Bullying on the Court – My ADHD Child and The Basketball Bully

I love my rural school district. I love that the classes are small, and that the fellow students “get” my ADHD child. Andrew’s class is great!  It’s when my Andrew must interact with students other than his classmates that he gets into trouble.  Hence today’s blog: Bullying on the Court.

The School Called Today

The school called today.  My son hadn’t forgotten is gym shoes. He didn’t need a note.  Nope, nothing simple like that.  It was the special needs counsellor, on speaker phone, with my son. 

“Your son has been arguing with the teachers. He has been disrespectful to other students. If his behavior doesn’t improve, he won’t be allowed to go to “X” Club’s State contest”

Woah – not go to State’s? Andrew worked hard on that project. He qualified at regionals. He is proud of this accomplishment. Taking states away would CRUSH him.

I listened harder.  What was the special needs counsellor saying? She wanted to know if anything had changed over the past two weeks.

My first answer was – no.  No, Andrew is not on any new medication. No, I have not changed any supplements. No, his schedule hasn’t changed. No. Wait. Yes. Inspiration. Could it be The Basketball Bully?  The bullying was new. Well, not new.  Just recently returned.

Basketball Heroes

Basketball Heroes

I love our small rural school.  Our school is so small that literally every boy is needed to make a boys’ sports team.  That means that if you want to be on the team, you can. There are no tryouts. Show up and play hard.

Andrew has been with this class since Kindergarten.  His now 7th grade peers “get” him.  They know he has trouble focusing. They know he needs to sit out during the harder drills.  Andrew has trouble focusing and can’t keep up with fast-paced ball passing.

During the game, Andrew is never on the right part of the court.  He fumbles the ball more often than he catches it. His teammates and coaches always shout out directions during the game. “Go out, go in, Andrew wait on the corner.”

When their team is ahead, Andrew’s teammates will pass him the ball. They know he will fumble, but they still include him in the game. Every now and then he catches the ball. Sometimes, he even makes a basket. After his first ever basket during a game, the crowd roared, and his teammates embraced him in the biggest bear-hug. Love-This-Class!

The 7th grade boys are my basketball heroes!


The Basketball Bully

The Basketball Bully
Bullying on the Court

The 8th graders on the team are not heroes. They have not been in the same classroom as Andrew every day since Kindergarten. They do not “get” him.

At the beginning of the season, the 8th graders were fine. Maybe not supportive, but at least tolerant.

Andrew missed a few days basketball practice, courtesy of the flu. He missed another couple days, courtesy of “X” Club. Then practice was cancelled due winter weather. In total, he missed two weeks of practice. All absences were excused. The 8th graders didn’t see it that way.

After two weeks of missing practice, the 8th graders turned mean.

“Don’t bother showing up for the game. You won’t get to play.”

“You should drop the team.”

“Don’t shoot 3 pointers. You can only shoot 2 pointers.” Andrew loves to shoot 3 pointers. He is good at it an normally gets as many, or more, than the rest of the team.

Then a good friend told him “I won’t be your friend anymore if you keep shooting 3 pointers.”

That one hurt. I don’t blame the friend. I think he was trying to protect Andrew from further bullying, that if Andrew would quit shooting 3 pointers then the 8th graders would leave him alone.

Coping with bullying

Coping with Bullying

The head basketball bully is not new to us. When Andrew was younger, I called him “The Pool Bully.” He used to say things like “Wouldn’t it be funny if Andrew drowned?” We avoided the local pool, and thus the Pool Bully, for years. We swam where no one knew us or and no one cared that Andrew couldn’t swim. 

Back then, Andrew was oblivious to the bullying and avoidance was my coping tactic.

In school, kids are taught to tell an adult if they are being bullied. Andrew did that. He told one of the coaches. The coach sat there, quiet, not saying a word. She didn’t acknowledge my son. Nothing changed.

Why did the system fail? Andrew was being bullied. He told an adult. Nothing happened.

Note that I said, “Kids are taught to tell an adult when bullied.” Who teaches the adults what to do to help the victim?  

Did nothing change because the coach didn’t know what to do? Or did nothing change because the coach was related to the Basketball Bully? I suspect it was a combination of the two. The situation was likely a messy combination of family and coaching politics. I can only imagine that disciplining a family member on the team has got to be complicated.

I urged Andrew to contact the other coach. He sent her a text, which was never acknowledged. Did this coach also not know what to do? Was she avoiding the situation too? Or did she act? Since the bullying toned down after that text, we think she acted.

My husband and I often joke that no one teaches adults what to do to help the victims of bullying. That needs to change.

What adults CAN do

Please note, I am not an expert on bullying. I am a Mom. The suggestions below are gleaned from personal experience, websites, and books. References are included were appropriate.

Victims of bullying need love and support. A hug can go a long way towards making a child feel better, at least in the short term. I witnessed a victim of bullying appear to grow 5 inches taller after a hug from a friend.

The following tips were gleaned from an article by Katie Hurley, LCSW that I found on the PBS website. “What to do if your child is being bullied.”

Help with Bullying. Stock photo, posed by models.

