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Bullying in the Physical Activity Environment

This is an excerpt from Positive Behavior Management in Physical Activity Settings 3rd Edition With Web Resource by Barry Lavay,Ron French & Hester Henderson.

Bullying occurs more frequently in school environments such as locker rooms, showers, restrooms, on the playground and behind buildings, in the cafeteria, in the hallways, on the bus, and at the bus stop (Bradshaw, Waasdorp, O'Brennan, Gulemetova, & Henderson, 2011; Farrington & Ttofi, 2009). School-based physical activity settings are common locations for bullying (Roman & Taylor, 2013). The incidence of bullying in physical education classes was reported in a study of 10th-grade students in Canada. In this study, 11.1% of the students reported experiencing physical bullying, 13.6% experienced verbal bullying, and 12.8% experienced social bullying. Bullying was one of the major reasons students dropped out of physical education (Hurley & Mandigo, 2010).


Often, a physical activity professional is not even aware that bullying is occurring in his or her environment because class or team groups are typically large, and there is often a high level of competition and physical contact in the activities, so physical contact is likely the norm. In these settings physical contact may be used to intimidate others (Biggs, Simpson, & Gaus, 2010). Physical activity professionals may also be unaware of the undercurrent of social status and peer pressure in their programs and may inadvertently allow some participants to wield their power over others. This may occur when participants are allowed to choose teams, leading to social exclusion; tease or call names, thereby intimidating others; or even encourage other participants to engage in rough physical play that may get out of hand (Fuller, Gulbrandson, & Herman-Ukasic, 2013). We must do something about this problem because we do not want participants to be traumatized in our programs and quit coming or not enroll in them at all (Huber, 2010; Hurley & Mandigo, 2010).


It may be that a physical activity professional is the first adult to recognize that a participant's social and emotional problems have developed through continually being bullied. When a participant is bullied, a physical activity professional is often the person the victim feels comfortable talking with about what happened. As physical activity professionals, we have a responsibility to understand what bullying is; be aware of the signs of bullying; be involved in the development and implementation of programs to prevent bullying; intervene; and develop a safe environment where students and players can participate, enjoy physical activity, and feel safe.


Teachers play a key role in preventing and intervening in bullying at school, yet they receive little if any help or training in identifying the warning signs, preventing bullying, or effectively intervening (Juvonen, Graham, & Schuster, 2003). When a bullying problem becomes serious and is not effectively managed, we need to work in partnership with other teachers (e.g., general physical educators, special educators) coaches, staff (e.g., social workers, school counselors, school psychologists), parents and guardians, and administrators to solve the problem as soon as possible (Olweus, 2006). See checklist 8.1 to make sure you are recognizing bullies and bullying behaviors.

Learn more about Positive Behavior Management in Physical Activity Settings, Third Edition.