Recreation and Sport Studies

Studying, Experiencing and Facilitating Kinesiology, Recreation and Sport through Wellness and Physical Activity

Bullying in Recreation and Sport Settings

Leave a comment

As a graduating undergraduate in RSS, an article I would like recommend reading is:

Bullying in Recreation and Sport Settings: Exploring Risk Factors, prevention efforts, and Intervention Strategies 

The research journal article is a good read for RSS students and is going to be the subject of discussion. The article is going to be summarized and critically analyzed on certain key points of interest.

Bullying is a social phenomenon that is defined as “repeated negative actions that involve a differential of power whereby the individual who is more powerful attacks or harasses the individual who is less powerful with an intention to harm or disturb” (Olweus, 1993).

The rates of youth being victimized, bullying, or functioning in both roles are different amongst nations.  In the US, 22% boys and 16% of girls reported being victims or bullies. Lithuania in this case has much higher rates of bullying.

People who are victimized by bullies can suffer from a range of problems like bodily harm, depression, social anxiety, loneliness, and thoughts of suicide. People who have been bullied reported having higher rates than those who were not bullied to experience health maladies such as sleeping problems, stomach aches, and headaches.

What is more, bullying is known to ostracise under-represented populations like immigrants, the disabled, overweight, sexual minorities, and more. People who are bullied tend to be more likely to not participate in sports or recreation activities. Being subject to bullying, while simultaneously participating in sport or recreation activities can even further intensify the ostracization the victim receives. Where the phenomenon of bullying really becomes an extraordinary problem is that bullies tend to be disenfranchised people themselves who experience internal problems like anxiety, depression, academic challenge, and lack of social skills. In a sense, bullies in themselves can be subjects of wide societal bullying. It is an interesting scenario where the bully and victim end up being more similar than not based on their respective internal struggles.

The study involved subjective interviews with program supervisors/leaders and the data was collected from 31 organizations throughout the province of New Brunswick. The study reflects individual experiences and perceptions on bullying, thus it was shown how people have different ideas on how to go about managing the risk of bulling in recreation settings.

Competitive Program Activities

When two people are pinned against each other in a competitive environment, aggressive behaviour ensues. This is no surprise, because the very nature of competition is to compare who is better; or in other words, competition is a zero-sum game. It is natural for people who thrive in this type of environment to flourish, while people who do not thrive can become slightly ostracized. This situation even goes as far too when people want to win games, they will blame lesser players as the weak link in competitive teams. As such, bullying is very prevalent in competitive sports.

With that said, one cannot just simply take away competition. It is a good way to learn skills and be vigorous in one’s life. The best way to manage bullying in these environments is to change the focus of competitive sports to personal development of one’s own abilities. The literature showed that the organization that made this paradigm shift caused a significant decline in bullying incidents.

Psychologically healthy competition has been shown to be associated more with ‘personal development competition’ and the need for affiliation, whereas ‘hyper-competitiveness’ was not (Ryckman, 1996). So altering the sport atmosphere by emphasising the process of becoming more competent, rather than winning and dominating is healthier on the individual’s behavior in socializing with their peers.

But changing the nature of competition is not necessarily eliminating competition. A hammer can be used for good (building a house) and bad (bashing someone’s brains in). Hence, it would be illogical to ban hammers from usage as they are not inherently bad. This logic applies to competition. One could make the argument that hyper-competitiveness can even be used to serve its own compatible ideologues or societies, but that is for a different discussion.

The main point of most of my critique is that competition and bullying are not a crisis as neither can be eliminated; only reduced. What is more, bullying is something that is inherently natural to us. Also, these are extraordinary problems with no clear solution, many variables, and requires mass amounts of resources to temporarily fix this ever changing problem.

Peer Group Dynamics

Peer group dynamics are inherently seen to harbour bullying behaviour amongst the respective members within the study’s interviews and self reported observations. The setting that was most notable for harbouring bullies was camp grounds. Bullying occurred when a new group member was added to the social group within a camp setting.


