How to Deal with a Bully | Q&A with Coach Rebecca

Today’s Topic: How to Deal with a Bully

  • Bully Coaches, Bully Moms and Bully Kids

About Me

Hi everybody. Welcome to Monday night Q&A with Coach Rebecca. I’m Rebecca Smith. I’m a high performance coach, the founder of the Perform Happy Community and Complete Performance Coaching, which provides methods and tools for athletes age eight to 18 and their support squad, their coaches and their parents, to get the very most out of sport. Whether that’s overcoming mental blocks, or finding flow, building confidence. There are so many different tools that I want to give you guys so that, whether you’re the athlete, the coach, or the parent, you are able to get the very most out of the sport experience.

I am here every week at 4:30PM on the Complete Performance Coaching Facebook Page answering questions from members of the Perform Happy Community, and then also if people send me questions throughout the week, sometimes those get sneaked in.



Today, I was inspired by an email that I got from a person who’s been following the email list and enjoying the content. She asked me about bullying. I thought, this is one of the most common weeks that kids are starting to go back to school, and it breaks my heart thinking back to my own seventh grade experience. I’ve had so many clients who come to me for fear. Then, I come to find out that it’s actually a bullying situation that’s really causing a lot of their lack of confidence.  Once they have some strategies to overcome the bully situation, they’re able to handle their fear in sports, in school and all over the place.

This is something that I’ve had a training on already in the Perform Happy Community for the parents, but I wanted to give you guys a little taste of it here, too. Because I am so passionate about bringing kindness to sport and bringing a culture of love and togetherness instead of this dog eat dog, cut throat, you’re in or you’re out, you’re good or your bad kind of thing that’s really taking over a lot of youth sports.

I’ll read the questions, and then I’m going to give you guys my take. I would love to have your feedback here.

  • What do you think?
  • How do you handle it?
  • What do you do if your kid is doing this?

We have a private Facebook page for members just for the parents so that they can talk this stuff out. So you guys feel free. Have a conversation, let me know how you feel about this topic. Here are the questions. First question is,

Q: I’m looking to find some resources on bullying. A friend’s daughter is constantly being bullied to the point where she questions whether the sport is fun anymore. The bully’s one of the best athletes in the state, and the one being bullied is second on her team, a threat. To complicate the situation, the bully’s parents are bullies as well. Makes sense that the behavior is a learned trait. Personally, I think the team needs a strong code of conduct and consequences when the rules aren’t followed. Plus, the coaches are responsible for setting the tone and what is accepted and not accepted in the community. However, the bully’s family is intense to the extent that the entire family cries near the finish line when the daughter finishes second in a race, rather than taking the win.

Totally agree. Anyone’s who’s been following me for a while knows this is not my vibe. I praise effort. When my little girl goes pee pee on the potty, I talk about how she worked hard, not that she’s a good girl. That’s so incredibly important to me, to make sure that our kids know it’s about the effort, it’s not about whether they win or lose. If the whole family’s falling apart for second place, it’s another kind of heartbreaking thing. Because then this kid is going to go foreword thinking she’s only got value when she wins, and if she doesn’t win, that’s not okay.

That’s at least what I’ve seen among all the clients I work with who were raised in this “win or go home” kind of mentality. Then, I reached out to my Perform Happy parents groups and got a couple more questions that I think are great to kind of add to the discussion. One of them is,

Q: How do you respond when a higher level gymnast constantly criticizes gymnasts on lower levels? This has not happened to my daughter yet, hopefully it never will happen, but my daughter tells me about it constantly. This is behavior that is encouraged by the coaches.

Q: Can we talk about gym mom bullies? I had a recent situation where our team level was harshly criticized by a higher level team mom about the skills our girls don’t have yet and how our level sevens need to uphold the team standards of winning, et cetera.


Typically bullying is a culture rather than just a person. If anybody has seen Dance Moms, you guys know. Or if anyone’s been on a sport team, you know about the bully moms. Okay, so we’ve got bully coaches, we’ve got bully moms and we’ve got bully kids. This is just reality, which is so sad, but it’s the truth. I’m going to give you guys some research, some tips, what to do if it’s happening to your kid, what to do if it’s happening in your gym, what to do if it’s happening to you or to your friend. I’m going to give you guys lots of different suggestions so that hopefully this will be the year of less bullying. That’s what I want to put out there to the universe.

What can you control?

If you’re the mom in the observation room going, “Oh my gosh, that mom needs to be quiet about my kid or about my team.” You kind of just take it in stride and go, “All right. I can’t control her. I can’t control her reaction.” Just like the first question, almost always there’s a threat. Where there’s some kind of insecurity that is underlying bullying.

