The issue of bullying in sports came to the forefront on Vancouver Island recently when the Oak Bay High School junior boys basketball team cancelled the remainder of its season after a serious incident involving the team, which was ranked No. 1 in Victoria at the time.
A photograph described as “highly inappropriate” by the Greater Victoria schools superintendent was taken of one of the players and posted on social media by a teammate, leading to further harassment and abuse from some individuals.
Although only a handful of players on the team were involved in the incident, the majority of them were award of what happened, and the decision was made by school administrators to cancel the season.
Schools in the Cowichan Valley don’t think they are immune to similar situations, and have tried to be proactive about both preventing and addressing bullying within their sports teams.
Some of that involves dealing with bullying the same way one would in any school situation.
“I think a few things come to mind,” said Lucky Walia, athletic director and senior boys head coach at Cowichan Secondary School. “First, when you notice, or hear about bullying, you want to make sure that the person being bullied is safe: feels heard, respected, and cared for. You also want to check in on the person involved with the bullying actions: what is going on with them, what is the context, how can you help manage their behaviour?
“Next, can you help mend the relationship? What was the root of the problem? We do have a district policy with respect to reporting, investigating, corrective actions, and addressing adverse symptoms — you would try to make use of available resources to support students.”
Duncan Christian School has a similar approach that weaves in the school’s faith-based programs.
“At DCS, we emphasize that each person is uniquely and beautifully created, and as such, all people ought to be valued and respected,” athletic director Tom Veenstra said. “Coaches and school staff set the tone for how students on a team treat one another. We want our students to understand the importance of treating one another with love and respect, and coaches are vital in helping guide student athletes to put this into practice.
“Bullying is absolutely contrary to what we value as a school. Bullying destroys relationships and breaks down community — the opposite of what we’re all about. We believe that we are created to live in community with one another and our interactions on and off the court need to nurture positive, healthy relationships.”
As with Cowichan Secondary, early steps involve seeing if the relationship between the victim and bully can be repaired.
“When bullying occurs and is confirmed, we want to take action promptly to stop the destructive behaviour of the bully and work with all involved to provide healing and a restoration of damaged relationships,” Veenstra said. “In general, as a smaller school we tend to find out about incidents of bullying fairly quickly and the strong relationships we work to develop with student athletes helps us work through these issues with them.”
Bullying situations within teams need to be addressed in similar ways to any others, according to Walia.
“With respect to a team, group, classroom, you try to develop a place that encourages healthy relationship skills: having empathy, and being socially responsible,” he said. “If you can model those skills with students, and they see you handling yourself that way with others, hopefully, that’s what they adopt as their way of interacting with people in their lives. To the best that you can, you’d like to create a place where bullying is prevented, rather than trying to manage it after the fact.
“For adults and students, managing emotions, and making good decisions is an important life skill. athletics provide an opportunity to learn how to work with other people, respect each other’s differences, acknowledge shortcomings, and see development and learning as a lifelong process,” Walia said.
Sports teams are expected to be a microcosm of the larger school environment at DCS, Veenstra related.
“Student athletes that demonstrate destructive behaviours such as bullying will have a one-to-one conversation with the coach, often followed by a time to think while sitting on the bench. Depending on the situation, parents and other school personnel may become involved,” he said.
“It’s really important student athletes understand the impact their behaviour has on the rest of the team. If parents or other students notice a situation of bullying, they are encouraged to speak with a coach, myself, or another teacher about the situation. This is not ratting out another student, but simply an effort to keep their fellow students safe. Again, the emphasis on showing love to one another is the key. Of course, we all make mistakes but together with students we do our best to walk this path of love and respect at DCS.”
Duncan Christian has also attempted to help students work positively with new technology, like cell phones and social media.