, isolating, manipulation, coercion
- sexual – abusive comments, unwanted physical contact, inappropriate touching, inappropriate sexual proposition
- online or cyberbullying - many of the examples of bullying can take place online as well as in person. It also includes things like, sharing nude or inappropriate images, sexting, hoax calls
Bullying based on a person's actual or perceived race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability can also be a hate crime.
Bullying and disability
Children and young people with disabilities can be particularly vulnerable to bullying behaviour. Research suggests that they are twice as likely* as other children to experience persistent bullying.
These added risks for deaf or disabled children can include:
- the increased likelihood of social isolation
- having fewer contacts than non-disabled children which can mean limited access to someone to disclose bullying to
- being unable to fully understand, resist or avoid bullying behaviour
- being viewed as a ‘safe target’ for people displaying bullying behaviour
For advice about creating an inclusive environment read our safeguarding d/Deaf and disabled children advice.
*Source: Doubly disadvantaged? Bullying experiences among disabled children and young people in England. Stella Chatzitheochari, Samantha Parsons and Lucinda Platt. IoE (2014).
Racism in sport
Racism and racial bullying is a form of bullying behaviour which focuses on race, ethnicity, or culture. This can include racist jokes, using offensive names, physical or verbal attacks or engaging in micro-aggressions which are often indirect and subtle.
While children from Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic communities are not more likely to be bullied than other groups, the nature of the bulling can extend beyond the individual to impact the wider community. Groups more likely to be racially bullied are Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller, asylum seeker, refugee and children with a mixed ethnic background.
Racial bullying is often seen in the sporting world and in some cases has been widely reported by the media. Some high-profile individuals such as Marcus Rashford MBE, Lewis Hamilton and Priyanaz Chatterji have spoken out about experiencing racism in relation to their sport.
In 2019/20 Childline delivered 547 counselling sessions where racist bullying, racism or being bullied for spiritual, cultural or religious reason were mentioned.
Find out more about racial bullying watch our Racism and safeguarding in sport webinar.
Homophobic and transphobic bullying
Nearly half (45%) of the young people identifying as LGBTQ+ reported being bullied at school according to a recent report by Stonewall.
Homophobic bullying is where people are discriminated against and treated unfairly by other people because they are, or are perceived to be, lesbian, gay or bisexual.
Transphobic bullying is where people are discriminated against because their gender identity doesn't align with the sex they were assigned at birth or perhaps because they do not conform to stereotypical gender identities.
Sometimes athletes witness homophobic or transphobic bullying but may be reluctant to report it in case the participants, coaches or other adults assume they are also homosexual, bisexual or transgender, even if this isn't the case.
We've produced a briefing paper on homophobic bullying in youth sport, which offers guidance on how to support LGBTQ+ young people who have been subject to bullying of this kind.
See our topic page safeguarding LGBTQ+ young people for more information.
*Source: The school report 2017. Stonewall (2017).
Online or cyberbullying
Online or cyberbullying is a form of bullying behaviour that takes place on social media, in online games and through mobile phones. Cyberbullying can have just as much of an impact on children and young people as face-to-face bullying and is often harder to escape in the 24-hour online world.
During the coronavirus pandemic, the reduced social contact acted as a respite from bullying for some children. However, for many, the bullying moved online. Childline counselling sessions about online bullying increased by 25% compared to the year before*.
Some of these online behaviours include:
- 'trolling' – sending upsetting messages through social media, chat rooms or online games
- creating and sharing hurtful images or videos
- sharing nude or semi-nude images sometimes called sexting
- sending abusive text messages
- hoax calls
For more information, take a look at the NSPCC pages on bullying and cyberbullying and our advice about using digital platforms safely.
*Source: Anti-bullying advice and new insights from Childline NSPCC (2021).
Body image and bullying
Body image can be a risk factor in the development of eating disorders, sometimes stemming from throwaway comments from peers or coaches about a person’s size or body shape. Children who struggle with how they see and accept their bodies may be particularly vulnerable to comments, jokes and humiliation about their body.
Some children may be taking part in sport as an approach to combating weight issues or eating disorders. Bullying can disrupt or even stop their participation, slowing their journey to a healthier lifestyle and enjoyment of physical activity. Such disruption can have a lasting affect into adulthood and prevent children from living an active, healthy lifestyle as adults too.
Banter or bullying
Banter is often passed off as being acceptable within a sports setting. However, where is the line between banter and bullying behaviour? Banter may not include all the same elements as bullying, but it doesn’t mean it is acceptable.
All language that is upsetting, offensive, threatening, abusive or violent should be challenged and dealt with appropriately. Just because someone uses certain language to refer to themselves, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s acceptable for them to use this language towards others. If you think something is banter or a joke, it doesn’t mean others will feel the same.
It’s important to have open communication with everyone involved in your club or activity around acceptable use of language and behaviour, this will help ensure that everyone is aware what is acceptable and what isn’t.
Information regarding use of inclusive language should be part of your clubs or activity’s codes of conduct and promoted across the organisation.
For further information on this topic, watch our Banter vs bullying in sport webinar.