program originator/graduate salutes initiative
was 12 when I helped my NCAFA team, the Orleans Bengals,
put together an off-season program aimed at helping kids
like me (bullied, angry and socially isolated) develop
stronger social skills and a sense of community
both of which are key protective factors to help young
people cope with bullying.
had no idea what I was doing, neither did my mother who
was helping administer the program and interestingly enough,
my coaches didnt know exactly what do to either.
coaches are in charge and direct their players with authority
and command respect and discipline on and off the field.
Direction usually starts at the top, with the head coach,
filters to the coordinators, down to position coaches
and finally to the players. So imagining a scenario where
coaches shared program design, development and control
directly with players was not just new, to some it seemed
like the apocalypse was at hand. After all coachs
coach and players learn; why mess with what works.
answer for the Orleans Bengals (and me) is that millennials
are different than our parents and our grandparents. The
world we live in is different. The schools we learn in
are different. The games we play are different. And even
our childhood bullies are different. All this change in
such a small amount of time means our parents are not
always able to guide us through the minefield of social
media and global group think that we face each day.
response to this different childhood landscape at the
Orleans Bengals was to put meaningful youth engagement
started with the clubs executives saying yes
to my proposal to start an off season program. I wanted
a place where other kids like me, those who struggled
in school with behavior issues and who were on the outside
of the social elite in school, had a place to connect
with our football peers. A place to discuss how to deal
with cyber bullies (those cowards who use their phones
and laptops to bully us from the safety and anonymity
of their bedrooms) with more usable solutions. And a place
where youth who bully could learn to put their aggression
to better use and be included in the solution.
program focuses on identifying and dealing with bullying
behavior not with eliminating bullying behavior or excluding
youth who bully. As a result, our field is open to a lot
of players who are either fully reformed bullies or are
on their way to becoming reformed. This may seem like
a strange approach, but giving youth who bully opportunities
to change their behavior and be included in the solution
has shown itself to be a powerful weapon in the fight
against bullying, even if (when) it causes some difficult
situations along the way.
are some pretty serious challenges to this approach, the
biggest of which is dealing with youth who bully and trying
to figure out why they are bullying. Why figure out why?
Because if we dont know what is motivating the behavior
we cant help change it. Our schools are full of
zero tolerance policies when it comes to bullying, which
all focus on eliminating the bully, but not so much focused
on the behavior and certainly not focused on trying to
understand why the behavior is happening. But understanding
why is the only way to give a bully the necessary coping
strategies to change their behavior.
example, I went to school with a kid who had major food
security issues at home. He would be angry and disruptive
all afternoon and display some real aggressive
bullying behavior. His behavior was not acceptable and
he was punished over and over for it but he was hungry
and anxious and unable to cope with either. Because the
schools policy was simply zero tolerance, no one
was looking at why he has behaving badly, just reacting
to the bad behavior. Figuring out why the behavior is
happening is the best way to change it.
of the important parts of the Be A Bengal Not A Bully
program is including players in the solution, listening
to what we think will work and giving players like me
the opportunity to develop leadership skills. Including
players helps us identify potential leaders who arent
given the opportunity at school to shine. Whether these
players are marginalized because of poor grades, poor
social skills, anxiety, ADHD or learning disabilities,
they are left out and their leadership potential at risk
of being lost. Since 2008, about 40 players have become
peer mentors through our program. Of those 40 peer mentors,
only about 5 had strong enough social skills at the start
of the program to be included in school run leadership
2008, we were able to secure a Dare to Dream grant to
cover initial costs (like Dome rental and costs associated
with guest speakers). After a couple of building years,
we were able to attract the support of local councilor
Stephen Blais and with his help were able to bring Taggart
Homes on board as a 4 year sponsor for the program. This
past year, the program branched out to a Bengals Play
90, complimenting the social aspects of the original program
with the benefits of greater physical activity.
of the most interesting results of the program have to
do with how well the Bengals organization is doing and
a purposeful shift in how coachs coach. Last season
(2014) all 5 levels of the club (from Tyke to midget)
were represented at Championship week (no other NCAFA
team can make that claim). Our sidelines are consistently
busy with parents and volunteers making game day a success
with a great canteen, 50/50 draws and lots of support
and cheering for all our players. In addition to Councilor
Blais, Taggart Homes and our title sponsor Myers Orleans,
we have many new community partners and sponsorship opportunities
with local business. And our coaches are some of the best
communicators in the city.
with most preventative programs it is difficult to say
which factor is most responsible for this success. Is
it because our non-leaders on the field now have leadership
training and development opportunities? Is it the focus
on social inclusion that creates an atmosphere where families
can step forward without shame if they need help paying
fees? Is it that meaningful youth engagement means listening,
truly listening to one another, so coaches and players
are communicating better than ever on and off the
field? Is it because reformed bullies and all their now
controlled aggression now have the focus to really be
able to make a difference in a game? Or is it a delicate
combination of these and a 100 other factors that creates
still dont always know what we are doing but we
have learned some very important things along the way:
1) We are not perfect. Our coaches are not perfect. Our
program is not perfect.
Bullying still happens. At school. At the field. In the
community. And sometimes at home.
Focusing on bullying prevention rather than bullying elimination
is the real strength of our program.
Marginalized, at-risk youth make amazing leaders if you
give them a chance.
The stronger the voice of the players in any part of your
program, the stronger the entire program becomes.
Continued community involvement, from local politicians
to community businesses, is essential if we are going
adult is formed slowly, we take lessons from what we learned
in childhood, the experiences that we had, the feeling
that we felt and we gradually turn into the person we
want to become.
Orleans Bengals gave me an opportunity to grow from bullying
victim to advocate. Although we dont have all the
answers and take some pretty unusual angles along the
way, we are committed to trying; committed to learning
from our mistakes and trying again; committed to listening
to each other and trying again.
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