Bullying in Hockey

It has happened again. A young person, it can be a boy, usually a teenager, but not always – sometimes just a kid, sometimes a girl – is driven to suicide by schoolyard or what has becoming an increasing issue online bullying. The story of 15-year-old Amanda Todd is just sad.  How many times do we need to see stories like this?  One time is too many.  Think bullying is not a problem at your child’s school or at your local hockey rink?  Think again.  There have been numerous examples over the years.  This CBC piece on bullying illustrates some interesting points that we should be aware of:

  • Studies show that kids who watch bullying often tend to identify with the bully not the victim, and cheer on the abuse.
  • Kids who are perceived to be different, especially those with some form of disability, are most often the victims.
  • Some studies indicate that childhood bullying leads to workplace bullying, that children who are victims of bullies often become victims as adults.

Bullying is a widespread and serious problem that can happen anywhere.   I don’t pretend to be an expert on bullying but I know that there are initiatives that I can do to ensure that my children do not bully others or become victims of bullying
themselves.  As hockey parents a lot of these items apply on the rink and off the rink.

4 Ways to Assist in the Prevention of Bullying

Teach respect – It really begins with respect.  How many times have we heard hockey players in the game state that there is no respect in the game anymore?  Players are taking runs at other players or are diving when slightly hooked.  We definitely see that the respect factor has diminished in recent years.  There are a number of reason for this including players now be scouted earlier and having to prove their skill potential earlier and being told that they have to be stronger, better faster.  Well how about being smarter?  Parents need to teach their children the value of respect.

Children need to respect themselves, their peers, their teachers, their coaches, their family and people in general.

Teach children not to be judgemental – Reasons for being picked or bullied are many and include being fat, thin, tall, short, hair or skin colour, being quiet, wearing glasses, having big ears, small ears, crooked teeth, being from a different culture, having different likes or dislikes (including sports), wearing the ‘wrong’ clothes, liking the “wrong” music, having an unwillingness to use strength to defend him or herself.  The thing is that kids can be mean and judgemental.  We need to do a better job at teaching our kids not to put others down based on how we perceive others.  That is the beauty in life, that we are all different and bring something different to the table or in the case of team sports like hockey, something different to the team.  It gets back to the respect factor, being judgemental is often not being respectful.

Educate your children on bullying – find out if your child’s school has an anti bullying program.  If so, review the material with your kids.  Take  the time to discuss bullying with your children.  Do not wait until it is too late.  In many cases  with teen suicides, parents had not idea that their child was going through the issues that lead them to take their own life.  Being proactive can lead to prevention.  Awareness is a key part of the equation.

Open the lines of communication with your children.  Especially in their teenage years.  You should have an understanding of what is going on in school, with their extra curricular activities, who their friends are and what their online habits are.  Having open communication can be of huge value if your child is going through some difficult times at school, in sports or with their friends.  It is one thing to respect their privacy but it is another to be totally oblivious to what is happening in your children’s life.

Bullying in Sports:  The Act of Hazing

Bullying in sports happens all of the time too.  In hockey as a player or hockey parent you are most likely aware of the term hazing.  Hazing is is the practice of certain events or “rituals” and other activities often involving harassment, abuse or humiliation used as a way of initiating a person into a group.  It is usually performed by senior members of the group on rookies or “newbies”.  In hockey there has been a number of hazing stories that have come out and shocked the hockey community.  I remember reading about hockey legend Ken Dryden who when starting his career in junior and then with the Montreal Canadiens and how he was terrified that he was going to potentially have to participate in a hazing ceremony.  This was in the late sixties and early seventies, so hazing in hockey has been around for quite some time.  According to stophazing.org,

While alcohol use is common in many types of hazing, other examples of typical hazing practices include: personal servitude; sleep deprivation and restrictions on personal hygiene; yelling, swearing and insulting new members/rookies; being forced to wear embarrassing or humiliating attire in public; consumption of vile substances or smearing of such on one’s skin; brandings; physical beatings; binge drinking and drinking games; sexual simulation and sexual assault.

There are traditionally three types of hazing:

  1. Subtle Hazing – Behaviors that emphasize a power imbalance between new members/rookies and other members of the group or team.  Examples might include name calling, assigned nicnames, removal of privileges, social isolation and more.
  2. Harassment Hazing: Behaviors that cause emotional anguish or physical discomfort in order to feel like part of the group. Harassment hazing confuses, frustrates, and causes undue stress for new members/rookies. Sometimes referred to as the first phase of violent hazing.  This can include verbal abuse, performing stunts or skits, sleep deprivation, sexual simulations etc.
  3. Violent Hazing: Behaviors that have the potential to cause physical and/or emotional, or psychological harm. Examples may include being forced to consume alcohol or drugs, beating/paddling/assault, branding, burning, bondage, kidnaps etc.

Hazing is a serious problem that quite often flies under the radar in some circles.  For more information on hazing in sports visit:  http://www.stophazing.org/.

The one thing about bullying is that it does not always have to be child (or group of children) vs. an individual, it can be an adult bullying a child.  One of the most deviant stories about abuse in hockey is the story of Sheldon Kennedy (and others) who were abused by the disgraced Graeme James.  If you have been a hockey fan for the past decade you have no doubt heard about the story of Sheldon Kennedy and others and their unfortunate relationship with the disgusting human being and former coach Graeme James.

Sheldon Kennedy has done some amazing work since he has come forward with the abuse that he suffered as a teen playing hockey in Swift Current.  In 2010 and into 2011, Sheldon Kennedy co-founded Respect Group Inc., which developed both the respect in sport and respect in school programs.  Respect Group Inc. is the parent organization for the online education programs Respect in Sport for Coaches and Activity Leaders, Respect in Sport for Parents, Respect in the Workplace, and Respect in School.  http://www.respectgroupinc.com

Kennedy says it’s not just teachers who have to be educated on what to do if they see bullying happening or are approached by a child who is being abused.

“Statistics show that a child has to tell seven trusted adults in their life that something is going on in their world before anyone takes any action. Our goal is to give adult leaders the tools they need to take action,” Kennedy said.

Canadians are saying no to bullying, but more needs to be done so that we do not have another Amanda Todd incident.  Bullying has got to stop!  As parents and mentors, we need to protect our children and the parents of the future.   Parents need to have open communication lines with their kids so that if there is a problem on the ice or in school or just in life in general the kids can talk about it with someone.  Hockey is a fast game that requires smart decisions.  Making the right decisions on the ice can lead to great success.  Making the right decisions off of the ice can lead to so much more.

If you are a victim of bullying and need to talk to someone, please call the kids help phone in Canada. http://www.kidshelpphone.ca