Beyond Athletics

You’ll Never Play Your Sport In College If You’re Bullying At School

(Flickr – Oscar Rethwill)

Tough love.

When does it stop being love, and start being completely tough?

That’s a question that’s hit close to home at NCSA Athletic Recruiting. Here’s the story.

One of our athletes, an underclassman basketball player who has a lot of promise, passion and already a great talent for the game, has been calling our recruiting coaches for help on the court, but not for questions we typically answer: how to improve a jump shot, what to say to a college coach, when he should start thinking about unofficial visits.

No; this basketball star was calling because he’s been bullied almost daily, at school and at open gym.

I know I’m not the first person who’s told you that bullying at school isn’t cool.

But what do you do to stop it?

If everyone thinks bullying at school isn’t cool, why does it keep happening?

Here’s a truth bomb: Every day, more than 160,000 kids stay home from school to avoid being bullied: being called names, being mocked for who they are or who their parents are or how they look or how they dress.

There are articles about an epidemic of bullying at school in the U.S., or about how coaches can be too hard on their athletes.

Statistically, physical bullying–that stereotypical type we see on TV, big guys shoving smaller kids into lockers or giving them swirlies–diminishes after high school. Tell that to someone who just had the ball they were using during free gym knocked out of their hand and chucked across the court.

Think about how you can lead.

You’re reading this because you want to play your sport in college.

The people who go on to college athletics are the ones who are at the top of their game, top of their program, top of their teams. They’re the ones who can get their teammates’ and coaches’ support when they need it, and help others in the huddle, on the court, in the parking lot after school.

I think it goes without saying that true student-athlete leaders aren’t the bullies.

But they’re also the ones who realize it’s not funny to make one joke on Twitter about someone. To watch their friends prank someone on Facebook. To stay silent in the locker room.

Don’t be silent.

There’s this famous author named George Saunders (whom you should read, because Coach Chmiel says so) who spoke at a college graduation about living a life without regrets. Here’s the part that’s stuck with me:

Do I regret the occasional humiliation? Like once, playing hockey in front of a big crowd, including this girl I really liked, I somehow managed, while falling and emitting this weird whooping noise, to score on my own goalie, while also sending my stick flying into the crowd, nearly hitting that girl? No. I don’t even regret that.

But here’s something I do regret:

In seventh grade, this new kid joined our class. In the interest of confidentiality, her Convocation Speech name will be “ELLEN.” ELLEN was small, shy. She wore these blue cat’s-eye glasses that, at the time, only old ladies wore. When nervous, which was pretty much always, she had a habit of taking a strand of hair into her mouth and chewing on it.

So she came to our school and our neighborhood, and was mostly ignored, occasionally teased (“Your hair taste good?” — that sort of thing). I could see this hurt her. I still remember the way she’d look after such an insult: eyes cast down, a little gut-kicked, as if, having just been reminded of her place in things, she was trying, as much as possible, to disappear. After awhile she’d drift away, hair-strand still in her mouth. At home, I imagined, after school, her mother would say, you know: “How was your day, sweetie?” and she’d say, “Oh, fine.” And her mother would say, “Making any friends?” and she’d go, “Sure, lots.”

George goes on to describe this girl, who was scared to leave her house, who eventually vanished from his school and his life without a trace. You can tell he’s been thinking about this ever since. And what he regrets is

failures of kindness.

Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded…sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.

But for now, I don’t think I need to belabor George’s point for you: don’t be silent. Don’t respond sensibly.

Respond like a leader.

We’re always here to talk. Not just about your 40 time, or about which camp is best for you. Remember that our scouts and coaches want nothing except for you to succeed.

About the author
Andy McKernan

Andy McKernan is the content strategist at NCSA Athletic Recruiting. A content marketer with a background in creative writing, Andy brings several years of experience to NCSA.