Now the camp leaders did not necessarily eliminate the bullying or pecking order. No, they did something far more efficient in which I’m sure eluded their own awareness. The camp leaders took up the mantle as the ‘bully’, on top of the pecking order and used this power dynamic to engineer a more accepting social environment that was ideal to that leader. You see, by bullying the bully, the camp leaders were then able to reduce the bullying behaviour performed by those below themselves. The only difference this behaviour of managing the group dynamic of bullying has, is that it creates a new idea disguised as a new form of bullying, with the intent on creating intolerance for bullying. The idea of the bully being a victim themselves is not as crazy as it may seem.


Marano (2013) claims that we tend to approach the concept of bullying with sensationalism and with the victim in mind, but that reality might be contradictory. Those who seem to be most negatively affected by bullying are none other than the bully’s themselves. We can talk about the few cases of child suicides from bullying, but this is overshadowed by the reality that bullies tend to be disenfranchised. It is bully’s who accumulate the majority of problems, such as solitary confinement, dropping out of school, work interferences, toxic relations, mental health issues, abuse of loved ones, and possibly more. This complexity of bullying shows that organizations may not have a solid grasp on the concept as they hoped to. No condescension intended as the question is asked, how many of us actually have a complete grasp on the scope of the ‘bully’ concept?

With that said, I am impartial on my belief towards managing bullying behaviour, even though it sounds as if I support bullying; I just call a spade like I see it.


Unstructured Time

An interesting method to managing bullying that was seen, was allowing children to have unstructured time with no minimal authority presence. Unstructured time was most associated with conflict, so why is this good method to managing bullying? What unstructured time does, it provides moments where people can learn what is acceptable and not acceptable within their group culture. Also, one can build social ties with others by learning conflict resolution skills, which is something that is hard to learn with intervention strategies.

Frans, B.M (2000) goes into detail on how conflict resolution has actually been an important aspect in group relations through evolutionary history amongst primates. He discovered that what other primates have in common with humans is building stronger relationships through conflict. Chimpanzees were an example for this. After primates get into a fight with another of their kind, they tend to kiss, hug and build more cohesiveness through the process of conflict. Humans display the same interactions when not controlled, which is why children should have time for informal activities, as to have time where conflicts are not mediated, as this can be objectively utilized as an opportunity to instill more self-reliant behaviours (the resolution of conflict in humans may not always come in the form of hugs and kisses). Of course, with proper training and knowledge, a supervisor can educate children to want to display good behaviour (generally to a degree).

Others Summary points

The last points that this summary did not exclusively critique are going to be the focus of this last piece. Many organizations used training programs to prepare their employees for emergent bullying incidents. Some training strategies were used to socially immerse the victim and engage the whole peer group. This was used to make the group aware of the exclusion that has occurred and put ownership on them to take the right actions toward creating an inclusive environment. This is contrary to the usual solution of bringing the victim and bully together, which program leaders stated is not an effective strategy. Some staff was more lenient on bullying and saw it as something that is natural and to a degree, out of their area of influence. The staff who were lenient on bullying, were most notably seen to lack anti bullying training.

Communication between staff and parents was another anti-bullying strategy. This allowed for staff to share problems in order to collectively find a solution and discover behavioural issues with individual children. Also, the opposite of what was stated earlier on unstructured time was implemented; this is supervision.

Another form of bullying was a spillover effect from other settings. Many sport or recreational bullying did not manifest in that site, but originated from schools, or other settings. Bullies may coincidently be involved in the same extracurricular sites as the victim, or the victim’s reputation may haunt him outside of their original site of being bullied.


The article by Charlene Shannon is a good read as it brings up a lot of good discussion points because of its subjective interviewing.

Please, feel free to comment below about your thoughts on bullying in recreation and sport settings.


Frans, B.M. (2000). Primates–A Natural Heritage of Conflict Resolution. Science Magazine, 289(5479), 586-590. Retrieved from:

Marano, H.E. (2013). Big Bad Bully. Psychology Today. Retrieved from:

Olweus, D. (1993). Bullying at school. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

Rivers, I. (2001). The bullying of sexual minorities at school: Its nature and long-term correlates. Education and Child Psychology, 18(1), 23-45.

Ryckman, R et al. (1996). Construction of a Personal Development Competitive Attitude Scale. Journal of Personality Assessment, 66(2), 374-385.

Shannon, C.S. (2013). Bullying in Recreation and Sport Settings: Exploring Risk Factors, Prevention Efforts, and Intervention Strategies. Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, 31(1), 15-33.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s