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Resources on Bullying & Hazing in Sports

The Play Like a Champion Today Educational Series works to ensure that all children can experience the joy of play through athletics.  Unfortunately, for far too many student-athletes, that joy is often minimized by bullying.  According to the Department of Health and Human Services, over 77% of students have been bullied either verbally, mentally, or physically.   While all students, including athletes, can fall victim to bullying and hazing, leading to lower self-worth, isolation, and eating disorders, athletes can also be the bully - either within the team or in the larger community. 

Bullying vs. Hazing: What's the Difference?

Bullying is about exclusion; hazing is about inclusion. The same power dynamics and intimidation tactics are used, but...

  • Bullying
    • Physical, verbal, and/or social instances of negative actions or force.

    • Can happen to anyone, anytime

    • Repeated

    • Over time

    • Power differential--real or perceived

  • Hazing

    • Planned; an instrument of including people by having them earn their way into a group.

    • Any activity expected of someone joining a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses, or endangers, regardless of the person’s willingness to participate.

    • Is problematic when it risks emotional and/ or physical harm to members of a group or team.

Play Like a Champion Youth Sports
Coach-Bullying can manifest as:
  • Intimidation (using yelling and threats to scare into obedience)

  • Insulting (name calling to demean appearance, toughness, or worth)

  • Ridicule (making fun of bad play or lack of skill)

  • Humiliation (singling out a player for public embarrassment or blame)

  • Benching (refusing to let a student play)

Bystander behavior:  When People Witness Bullying or Hazing Without Intervening
  • Inaction is more common than action

  • May cause discomfort, guilt, shame

Look for Signs of Bullying:
  • Loss of interest; fears coming to practice (may be reported by parent); has bruises/injuries prior to practice; withdrawal; minimal time in locker room

  • Ask more questions; determine if it’s really bullying vs teasing or accident; ask a friend/peer/teammate of the victim

Play Like a Champion Bullying
How to Address:
  • Establish rules/expectations at start of season

    • Bring the topic into the open

    • To help open dialogue, focus on concerns and impacts surrounding the issue - respect, dignity, friendships, rites of passage, underlying emotional issues, etc.

      • Use of the terms “bullying” and “hazing” can trigger defensiveness

      • Don’t lecture – tell them true stories of what self or others have gone through

  • Select a point person on team for athletes

  • Be vigilant and provide support

    • Coaches should let athletes know that they can be used as a resource

  • Encourage victim to REPORT – tell a trusted adult (coach, parent, teacher)

    • Think together to develop a plan; collaborative effort is more empowering for the victim

    • Encourage teammates to speak up for others who may not have the courage!

  • Encourage strength in SIZE and NUMBERS

    • Research shows that when victims of bullying are supported by someone literally larger than the perpetrator, it can deter that person from bullying him or her.  It has also been proven that when a victim is supported by a group – either during an actual episode of bullying, or just by maintaining that support network of people willing to stand up for you, the bully can become intimidated, reducing or eliminating the bullying behavior.

    • Encourage athletes to carry themselves with confidence – physical & verbal

    • Can’t do much about your size, but you can do something about your attitude & confidence.  Throws the bully off-guard because bullies target people who embody fear & weakness – who will be submissive and not take initiative.

  • Buddy system:  Pair up 2 teammates to look out for each other and make sure the other does not bully or get bullied.

    • Can also encourage athletes to make a pact with teammates to be each other’s allies; to stand by one another’s side if there is trouble, or give voice to an issue that may be difficult to confront or report. 

    • If team is to be a moral community, players must commit to becoming a unit & share “ownership” of the team and each other’s well-being

Play Like a Champion High School Sports


  • Are dangerous hazing practices so embedded into the team’s traditions that removal of the group itself must be considered?

    • Probation? Zero tolerance? End the season?


  • Encourage victim to print evidence and block the sender

  • Report to adult or the bully’s internet service provider (if  known) – may shut down the account


  • Never try to force a friendship!

    • …but you can demand respect among teammates.

  • Follow up with victim and family

    • establishes ongoing communication and a team approach

    • even if the bullying has stopped, the victim’s feelings about it may endure

  • Coaches set the stage for how to treat others on a team.  Be clear about expectations – atmosphere of respect, support, & team unity.  Establish consequences for if these expectations are not met

    • Example:  “If I hear you say or do anything negative towards anyone on our team, on another team, or an official, you will sit.”

Anti-bullying efforts work best when part of a larger multifaceted initiative, which may include: creating a positive school/sport climate, social norming, athlete-led efforts, curriculum enhancements, staff & parent trainings, and having a designated point person/expert at school and/or within the athletic organization.

Additional Resources

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​For additional information, email Play Like a Champion's Dr. Carrie Hastings at

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