Bullying has received a lot of press lately, and it’s a good thing to know that more people are realizing the importance of protecting every kid’s self-esteem. As a coach, you play a valuable role in setting up a positive atmosphere that teaches kids how to be good friends and neighbors both on and off of the field.

Bullying On the Field: 5 Ways For Coaches to Cultivate a Team Mindset

Unfortunately, bullying does happen in sports, and you will find that both kids and adults can be involved. The good news is that you can turn bullying on its head by using these five tips that cultivate a team mindset in everyone that is involved in your favorite sport.

Know The Signs of Bullying
When you have kids running all over the field, it is easy to overlook when things are happening right before your eyes. In school, bullies often target the underdog because they are viewed as an easy mark. In sports, however, you will sometimes find kids bullying the team star out of jealousy or an attempt to rise to their position. Look for signs of bullying such as whispered words after a play that cause one of your players to look dejected. One of your players who is being bullied off the field may suddenly seem to lack motivation or confidence when they are at practice. You may also discover bullying coming from the rival team in the form of rude posts on social media or mean signs held up in the stands. Either way, noticing any sign of bullying means that it is time to take action.

Define Your Expectations
You might not be able to change the rules of the game, but you can set your own when it comes to your team’s social interactions. Focus on cultivating the qualities of good sportsmanship in your team such as complimenting another teammate’s hard work or skill set. At the beginning of the season, talk to your team about what constitutes bullying, and have everyone agree to never put another teammate down. If necessary, write down your rules about bullying, and post them in a visible location such as the locker room or clubhouse. During your meetings with other coaches in the area, bring bullying up, and ask everyone to come to an agreement regarding a policy that stops negative behavior from occurring at competitions.

Talk to the Parents
Sadly, bullying in sports sometimes comes from a kid’s parents. This type of bullying behavior is especially harmful because it comes from the person that the player depends upon the most. Hold regular parent meetings where you can put bullying at the top of your agenda. Remind parents that their kids are always watching, and establish a rule that yelling negative comments from the stand will never be tolerated. If necessary, appoint another parent to keep you informed if they notice bullying behavior from the stands so that you can take prompt action to stop it before it gets worse.

Establish Consequences
Telling people that bullying isn’t tolerated sometimes isn’t enough. You also need to have a plan in place to address negative behavior. For your players, let them know that negative comments will be followed by consequences such as having to sit out a game or run extra laps. Depending upon the behavior, you may also have your players make amends with a formal apology either publicly or privately. Parents who bully may be removed from the stands. If they play a prominent role on the team, then they may also be removed from their position. If you notice bullying behavior coming from the rival team during a competition, then you will need to work with the other coach to define the consequences. For instance, they may need to make an apology or a concession within the game.

Model Positive Behavior
During your time as a coach, you have learned that the kids look up to you. After all, you are the one who has mastered their sport, and you have all the know-how to help them grow up to be professional athletes. A good coach is considered to be as much of a role model as they are an authority figure. Make sure that your behavior reflects the same standards that you have established for your team. Never berate a player in front of the rest of the group for something that can be discussed privately. Always praise good sportsmanship, and elevate your weakest team member until they are confident on the field.

Taking a stand against bullying allows every member of your team to develop their confidence by playing their favorite sport in a nurturing environment. As you create your coaching plan this season, make anti-bullying policies a priority. Then, you can work with your players, parents and other coaches to ensure that no kid is harmed by bullying behavior on your watch.

Jessica Kane is a writer for SteelLocker Sports, a leading retailer of brand name baseball equipment at great discount prices.