Something I’ll talk about in a bit is that bullying is never about the person who’s being bullied. It’s about the bully. No matter who is getting bullied, if you weren’t there, somebody else would be getting bullied by this same person who’s in pain or just has a really skewed perspective or just isn’t feeling good about themselves. And if you take an honest look at yourself and think, have I ever been a bully? Have I ever said anything to someone else that I later looked back on and went, “Ew. That didn’t feel good.”

The answer’s probably yes. We’ve all been in those moments where we snap at somebody or maybe somebody’s threatening and you just want to tear them down a little bit so you get to feel better. Or you want to gossip or you want to just do something to make yourself feel a little bit better by comparison.

If you think about how that feels, how that actually feels. I mean, it might feel real good in the moment because you’re justified and self-righteous and they had it coming and oh my gosh, they’re so awful. But really, it doesn’t feel good. The first thing to do is have a little compassion for that mom who’s running her mouth in the observation room, just go, “Oh, honey. Okay, whatever. That’s not my deal. Good luck with that.” But I’m going to give you guys some concrete suggestions, too, beyond that.

Team Culture – Teams Want to Win

I was looking into team culture. I do a lot of leadership training with local high school teams, and I am looking for statistics on team culture, and the statistics on high level industries. These industries that are insanely profitable, there are these huge differences in profit based on team culture. There are also huge differences in success rates based on team culture in division one collegiate athletes. It’s obvious that having a good team culture, a positive team culture, actually has huge benefits to the outcomes. We’re not praising outcome, but outcome is something we want. We want to win, right? You guys don’t do this sport so that you can be last all the time. Of course, if you are, you can learn a valuable lesson.

But if you’re losing all the time, maybe it’s something to look at, looking at the team culture. Or if only a couple people are winning and everyone else is miserable, it’s something to look at. There was a study done in 2010 on ten division one NCAA teams. These head coaches took over teams that were unsuccessful and turned them into championship level teams within five years. 10 coaches took struggling collegiate teams and put them up to championship level within five years. Here are the consistent things about culture, they all:

  • had changes in team culture
  • create core values that were specific to this team and these individuals
  • taught these core values
  • recruited athletes with these core values
  • punished and rewarded consistent with the values

That’s basically what question number one was asking. So, yes, I agree. And so does the research.

Create a List of Values

If you come up with a system of values, things that are important to the people on the team that everyone can get behind, you don’t let people on the team who are not consistent with these values. Parents who are not consistent with these values, you don’t let them on the team or you offer them a different option because it’s just not the place for that.

That’s when you’re going to have noticeable changes in your culture, and also changes in your level of success. I’m going to give you guys. What more research dictates is indicative of a sound culture. Here are some examples. A sound culture allows, facilitates, and encourages the flourishing of people within it so they can achieve their purpose. This is a place free from oppression, free from persecution, free from abuse or bullying of any kind.

In order to be considered a sound culture within a team, there can be no bullying. There can be no picking on. There’s no persecuting, there’s no abuse. Even if it doesn’t seem like abuse, “it’s just the way it’s done,” quote on quote. The way that coaches talk to kids in any other situation would be considered abuse. So those things have to disappear from the sport arena in order to have the best successes. In a sound culture, people are never seen as collateral damage or a means to an end. “Well, that kid just had it coming or didn’t fit. It’s okay if they get raked over the coals because the team’s winning.” That can never be okay on a sound team culture.

What is Sound Culture and What is Bullying?

An injured athlete should never be required to keep training or playing. If a doctor has encouraged an athlete to take a break or stop or modify, and a coach is encouraging them to keep going, that is not a sound culture and that is bullying. And it’s not safe, and it’s very common. I talk to athletes all the time who I’m like, “Do you actually know when you’re in too much pain to stop?” And they don’t know, they just keep going, which ends up in long-term a lot bigger setbacks for the coach and for the team, and of course, for the athlete.

In a sound team culture, an athlete should not be assaulted or abused by a coach in order to force them to perform or fear punishment. Pretty much every scared athlete I’ve talked to has, at one time or another, been threatened or bullied or borderline abused by a coach. Being yelled at in order to perform, and if they don’t perform, they will be punished. And that is not something that builds the type of culture that leads to long-term success emotionally, physically, or athletically.

And then, finally, as far as examples of a strong team culture, an athlete should never be forced to compromise his or her own integrity in order to look the other way or maintain the reputation of a club or a team. Now, I’m looking at you USA gymnastics. There was so much looking the other way in elite gymnastics over the last two decades or more, that girls were literally being physically and sexually abused. It’s this culture of well, just don’t look that way because we’re at this great gym and we can’t have this get out. It’s got to be about the humans. Humans flourishing, not a club looking good. Okay, so there’s my high horse about that. Now, here’s how we lead by example.

