3 Things to Do When You Notice Bullying

Playing sports and being part of a team is a valuable childhood experience. However, negative behaviors like bullying can shift the team dynamic and have serious, long-lasting consequences for the athlete being targeted.

By understanding what bullying is—and what you can do when you notice it occur—you can help make sport settings more inclusive, supportive, and safe for everyone.

What is bullying?

Bullying can take many forms from verbal name-calling to physical hitting, and sometimes it can be hard to identify. Social bullying, such as spreading rumors or lies about a teammate, can occur in person or online through text messages, email, and social media sites, while sexual bullying involves targeting an athlete’s gender identity, expression, or orientation.

Mean or rude behavior may occur from time to time in the form of fights or conflict on the playing field. Bullying behavior, however, is repeated or severe aggressive behavior directed at a minor.

It’s a fact that kids being bullied are less likely to tell an adult when they’re being harmed. This is why it’s essential for parents and coaches to recognize and respond to inappropriate behavior—and stop it before it escalates into something more.

What to do

If you observe bullying, the first step is to intervene immediately. Separate everyone involved and make sure everyone is safe.
Then, follow these steps:


  1. Remain calm and respectful. Controlling your emotions teaches athletes to do the same.
  2. Create a plan. Work with the coaches to come up with a plan on how to address bullying behavior—and reinforce acceptable behavior.
  3. Keep communication open. Check in regularly with your child to find out if anything has happened to make them feel uncomfortable.


  1. Understand what happened. Talk with each person separately—those who bullied, the targets, and any witnesses. Make sure you speak in an area where you can be observed and interrupted by others.
  2. Praise positive behavior. Acknowledge and praise the team members who stand up to bullying behavior and report it to you.
  3. Reinforce expectations for appropriate behavior. Together as a team, go over acceptable and unacceptable behaviors.

Reporting and Resources

Bullying behavior happens more often than we think, but caring and engaged parents and coaches can help safeguard sport by speaking up when they see or hear inappropriate behaviors or actions. If you witness bullying in action, you should always follow your organization’s reporting policies and submit a report.

Learn more about how you can recognize, prevent, and respond to abuse and misconduct in sport by visiting our Prevent Bullying in Sport landing page. To help create the most enriching sport experience possible for athletes, visit our website for more tips, tactics, and tools on abuse prevention at uscenterforsafesport.org.