How to Deal with a Bully Teammate

My son played team sports from age 4 to 24.  It included basketball, hockey, soccer, football, and longest of all – baseball.  He is now the head coach for a junior varsity baseball program.  I asked for his view based on his first-hand experience on this topic.  To be fair, this is one man’s opinion, based on his experience as an athlete and coach.  He played to the professional level, and twenty years of team sports gives a person real-life perspective beyond someone’s theories on the topic.  What follows sounds pretty solid to me.

“The bully in team sports is the most insecure person on the team.  Your child needs to be aware that the trash talk, or abusive antics of intimidation, is a cover for real insecurities about the ability to perform.  The bully is almost NEVER the best player on the team; he’s a wannabe.  The bully doesn’t actually know how he’s going to get what he wants (recognition, credibility, performance-earned attention) so he tears others down to feel more elevated.

The fact that a bully is allowed to operate unchecked by a coach is an indication of a team culture out of control.  When a coach is truly in charge of the culture, bullies don’t survive because their behavior is destructive to team spirit and camaraderie.  In this case a player must choose one of two responses.

Response #1: IGNORE – Go about your business as if this person does not exist.  Do not validate with a response.  Practice your skills, develop your game confidently, and support the others who share your commitment as well as your awareness of the situation.  Isolation for the bully is painful and he will either get ridiculously obvious – which will be humbling in itself – or he will conform to the culture the rest of the players are building.  This can be a slow and time consuming process that isn’t much fun due to the ‘one bad apple’ in the barrel.  Just refuse to join his mentality or allow him to take a leadership role.

Response #2: CONFRONT – Call him out.  If you’re physically a match, and emotionally more mature, stand your ground and tell him to knock it off.  Tell him that there’s no room for personal attacks and negativity on this team.  Challenge him to use his skills, not his mouth, to make it a better team.  Even if he’s a very good player, a bully’s greatest fear is that he can’t produce under pressure.  In fact, calling him out on his lousy attitude will likely cause him to fold.  There is some risk in this approach, but if you believe in yourself and what you stand for, your authenticity will win the day because bullies are phony….and they know it.”

Ultimately parents are the ones responsible for creating bullies.  Kids who are bullied at home become bullies.  Kids who are not loved at home, or valued and respected, become bullies.  Kids who are full of self-doubt and questions about who they really are tend to lash out at others to make themselves feel better.  Whether your child chooses to ignore or confront, make sure he understands that the bully is someone who is wounded, fearful, and alone on the deepest level.  In the final analysis, what he needs is a friend.

4 Responses

  1. I think it is important to not assume that kids who bully are bullied at home, unloved, etc. My teenage son is a sore loser and often times spouts off to his teammates when they aren’t performing to his expectations. My son is also not the most athletic or talented kid on his teams. However, he is not bullied at home, he is not unloved, he is given consequences for his behavior but still chooses to act this way. Often times children can have underlying issues (adoption being one) that cause them to self doubt and lash out at others. Please be sensitive to the fact that adults and children have free will and can choose their actions regardless of how their parents guide and love them.
  2. David Benzel
    Thank you for sharing, Mara. You make a great point.
  3. David, Do you have an email I could ask a question directly. I don't feel like sharing publicly Thank you
  4. David Benzel
    Contact me at

Leave a comment