How we Lead: The Three C’s

I’ve got six C’s that are ways that you can start to lead by example and some potential values that you might introduce to your team if you’re a coach.

Number One, Commitment

You are self-motivated, self-disciplined, you’re passionate about the team’s success, and your competitive. Okay? Now, all of these values can be adopted by parent, coach, and athlete. And, of course, if everybody adopts them, then everybody benefits.

Second is Confidence

You believe in yourself on and off the court or the field or the gym, you want to perform in pressure situations, and you feel mentally, emotionally resilient after mistakes. The next one is composure. You’re able to keep your emotions in check, you can control your negative emotions. This goes for coaches, parents, and kids.

  • If the parents are falling apart at the finish line, what do you think the kids are going to do?
  • If the coaches are falling apart and getting enraged and upset, what do you think the kids are going to do? What do you think the parent’s are going to be encouraged to do?

Third is Character

The person who is part of a team with strong values has character. They do the right thing, whether or not anybody’s watching. On the field, off the field, in the gym, out of the gym. They’re responsible, they’re accountable, they’re reliable, they’re honest with each other, they’re trustworthy, they treat people with respect, and they show empathy. Now, this all boils down to context.

Context is like the bowl that the jellybeans sit in. The jellybeans are the athletes, the bowl is the parents and the coaches. You are holding them in a particular position by your behavior. The way that coaches and parents behave directly results in the way that athletes behave. You have to check yourself. If you’re seeing anything negative, then make sure first that you’re behaving in the right way. And then you can start to encourage others to behave that way, too.

Encourage Others to Behave That Way Too

And the way that you encourage is by being of service. You go out of your way to help people. Build people up, you build confidence, you re-focus on the positives. You build the team, you encourage people to talk to you if they’re having problems so that that way, you start to counteract that negative energy. Instead of just being like, “Ugh, that woman is crazy.” You go, “Hey, what can we do to help? How can I help these people to all feel like we’re part of the same team? Why don’t I throw a pool party and have everybody over? Let’s all bond.” You can put yourself out there. If you’re looking and going, “Oh my gosh, everybody else… ” Take a look. What can you do to help build that team culture yourself? Even as a parent, or especially of course as a coach.

Maybe You’re Not Bullying, But you Are

Now, here are some traps that people fall into that make it seem like maybe you’re not bullying, but you are. So get real honest with yourself and ask, “Do I ever do these things?” Do you ever bully based on free speech? “I can say whatever I want, it’s a free country.” Tit for tat. “Well, she did this, so I can do this.” Or being self-righteous. “It was just one mistake. Oh, I’m not a gossip. I just happened to say that one thing.” Or, “Nobody’s perfect. I can’t be expected to be nice all the time.” “Don’t take things so seriously. Come on, get over it.”

What will be next? “I didn’t have any choice but to say that or to let them know how I was feeling.” Or, “It didn’t do any harm, it’s just words.” Or, “It was for a good cause.” Or, “It was a stupid rule anyway, so it should have been followed.” Or, “Everybody does it.” That’s a big one. “If I don’t do it, someone else will. I might as well be the one that says it. It’s not my fault. There are worse things to do.”

Or when you’re justifying your kid’s behavior, “Boys will be boys. That’s just how they are. They’ll grow out of it. These are not ordinary times.” Or, “It’s for his own good, he needed to know that.” All of those excuses and justifications do not make bullying okay. They just don’t. So, don’t make excuses for your kids, if you are. I’m sure most of you guys don’t, but just be aware. Sometimes the things that we say to justify are clues that the behavior itself is not something that we want to be bringing to a healthy team.

How to Deal with Bullies: The Warning Signs

First, I’ll tell you the warning signs. First of all, the kid gets anxious. Maybe they’re acting differently, maybe they’re avoiding certain situations that they used to walk head first into. They don’t want to go to practice, they don’t want to ride the bus to school. Something like that. I’ll give you a crash course. We have this whole training is actually in the Perform Happy Community. A talk I did not so long ago for the parents on exactly what to do if you’re being bullied. So if you’re interested, you can go over to, get yourself on the wait list for when we let people back in. It shouldn’t be too long. We got to make sure we have spots.

How to Talk About it With Your Child

Here’s something that I’ll give you guys before I sign off. You got to bring it up in a round about way. So you don’t want to be like, “Hey, tell me if you’re being bullied.” They’re going to be like, “No, mom. You’re weird.” Instead, you might be watching something on TV where you see somebody getting picked on and you say something like, “What do you think about this? What do you think that person should have done? Have you ever seen anything like that happen? Has that ever happened to you?” Those are the type of nonchalant ways that can be really effective to open up a conversation.

