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The differences between bullying and hazing and how you can prevent it

This is an excerpt from Successful Coaching-4th Edition by Rainer Martens.

Bullying and Hazing

Bullying is an act of aggression by someone or a group with the intent of harming a person either physically or psychologically. Bullying may occur by hitting, threatening, intimidating, teasing and taunting, and name-calling, or by more subtle attacks such as spreading rumors or encouraging others to reject the person. Bullies target individuals whom they perceive are weaker or more vulnerable.

Hazing is any action or situation created by a group to intentionally produce mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment, or ridicule among those wishing to join the group. Hazing is a form of bullying, but the two differ in the following ways:

  1. Bullying excludes the victim from a group whereas hazing is a ritual imposed on a person who wants to join a group.
  2. Bullies often act alone or in small groups, but hazing commonly involves an entire group or team.

Hazing can take many forms, including the following:

  • To make victims act in embarrassing or humiliating ways
  • To swear and yell insults at victims
  • To deprive individuals of sleep or restrict personal hygiene
  • To force victims to eat vile substances
  • To physically beat individuals
  • To force binge drinking
  • To sexually assault victims

You've likely heard a lot about bullying and hazing in the media of late. In one survey, 42 percent of 6th graders reported being bullied, with 14 percent being injured from bullying. Today the Internet is frequently used to embarrass, humiliate, or harass individuals through messages or video—what's called cyberbullying. Hazing is no less frequent: 48 percent of high school students report some form of hazing. Many experts suspect that the occurrence of bullying and hazing is far more pervasive than reported because victims are embarrassed to report what occurred or are fearful of retaliation should they do so.

Some coaches tolerate bullying by older or more prominent athletes on the team. “Boys will be boys” is their attitude, and we should add that “girls will be girls” because hazing is common among girls, although less so than with boys. But even mild bullying may result in unseen but substantial harm to the victim. Bullying often leads to depression when a victim can't see a way out, and depression can lead to suicide in extreme cases. As a coach of character you must have zero tolerance for any bullying on your team.

You should also have no tolerance for hazing. After decades of darkness, hazing of athletes by athletes is being recognized as serious misbehavior. In the past, coaches often saw hazing as part of a ritual to build team cohesiveness, and condoned or even encouraged such practices. But hazing is contrary to the moral values of the Athletes' Character Code we have considered in this chapter. As a coach you should recognize subtle and outrageous hazing practices for what they are—the mistreatment of fellow human beings. Incidents such as the following are demanding that coaches take an active role in preventing hazing:

  • New York—Four members of a high school football team sodomized members of the junior varsity. The players were charged with a crime, and the coaches were
  • California—The senior girls of a high school soccer team forced four freshman girls to drink alcohol until the girls vomited or collapsed.
  • New Jersey—Freshman soccer players were abused physically and thrown in the mud as part of an annual hazing event. The head coach and two assistants were dismissed because they allowed it to happen.

So what can you do to prevent bullying and hazing among your team members? See Successful Coaching, 4th edition, for seven action steps.

More Excerpts From Successful Coaching 4th Edition