John McEntee column: Ulster GAA approach to Anti-Bullying Week to be applauded - but it could have gone further
All sports aim to help kids to flourish, to form friendships, to experience loss or rejection within a safe space.
In addition, they experience many physical and psychological health benefits which encourages them to grow up to become the best versions of themselves.
While the GAA dilutes competitiveness in juvenile age ranks through the promotion of Go-Games, it remains evident that team sports create competitive environments where one's abilities may become a tool to differentiate the weak versus the strong, the hard versus the soft, the big against the small.
Of course, such differentiation is not exclusive to sport, it can be seen in all walks of life from academia to business to social situations.
Difference is to be celebrated, indeed difference is vital. Take football as an example – tall full-forwards such as Kieran Donaghy were every bit as pivotal as the small skilful full-forwards such as Peter Canavan.
Would Down have won in 1994 without the arrogance of wee James McCartan or the drive and determination of DJ Kane, both of whom were important cogs in their system? Or would the current Dublin team be anywhere near as good without the quiet man and talisman James McCarthy or their numerous dynamic super-subs?
In business, some employees struggle to work within a team environment and they can often become a negative influence.
This can lead to domineering, strong-arm behaviours.
Managing such staff can be a nightmare.
It is no different in a sporting context, although the intimidating behaviours are rarely confined to the playing fields.
Being different offers some people opportunities to turn a positive into a negative.
Young men and women socialise in similar circles and they are educated together, they communicate through the same social networks.
So it is not a huge stretch to realise that these negative behaviours can profoundly affect all aspects of one's life?
What I am referring to is peer-on-peer bullying.
We often forget that coaches can be bullies too. Some coaches perceive shouting at kids or targeting them as examples of what not to do as a form of motivation.
Those coaches would do better than to check out the novelist Zack W. Van, the author of Inanimate Heroes, the story of a gay teenager trying to defend himself from bullying.
Zack once said “bullying builds character like nuclear waste creates superheroes. It's a rare occurrence and does much more damage than endowment.”
The attrition rate in GAA is massive and the reasons for high percentage of player loss at the different age ranges require more in-depth analysis.
If intimidation by coaching staff, however subtle, is a contributory factor then the organisation ought to dedicate resources to address this concern.
Ulster GAA is calling on all units of the organisation to take part in Anti-Bullying Week from November 12-16.
On their website www.ulster.gaa.ie they outline the theme for this year's campaign which is ‘respect'.
It looks at how we can encourage children and young people to think about what respect means to them what it feels like to be respected and how they show respect to others.
I like the approach Ulster GAA has adopted here, but I feel they could have gone a step further.
I'd like to have seen their statement say that in response to Anti-Bullying Week Ulster GAA has taken action to ensure every club has formally adopted the anti-bullying policy and that they are rolling out an anti-bullying training programme to all clubs within the province.
My fear is that some clubs may ignore the advice and the important lessons will not become embedded.
The press release by Ulster GAA focuses on one specific type of bullying – cyber-bullying. The advice provided is easily understood, really sound, practical information for parents; the sort of stuff that ought to be read out at a parent-teacher evening in school, a club parent information session, circulated
via the most commonly used social media platforms or even included in the local papers or Mass bulletin.
It is imperative that the topic of anti-bullying gets maximum coverage.
As strange as this may seem, the bully may not always be aware of his actions.
This may be particularly true of juvenile ranks where the actions are peer-on-peer bullying.
What kids do not realise is that their actions have consequences beyond that one moment in time.
Kids do not need to be labelled a victim or a bully. They do not want to be intimidated, nor do they want their friends to become distant because of their behaviours.
This is where the coach must step in and defuse a situation and help the kids to understand their actions in a language that is pitted at their level.
During this Anti-Bullying Week we can all make a conscious effort to talk to our kids about what respect means.
Explore with them how they like to be treated, how they like to be spoken to and what it feels like when a team-mate or a coach speaks to them harshly or treats them differently.
Remind them of another GAA phrase; Give respect, get respect.