How can sports keep our kids safe?
Being in sports is a good defence against bullies for three reasons: athletes exude confidence, they are stronger than their average peer and sports provide a positive network of support.
Yet all of that can be the reverse. Some athletes have poor self -image and feel that their only worth is based on the sport performance, this is usually an adult problem. By that I mean that the adults around the athlete CREATE the problem. The environment around some athletes may not be as positive as we would like, in fact it could be nurturing negative behaviour, and again being stronger or more physically imposing could be a negative. It can attract aggressive behaviour from bullies or it can lead the child athlete to exhibit bully behaviour without feeling that they are doing anything wrong. But let’s focus on the positive role of sports. Let’s assume that you are the parent of a positive child/athlete and you are supportive and understanding: Because if I can then we will see our child/athletes being positive and non-violent too. Kids understand that sports are games and games sometimes have losers. They do not define themselves as a loss or a win. They are self-confident and aware of their actions and inactions. They know that they are role models and they take that position seriously. These athletes are not targeted by bullies because the bully has no effect on them. They cannot get them to give in to their behaviour. Kids who bully may stop once they realize that other popular kids don’t respect what they’re doing.”
Being in sports, aside from building confidence, also builds physical strength and skills. This is another layer of confidence that an athlete has over a bully. They know that they can protect themselves or others and thus remain un-threatened.
Lastly being in sports creates a network of support, a web of positive relationships that keep bullies outside of the circle of acceptance. There are also strong adults available who will not tolerate negative behaviour and so kids can feel safer. Many programs or leagues have strict rules in place and violators are removed from play. But the strength of the rules are only as strong as the enforcement. A few weeks ago when a NFL coach was given a year off for putting bounties on the heads of opposing players, the message that the offense wasn’t too bad was sent to other coaches and players as the punishment for this offense was minimal. The coaches, parents and fans have to be willing to sacrifice victory for honour and integrity. Sadly, sometimes that’s not the case.
As role models athletes need to know a few things about how to stop bullies and how to protect others. Dr. Sue Limber, PhD, MLS, professor of psychology and associate director of the Institute on Family and Neighbourhood Life at Clemson University advises that kids should watch for these signs to see if a friend is being bullied:
1. Do your friends suddenly seem worried about going to school or doing things with other kids in the peer group?
2. Do your friends seem more sad, moody, or depressed than usual?
3. Do they have no or only a few friends?
4. Do they seem to get anxious after being online?
If any of these are answered “yes” your friend might be on the receiving end of a bully’s aggression. If this is the case, you can ask them to share their experiences, listen and be supportive. Encourage them to take the issue to a responsible adult in authority; someone who can stop the threat or can help relieve the risk. Remember that when a few friends hang out together, they are less likely to be approached. Stamp out bullies by ignoring gossip or not spreading rumours. This, after all, is what being a responsible person all is about.
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