You can also talk about your own experiences. I have a whole slew of seventh grade experiences that I will gladly share with my daughter. Hopefully she won’t have to get into that place, but I’ve got those and I’m happy to share with her the way that it felt when those boys said those things to me. It’s just … It sticks with you, and it’s awful. And that will be my way of encouraging her to not add to the problem. Also, emphasize it is critical that you talk to somebody about it.

One of the ways that bullies really get into your head is by saying, “If you saying anything about it, I’ll X, Y, Z. Don’t tell anybody or I’ll make your life hell.” And that’s something that keeps you really isolated if you’re being bullied, so you have to immediately talk to an adult. Immediately talk to an adult. Don’t wait. Talk to a teacher, a school counselor, a family friend, a sibling. Anybody. Send me an email, Tell me what’s going on so that we can help you through it.

What to do if You’re Being Bullied

I’ll give you a quick crash course before we finish up today’s session.

  1. Get away. Get out of there.
  2. Use the buddy system. Make sure you have somebody with you. If you know you’re walking into a situation where you’re going to run into a bully, take somebody with you who you can trust. Just don’t be alone.
  3. Then kind of the best way to approach it is, act brave, walk away, ignore the bully. So how do you act brave? You pretend like the bully has no power over you. You pull your shoulders back, your chin up, you walk tall, you breathe. Even if your terrified and you’re losing your mind, you count to 10 and breathe and just keep your poker face on. Pretending like you’re brave, like it has no effect on you, even if it’s totally crushing your soul. Practice not reacting, and then act bored. “Okay. Is that all you have to say? See yeah? Whatever, who cares?” Something like that where you can quickly just go, “So?” And then walk away.
  4. Then just ignore them. Anything else that comes from them, you just ignore. And you want to be as boring as possible for this bully. If you’re reacting or you’re, “No, it’s not!” Any kind of reaction is going to encourage the behavior, so be a really boring target.

That’s the goal. Tell an adult, and don’t retaliate. And just remember, it’s not about you. It’s not because you stink or whatever they’re saying. Not at all. It’s because that bully is going through something. So it’s not personal, it feel personal. And they make it sound very personal, but it’s not. It’s about the pain that’s going on in that bully that they don’t know how to process and they’re taking it out on you. So just remember, you’re brave, you’re worthy, you’re lovable. And it’s okay to be you, even if they make you feel like it’s not okay.

If you See Somebody Getting Bullied

This goes for somebody on a train, this goes for adults, at school, at the gym. Be a buddy. Go with somebody. If they’re scare of somebody or they look a little uneasy, go with them. Hang out with them before, during, and after. If there’s a snack break, hang out there. Speak up. Say something, “Hey, you’re being a bully. Cut it out. You’re being rude.” Say something. Then also tell an adult. I keep saying that. Tell an adult. “My friend’s getting picked on by this kid. You might want to keep an eye on it.” Just know that if you’re the person standing up, you’re actions do make a difference.

What to do if You’re Kid Tells you About Being Bullied

You start counting to 10 and breathing. Listening calmly, don’t react. Listening calmly, offer comfort and support. Praise them for doing the right thing for coming to you. And remind them they’re not alone. Because they’re going to feel very lonely in this bullied situation. Reassure them that you’re going to figure it out together. “I’ve got you. We’re going to work through this. We’re going to take care of it.” And then take it very seriously and you go to a teacher, a principal, coach, the gym owner, whoever it is. And make it a very serious issue. You guys know based on what’s in the media and what’s on the TV, this is not an issue that you want to mess around with. You dig right in and take care of it.

How to Rebuild Their Confidence

Have them spend time with positive influences. Encourage them to talk about the good parts of their day:

  • What are you grateful for?
  • Who are your favorite people?
  • What’s going well?
  • Who do you like?
  • Who takes care of you when you’re feeling sad?

Help them to get back in the positive. Let them know that you believe in them and that you will do whatever you can to address any bullying, and let them just know that they can keep coming to you. And how to get your power back. Finally, is avoid isolation. Talk about it. Don’t hide in your fear. Talk to your parents, talk to your coaches, talk to your teammates. Seriously, send me an email. I will help talk you through it. ‘Cause I don’t want anybody to feel isolated in this. It is not your fault, it is not okay, and it has to stop.

All right, everybody. We’re out of time for today. Thank you so much for joining me, and happy back to school if that’s what you’re up to this week. Reach out to me, if you have any questions and go to if you want to join us in the community. I will be back here next week, Monday 4:30 Pacific to answer your questions. Until then, bye.

Is your gymnast struggling with mental blocks or fear?  Check out my FREE resource for parents.