There's one in every group, whether it's in an office, a classroom or on an athletic team. It's the group jerk; a bully who picks on others with demeaning or aggressive comments, perhaps giving a shove or two that backs up his or her bullying tactics. If the bully is an adult, the tactics may be more subtle; gossip or innuendo that will sabotage a reputation or a career, or distract a player.
Most people turn their head and allow the jerk to proceed. Others egg the action on, eager to see a fight. If you're an athlete, you've probably seen more than one of these jerks. The biggest problem is that an upfront bully actually distracts the group or team from their purpose – which is to concentrate, focus and win.
Even a game of basketball H-O-R-S-E may have a jerk who says negative things about another player. If it happens in any group you are in, whether informal like a pickup game, or formal like a league or official team, you can stop it by calling out the bully. Even a one-word call out, like "Hey!," when a negative remark is made, will suffice.
Few jerks will continue their bullying behavior if it's always (and that means always) addressed by teammates.
Athletes especially can be drawn into the disruption caused by a jerk. This kind of character may often be too subtle for others in the group to actually notice what's going on. He or she may attack another member of the group via a text or comment on social media. Or there may be rolled eyes or a loud sigh when the person being attacked flubs up.
The jerk's behavior often affects the entire roster. Some players may agree that the person the bully is picking on is an athlete with few to no skills, and so the team turns against the victim. But the problem with allowing that kind of jerky behavior is that it will spread. Think about it – haven't you, as an athlete, seen someone being aggressive towards another teammate or even to a member of the other team? Did you notice how it seemed like it was contagious? Didn't it affect the atmosphere of the game or activity?
But calling out the team or league jerk is also risky. That person's negative behavior might be turned to you, making you a target. The best way to prevent that is to address the situation in a way that puts you with the team, and puts the jerk outside it. This will take courage. It also means avoiding the word "you." It's best to never use a phrase similar to, "You are being a jerk."
A good call out that puts you with the team, but isn't insulting, is something to the effect of, "When something like that is being said, it affects the rest of us." The phrase, "And not in a good way," can be added if you feel comfortable saying it.
The scientific fact, proved in numerous studies, is that bullies often feel themselves to be on the edge of being a loser themselves, and have a subconscious urge to point out that his or her victim is the real loser. Perhaps the jerk actually feels that the victim is holding the team or group back, and wants to drive them away, out of the group, off the team. If this is currently happening, it's almost certainly not the first time. Jerky behavior often develops and grows in a person. Also worth noticing is that the bully is rarely the best athlete on the team or in the group
If it's a situation that continuously happens in the locker room, that's when it's easiest to draw attention to the behavior. "Hey, that kind of stuff doesn't need to be said." Notice that the comment isn't accusatory. Again, don't use the word "you," which automatically fixes blame.
All of this is especially true for younger athletes who still play for school teams. Emotions are easily aroused among those approaching their teenage years and those who are teenagers. You, as a member of a group or team may not feel comfortable elevating the situation to the ears of a coach or other official. But it is truly ethical to call attention to others not directly affected by the behavior, because once noticed and addressed, the jerk will almost always back off.
Wina Sturgeon is the editor of the online magazine Adventure Sports Weekly , which offers the latest training, diet and athletic information.