Teasing, taunts and threats: schoolchildren are waging ‘psychological warfare’ on the nation’s playing fields

Children as young as eight are victims of mental and physical bullying on the school playing field, according to research published today by Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) and Chance to Shine.

As schools return from the Easter break, many pupils will view their summer games lessons and matches with trepidation. Two-thirds (66%) of 1,010 parents of children aged eight to 16 polled say they witness different forms of mental intimidation while watching their children play sport. Teasing (43%), swearing (40%), taunts (34%) and verbal threats (16%) are common tactics of the sports bullies.

More than two fifths of parents (42%) say their child lost confidence after being bullied on the playing field, a fifth feel their child was reluctant to take part in sport as a result of the mind games; while one in 10 parents reports that their child gave up at least one sport entirely as a result.

In a separate survey of 1,250 children, aged eight to 16, 68% say they, too, see verbal abuse during school matches and over half (51%) admit to being a victim of teasing, taunts and threats on the sports field. The majority (55%) also witness physical violence, with a quarter of children seeing a team mate deliberately tripped, kicked or pushed over.

To help teach young people how to play matches in a competitive but sporting manner, MCC and Chance to Shine are delivering a nationwide scheme to encourage ‘fair play’ in schools. From today, Chance to Shine coaches will deliver assemblies and lessons in good sportsmanship to around half a million children in 4,000 state schools, as part of the MCC Spirit of Cricket scheme.

According to the research, three fifths of children feel unable to tell anyone about the bullying. Asked ‘why not?’ a number of children say they were ‘too scared’ or that there was’no point’. As one 12 year old explains: “At secondary school you need to sort out your own problems sometimes since your parents cannot do anything about it and the coaches and teachers are often very busy.”

Dads are more likely to notice the mind games when children play sport, but Mums are more likely to take action when they witness it. Mums are far more likely than dads to take the issue up with the teacher or coach; whereas dads are more likely to confront the bully themselves. A third of parents (34%) witness another parent upsetting children involved in a game or match.

It wasn’t all bad news, as the image of the stereotypical sadistic sports teacher seems to be on the decline. Two fifths of parents recall how they were teased, taunted and verbally undermined by their PE teacher or coach when they were at school. Today, however, more than two thirds of children (67%) polled say they had never seen this kind of behaviour by staff.

John Stephenson, Head of Cricket at MCC says, “The results from the survey highlight an alarming trend in school sport, which needs to be proactively addressed. MCC’s ongoing partnership with Chance to Shine provides the perfect vehicle to do this, as children get the opportunity to learn about the MCC Spirit of Cricket principles of playing hard, but fair.”

Wasim Khan, Chief Executive of Chance to Shine adds, “It is worrying to hear that this kind of psychological warfare is being waged on our school playing fields. We are teaching children from a young age to play competitively, but to respect the opposition as well as their team mates. We need to stamp out this bullying in school sport.”

Other highlights of the MCC/Chance to Shine survey include:

Belfast, Birmingham, Cardiff and Liverpool are the cities most affected by mental intimidation by children on the school sports field according to parents in the regions.

16% of children admit getting their own back on the bully.

Almost one in five children say their team mates and opposition have little to no respect for officials on the field of play.

Nearly half of children admit that they like their favourite sports stars less when they see them name-calling, swearing and insulting other players. One in five say they stop liking them entirely.

Wayne Rooney is rated the worst role model for children (18%), closely followed by John Terry (17%). Dads feel the Chelsea skipper sets the worst example to their kids.

Former England cricketer turned sports psychologist Jeremy Snape, director at performance coaching company Sporting Edge, provides his top tips on how to deal with ‘chirping’ on the cricket pitch and other playing fields.


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