Combating Bullying Among Youth Hockey Players

By Jessica Kane, SteelLocker Sports

Bullying is described as a significant problem among students of all ages, according to the National Bullying Prevention Center. Some educators, and others associated with students, maintain that bullying remains at epidemic proportions. They maintain this is the case despite some fairly concerted efforts to take on bullying. Indeed, First Lady Melania Trump has made bullying a focal point of her service in office.

Bullying is prevalent in schools themselves. However, it also occurs with alarming frequency at activities that may or may not be directly associated with schools. For example, bullying oftentimes erupts in student athletics, including youth hockey.

Overall Statistics Regarding Bullying

Individual studies attempting to analyze the prevalence of bullying produced wide-ranging results. A comprehensive meta-evaluation of some 80 studies on bullying provides the most focused, and likely accurate, statistical data on the prevalence of bullying in this day and age. This includes bullying associated with athletic programming, including youth hockey.

The comprehensive evaluation and analysis of the 80 reference studies reveal that 35 percent of students are subjected to what oftentimes is termed traditional bullying. The studies suggest that 15 percent of students have been targeted for cyberbullying.

Only 36 percent of bullying incidents are ever reported. In other words, nearly two-thirds of all bullying incidents remain in the shadows.

The three most common reasons students report being bullied are:

  • general physical appearance - 55 percent
  • body shape - 37 percent
  • race - 16 percent

The Incidence of Bullying in Youth Hockey Programs

The prevalence of bullying in youth hockey programs is thought to occur at rates notable higher than that which is reported by studies of the broader community of students. With that said, much of the evidence that bullying occurs at a higher rate is anecdotal.

In the final analysis, whether bullying occurs at generally the same, or at a higher, rate among youth hockey participants isn't the key consideration. The reality is that bullying occurs with regularity among those young people that participate in youth hockey.

Defining and Understanding Bullying in Youth Hockey

Princeton Youth Hockey has adopted a fairly concise definition of what constitutes bullying in a youth hockey setting. The Princeton definition is being appropriated by a growing number of youth hockey leagues and organizations and states:

"Bullying is defined as conduct, gestures or comments which are insulting, intimidating, humiliating, hurtful, malicious, degrading or otherwise offensive to a player, group of players and/or teammates, and which create a hostile or intimidating environment, or which negatively affects a player or player’s performance."

Bullying in the realm of youth hockey is classified as physical and verbal. Delineated examples of physical bullying include pushing, hitting, and kicking another participant. In addition, many youth hockey programs have expanded the definition of physical bullying to include any type of interference with a participant's equipment.

Verbal bullying in your hockey is defined to include name-calling, derogatory insults, and teasing. Special attention is being paid on racial slurs, which are commonplace examples of bullying among students generally and within youth hockey leagues specifically.

Signs and Symptoms of Bullying in a Youth Hockey Program

There exist some telltale signs that a young person is subjected to bullying while participating in a youth hockey program. Two key signs of bullying in this setting are an unwillingness on the part of a young person to attend practice and a lack of desire to associate with team members.

Other signs of bullying include a desire on the part of a youth hockey participant to be picked up immediately after practice concludes and feigning illness before practice or a game.

As bullying progresses, a youth hockey participant may become withdrawn, anxious and start losing confidence in his or her ability as a player. Indeed, a young person may begin to lose confidence more generally. Over time, a young person may start to do poorly in school. A bullied individual may commence bullying others. Finally, a person bullied in a youth hockey program may offer implausible excuses or justifications for these various other symptoms of bullying.

Controlling and Preventing Bullying in Youth Hockey

Princeton University has taken a highly proactive approach in its efforts to tamp down on the occurrence of bullying in youth hockey programs. The strategies adopted by the Ivy League school are being mimicked and adopted by youth hockey organizations across the country.

League-based anti-bullying programs are proving somewhat effective. They appear to be reducing the prevalence of youth hockey bullying by about 25 percent.

One interesting fact associated with bullying more broadly is that 57 percent of all bullying incidents stop when another young person intervenes. Extrapolating from this data, youth hockey league anti-bullying efforts that include peer leadership are proving to be the most effective of all.

Parents and coaches must be vigilant when it comes to both monitoring the conduct of players and being aware of the signs and symptoms oftentimes associated with bullying. Moreover, adults must make youthful hockey players feel comfortable in communicating issues of all types with them, including bullying.

Discussing youth hockey bullying requires reference to the fighting and violence that does occur among professional hockey players. Bullying among youth hockey league players sometimes is glossed over as "being part of the game." In the final analysis, controlling and preventing bullying among youth hockey players will require more professional stepping up to condemn gratuitous fighting and violence on the professional level of the sport.

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