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Empowering the Bystander in Sport: Tools for Action

October 14th, 2020 Respect Tools & Tips

The goal of sports and other youth activities is for youth to have fun, learn new skills, and to stay safe. All of their supporters, including parents, family members, coaches, and organization staff, have an important role to play when bullying, abuse, harassment, or discrimination, also known as BAHD behaviours, occur. When bystanders witness BAHD behaviours but do not say anything or address the situation, children and youth may think that the behaviour is acceptable, or that nothing can be done to stop it. However, when bystanders step up and address BAHD behaviours, we not only protect our children and youth, but we also teach valuable lessons on which behaviours are unsafe or unacceptable, and how to handle these challenging situations with care and respect.


It takes courage to step up and step in when we see a parent, coach, or youth leader losing control, and it can be hard to know where to start.  Here are some tips to make stepping up and stepping in safer and less intimidating so that you can protect the young people in your care and yourself:


    • People who bully often believe they are speaking for the group. They do not know they have crossed the line unless someone says otherwise. Often, if you point out how others are feeling, the person doing the bullying will understand the impact of their actions and stop.
    • There is power in numbers. If you are witnessing out of control behaviour, chances are other parents are too. Never approach someone alone. Take at least one other person to help diffuse the situation.


    • Research shows that the best way to stop bullying behaviour is to say something calmly and respectfully. If you approach someone angrily or try to intimidate them, you can worsen the situation. Remember, be cool, calm, and respectful.


      • When you step up and step in to approach a bullying individual and they are unwilling to control themselves, don’t get angry and don’t escalate the situation.


      • If you lose your temper the situation will get worse, not better. Walk away, then bring the situation to the attention of the coach and the sport organization.


    • Most of all, never put yourself in danger. If you feel at risk, get to a safe place or with other people. Leave, then call police.

Education is a crucial tool in the bystander’s toolkit. Through a strong understanding of BAHD behaviours, their impacts on children and youth, and how to step up and step in when we witness or suspect these behaviours are occurring, we have the opportunity to keep sport and other youth activities safe and fun for all. You can find more tools and information on empowering the bystander to address BAHD behaviours through our online programs here:


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