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Facing Off Against Bullying

By Christie Casciano Burns, 10/10/23, 3:45PM MDT

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All it takes is one toxic teammate to ruin a season. The good news is there are many ways us parents can help filter out the negative and protect players from bullying. 

Nicole Adams, the Pacific Northwest Amateur Hockey Association’s vice president and USA Hockey Safe Sport Coordinator, was willing to share some advice for us parents in the October issue of USA Hockey Magazine now that hockey season is underway.

Q: What can parents do to help prevent and stop bullying on teams?

A: Stop talking about the X’s and O’s with your player—leave that to the coach! Your role is to talk to your player about how they can be an effective teammate. Working hard every shift. Supporting their team with their words, body language and actions. Listening to the coach and taking instruction. Building up their teammates and not tearing them down. Treating teammates with kindness and support when they may be having an off day. Being a leader in difficult circumstances. Doing what’s right no matter who is watching. Standing up for those that won’t or can’t. 

Most importantly, if your player is experiencing difficulties of their own, discuss with your player how you can support your player in how they can manage and navigate the situation together.

Q: How can coaches play a role in preventing bullying?

A: Coaches are paramount to the creation of a team culture that does not tolerate or endorse any type of bullying, harassment or hazing on teams. Setting expectations early, and discussing those expectations often, creates that environment of high expectations.

Q: What should I do if I suspect my child is a victim of bullying?

A: Most kids LOVE their sport, so I would say that the number one warning sign that I’ve encountered is a player not wanting to attend practice or participate in games. Additionally, when a player gets into the car at the end of a practice or game and they get too quiet, that may also be a warning sign. Bullied players/students also have trouble sleeping, loss of appetite, and can potentially become quieter, or conversely, more aggressive, at home.

It’s also important to remember that sometimes bullied players don’t report to parents/coaches because again, they don’t want to be labeled “THAT player” who is looking to get others in trouble. Creating that opportunity for trust with your son/daughter is imperative to working through these issues.

Depending on their age, it’s always appropriate to provide your child, an emerging young adult, with the tools to solve problems on their own.

Q: What can we do if bullying occurs in a locker room? 

A: I always advise our programs in the Pacific Northwest to limit player time in locker rooms because honestly, this is where the problems most often arise. Players arrive two hours early and chaos can ensue. When they’re limited to 20 minutes before or after practices to get gear on and off, there’s less time for issues to arise.

Additionally, locker room monitoring is REQUIRED by a screened and Safe Sport-educated adult EVERY SINGLE TIME players are in locker rooms. This can be the coaches sitting in the room getting their skates on and discussing practice plans, or parents assisting with the monitoring as the coaches discuss the practice plans with each other.

Q: How should a parent navigate bullying through social media or group chats where a coach is not included? 

A: Don’t let your child have social media-—especially Snapchat--—until they are mature enough to handle it. If you are going to allow your player to have these platforms, make sure that you have access to monitor it! I know this is difficult—and kids don’t want to be left out of the latest and greatest social media “fun”—but honestly, social media is just a hotbed of problems. We have seen so many talented athletes have their scholarships or professional offers rescinded due to poor social media behavior. 

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, a time to focus and raise awareness on bullying. To learn more visit StopBullying.gov.

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