Thursday, November 14, 2013


I had a couple other things I wanted to talk about. Lots of fights lately, some training stuff, but this story hit me a little too close to home. I'm not going to comment on the specifics of the whole Martin-Incognito debacle, because I don't know them. What I do know is that I've seen a lot of bullying on different sports teams on lots of different levels of competition. I have also seen a lot of behavior that on the outside can be construed as bullying, but these are fuzzier.
First the bullying. When I was in high school, one of the senior members of the wrestling team mummified a freshman in pre-wrap for no reason other than the kid was small, weak, and he could. I thought it was funny.. but then I was 15 and stupid, and mostly happy because it wasn't me.
The senior member said he was "trying to toughen the kid up." Which was total bullsh!t. That kid didn't learn anything about how to be tough. He only learned that the senior could do things to him he couldn't do anything about. It didn't help the team, and it hurt the younger kid who was a pretty promising wrestler, and eventually quit the team. Net loss for everyone.
When I started playing rugby in college, I was one of the few guys coming in who had played the game before. The older guys on the team did not pull any punches. Especially the guys who played the same position I did. They were far easier on guys coming in who had no experience playing the game. This wasn't bullying. This was holding me to a higher standard of play. They didn't do anything personal, no insults, nothing outside of the game. They just tackled me and treated me like a teammate who should know better when I did things that I should know better than to do.
Friends gotta hug.
Similarly in a Rugby club, there are jerseys that get muddy and those things do not wash themselves. Some of the elite teams that I played on had a team manager who would take care of stuff like that, but for the most part this was taken care of by the first year players. This is where things get a bit fuzzier. The clubs that I came up playing for it wasn't done in a bullying manner. The laundry needs doing. It's not put upon any one individual, the first year players as a group are expected to take care of it by committee. If someone has an injury and needs treatment, or has some compelling reason they are usually excused from laundry duty for the weekend. It's fairly egalitarian. I have seen teams where the captain simply selects two guys to do the laundry. Sometimes this is done in a fair, and fairly random manner, but sometimes the same guy or guys keep getting laundry duty. They are called out in a derisive manner, or they only get called out after particularly muddy games (where the jerseys have to be hosed off and washed multiple times) this is bullying. It's inappropriate and it makes that guy feel like crap and makes everyone feel sorry for the guy.
The final situation is not bullying, but it can feel like it. In a wrestling room there are different intensities. It's hard to explain. There is hand fighting and there is hand fighting. Sometimes in practice you get matchday intensity. Sometimes you get what is called 'brother-in-law' intensity. It's up to the athletes to determine where that intensity lies. The coaches try to set it, but things escalate or deescalate depending on the wrestler.
Sometimes the more senior wrestlers will make a decision to give a guy more intensity than they give others. Sometimes more than they think the guy can handle. If this is done in a measured way a guy can figure out he can play/wrestle with the senior guys. He can hang. It builds the athlete up, though it is uncomfortable the athlete will be tempered by the heat and pressure. Sometimes he can't hang. He breaks. I have seen guys sobbing on their way home from practice. Someone applied pressure and instead of tempering the athlete shatters. This is where things get really fuzzy. I have seen guys in the room, or on the rugby practice field go after guys and then build them back up. It happened to me. A guy told me; "When you first showed up, I went after you. I tried to make you quit, but you're tough. You wouldn't quit. Now you're one of the best guys we have." That's not bullying. It's uncomfortable. It sucks, but ultimately it's about making the guy better.
However when you continually go after the same guy day after day, week in and week out and never build him back up. Just beating on him because he can't do anything about it. That is bullying. He never gets better. You're just being a jerk.
What I'd like Mr. Incognito to do is look at each thing he did to Mr. Martin. To ask himself: how did that make him better? Did I push him to be a better athlete and a teammate? Did I ask more of him than he had to give? or was I just being an ass because I could?

Some teams have 'traditions.' The same rules apply. Good traditions are physical. They push an athlete's limits athletically. Good examples are the presentation of jerseys/caps in rugby. Or some sort of conditioning test (see the peg board scene in Vision quest).
However if you are humiliating someone, forcing them to drink, or embarrass themselves publicly or privately, you're just being an ass. Just because you wanted to play so badly that you were willing to put up with abuse doesn't mean that other folks should be put through the same wringer. It's stupid. It doesn't bond teammates. Just stop it.
The sooner we understand the difference, the better coaches, athletes, and teammates we will be.


Note about gender in this article. I am speaking from experience. As such I have no experience within women's heads and little within the social structure of women's teams. Hence the all male pronouns.

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