How To Prevent Hazing on Your Youth Sports Team

Although it is most commonly associated with college fraternities and sororities, hazing can happen in any type of organized group, at any age. Coaches and parents can begin heading off hazing early by starting the conversation sooner rather than later with your child or athletes. It is important to know what hazing is, how it relates to bullying, and how to identify hazing in a group. Here are several common questions answered for you to help prevent hazing on your youth sports team. 

What is hazing?

Hazing is harassment, abuse, or humiliation as a way of initiating a person into a group. Established members of the group force new members to go through rituals in order to become accepted into the group. It may be easy to identify hazing practices that cause pain and physical discomfort. However, more subtle hazing practices that lead to emotional pain and suffering may not be so easy to see.

How does hazing relate to bullying?

Hazing is not bullying, but it leaves similar emotional and psychological scars. Bullying is an act of aggression by an individual or or group with the goal of intentionally hurting the victim in some way. Hazing often hurts the target too, but harm isn’t the main purpose. The goal of hazing is to initiate the target into an exclusive group.  Hazing is a ritual with the belief that it will bring the members closer together. This is contrary to bullying, which is designed to keep the victim out of the group. Bullying is about ostracizing people and excluding them in some way. 

Who hazes?

Hazing occurs in almost every kind of group, from sports teams to cheerleading, from band to theater, from service and religious organizations to honor societies. Hazing is most commonly associated with fraternities, sororities and athletic teams. The people hazing others are all part of the same group and justify their actions by calling it a ritual or a tradition. For many, though, hazing is nothing more than an organized form of bullying. 

How do you recognize the signs of hazing?

Hazing can take many different forms. The most common ways in which people haze others is by:

  • Swearing or yelling insults at victims
  • Assigning embarrassing tasks for victims, like wearing a costume in public
  • Banning victims from associating with certain people
  • Depriving victims of necessities such as sleep or food
  • Forcing victims to binge drink or participate in drinking games
  • Making victims act as a personal servant to older group members

How do you openly discuss hazing and how to prevent it?

There is no denying that hazing is dangerous both physically and emotionally. Here are four ways parents and coaches can openly discuss hazing on your sports teams.

  1. Start early. Similar to bullying prevention, it is important to begin to talk about hazing issues while kids are young. Fifth or sixth grade is a good time to start talking about hazing, before they enter middle school. Hazing can start as early as middle school and is more commonplace in high school and college. 
  2. Talk about the risks. Be sure your kids know that membership on a team or in an organization is never worth putting their life at risk. Don’t gloss over the risks associated with hazing. Instead, use real-life examples and talk about the deaths and injuries that have resulted from hazing incidents.
  3. Give them tools to deal with hazing. Self-confidence and assertiveness are good first steps toward heading off hazing. Talk about ways in which they could effectively handle hazing situations. Remind them that they can always say no to what is requested of them. No group membership is worth sacrificing their values or their safety.
  4. Teach your child how to identify healthy groups. A healthy group or club would never ask someone to compromise who they are in order to be part of the group. And if they do, this is probably not a group they want to join. Be sure your kids also know the qualities of healthy friendships and how to set boundaries. This knowledge will go a long way in helping to prevent hazing incidents later on in life.

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