How Sport Helped Me Overcome Bullying.
We live in a world where bullying within school and sport has become common place. Not only do kids nowadays have to deal with direct bullying, but also cyber bullying where threats can come from anywhere over the internet. It’s a slippery slope that our kids are forced to walk.
Growing up, through the late parts of primary (elementary) school I changed schools. I guess when I look back on it I could be a bit of a bully myself. Particularly through grades 4-7. I got in a lot of fights, was what my teachers always called a “distraction in class” and did not treat people the way they should have been treated. It was many years later that even thought about that.
I went from a co-ed school that was a 10-minute walk from my house, to an all-boys school that was a 30-minute bus ride away. I hated it from the get go. All my best friends remained local, but not me. My parents thought the education would be better, and our next-door neighbors spoke glowingly about the school. (In hindsight, it was not all that bad but it took me a LONG time to reconcile that!)
Grades 7 – 12 were pretty much a nightmare, particularly grades 7 – 10. All the other dudes grew, I did not. I still had a bad attitude and was loud and payback….as they say, was a bitch. By grade 8 I worked out a change of tactics was needed, so I really tried to get on with everyone. I was then given a hard time for that, trying to be “one of the boys”. I was always emotional, and had a thin skin, so I was an easy target. When I would show off for the cool crew, the butt of my jokes would come after me (and rightfully so). I just could not win!
The thing that at least kept things somewhat balanced at school was that I was decent at sports, and participated as much as possible. We had to play for our school, and could not play for our club teams, so I was forced to play with my classmates. It was definitely a good thing. I felt valued, and held my own. When I was 15 I had my trachea broken playing rugby, so that ended that for the next 5 years!
At about 13 I was seriously getting into surfing. My best friend from across the road got me hooked and I started reconnecting with all my old friends from around my area. All I wanted to do was surf, and when it was flat, we would skate. I had a new crew of friends that all had the same passion. It was my solace. It was where I totally felt me. I fit. I had a crew, and a culture that I was part of. Size, cliques, school you went to did not matter. It set me free. I was part of a tribe.
School now became manageable. I saw it as a job, and an annoyance that I could suffer from 9 – 3.30 pm. I could surf before school and after school. My parents supported me. As long as my grades were OK and I was keeping up with my homework they were good. They were steadfast on that rule. I was all good to work until 10 or 11 at night as long as I could surf in the morning and after school. Without surfing, and sport in general, I don’t know where I would be!
Sport taught me how to value people as individuals. It taught me to work hard. It taught me it was a privilege that had to be earnt. It taught me time management. It made me go out and get a job so I could afford to do it. It taught me independence, it taught me about adversity, disappointment and how to overcome it. It taught me about friendship, loyalty…it taught me how to stand tall and trust myself. It was mine and mine alone…. I owned it. It changed my life forever in a positive way. Surfing, in particular, has given me lifelong friends from all over the world. It has led to a career, a calling, and a way to effect positive change in the lives of people.
As coaches and parents, we need to remember that there are many kids like me where sport is their “happy place”. My parents were smart enough to identify that. We must ensure that bullying, hazing, abuse and harassment are NEVER accepted in sport. The kids need to own it. It’s their journey and we are blessed to help guide them. The effect that sport can have on all parts of a child’s life are real and massive. I’m living proof of it.
The good news? I am now super close with all my friends from school. We were all dumb kids trying to fit in. Kids that bullied me were feeling the exact same peer pressure I was. In conversations with them, they never realized how hard school was for me. But we are all grown ass men now. I value their friendship so much now, and value the guys there that always had my back. Many of them have similar stories. Kids all over the globe have similar stories.
Whether its sport, dramatic arts, music…. you name it……they can be things that help kids navigate and thrive through those confusing years. Encourage it, value it and support it!