  • Give unconditional love and support.
  • Avoid Assumptions. Listen with an open mind and don’t assume that the victim caused the problem. Avoid questions like “Did you do something to them first?”
  • Comment on nonverbal cues. Saying “Are you still hanging out with your friends” gives kids an opening to talk.
  • Wait until the victim is relaxed to talk about the incident. Give them time to calm down.
  • Don’t plan a meeting with the bully or his family. This often scares the victim more and may break the trust between you and the victim.
  • Brainstorm solutions with the victim.
  • Talk to the school so they are aware of the situation, and so that they can help. Teachers often notice changes in the child behavior. Knowing about the bullying will help the teachers help the child.
  • If you suspect self-harm or suicidal thoughts, get the child evaluated by a licensed mental health practitioner.

For more tips from Katie Hurely, LCSW, see The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World (Tarcher/Penguin 2015).

What ELSE can the ADHD child do?

According to Andrew’s ADHD specialist, ADHD and Asperger’s share many symptoms. For that reason, I find that tips that help Aspie kids are usually relative to ADHD kids. These tips are taken from chapters 25 and 30 in The Asperkid’s -Secret- Book of Social Rules by Jennifer Cook O’Toole. I believe they are good tips that any kid, NT, ADHD, or Aspie, should learn.

  • Look straight at them (the bully) … hold it (without a reaction) … then look away and continue with whatever you were doing or saying.
  • Bullying is about POWER. Telling is about taking back your power. (Bullies) expect their victim – and other kids watching – to be too intimidated to tell an adult. Surprise them. Do something.
  • “ignore them and they will go away” doesn’t always help. At least not for long.
  • Learn the art of self-advocacy, or how to express your rights in a calm way.
  • Tell an appropriate adult (in school)
  • Bullies do their dirty work where they won’t get caught (don’t be caught alone with the bullies).

Andrew’s ADHD specialist also recommends It’s So Much Work to Be Your Friend by Richard Lavoie. In addition to the tips above, Lavoie has these recommendations.

  • Embarrass the bully by criticizing something about him/her.
  • Agree with the bully “You are right, I am overweight.”
  • Teach the victim to breathe deep and remain calm. Reduce his visible reaction.
  • Remember, the bully wants power and no reaction equals no power.
  • Be assertive and tell the bully to stop.

What you need to know about bullying

Angry or emotional outbursts often hide the wounds of bullying. Remember, this story started with a call from the school. My ADHD child had been argumentative and disrespectful in the classroom. I suspect that the basketball bullying is the root cause of Andrew’s recent behavior problems in school.

In retrospect, I should have urged Andrew to confide in his special needs’ counselor in addition to his basketball coaches. I should have called the counselor. Andrew and I tried to fix the problem without consulting the school. That was a mistake.

If we had only talked to the school, the school personnel would have known to be on the lookout for the side effects of bullying. The angry and emotional outbursts would not have been a surprise. I like to think they would have responded differently. Maybe they would not have lectured Andrew “This behavior needs to stop” and been more likely to give him the support he needed. In order to calm the angry outbursts, the underlying wounds must first be healed.

Beyond angry outbursts, bullying can lead to anxiety, depression, acts of self-harm, suicide, and PTSD. (“What to do if your child is being bullied” by Katie Hurley, LCSW).  Remember, if self-harm or suicidal thoughts are suspected, get the child evaluated by a licensed mental health practitioner.

Happy Thoughts

I picked up Andrew from basketball practice today. He said the bully mostly left him alone today.  Practice went well. “I got five three pointers today.  Four of them were when the girls were watching.”

Life is still good.

This is Your Journey Too. Please feel free to share your stories or leave your comments below.

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This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Unfortunately bullies are every where and cannot be avoided.Some these bullies themselves may have there own issues with being in social settings. They may have things going on at home that mold them into being these overbearing annoyances in a victims life . Thanks you for the share .One thing that I believe in is self defense and discipline . I encourage all kids to get into martial arts as teaches to respect others and helps build self esteem as well.

  2. This story is very compelling.

    School bullying has been around since the beginning of time, it seems. With all that we have learned about kids and their development, it greatly saddens me that some adults cannot do a better job of nipping this behavior before it gets carried away.

    I’m more disappointed in the adults than the 8th graders in this story. We send our kids to school to be educated, not just in reading, math, and science, but life skills as well.

    You do a great job of giving the adults and kids the benefit of the doubt. I applaud you for that skill, which is much better than mine! That being said, you’re doing a great job of raising Andrew. His quote at the end says it all.

    Keep shooting three-pointers, Andrew!!

  3. Great article on raising awareness about bullying in school and advice on how to help the victim and parents of the victim. I agree that being pro-active, open minded and supportive are key aspects of tackling this issue head on. I also feel it all starts at home and setting the basic foundations for morality – teaching right and wrong and to advocate for the right thing. Getting as many people involved will also help – parents, the school, counselor, police if needed to keep track of the problem and keep an eye out for indicators. The only thing I did not agree with was the one piece of advice for the victim to “Embarrass the bully by criticizing something about him/her.” I think this is not a wise choice for several reasons – 1. You are lowering yourself to their standards – in essence, being a bully in return 2. You are engaging the bully 3. You may potentially anger the bully and make matters worse.

    In the end, I think the biggest issue is bystander syndrome. The thinking that “someone else will help”. People not taking action when they see the behavior for whatever reason – complacency or fear etc. I would hope if someone was bullying me, that someone would stand up for me. I would do it! And have.

    I am sorry you and your son had to deal with bullying. Know you are doing an amazing job. And thank you for sharing your experiences

    1. I concur with your disliking the “Embarass the bully” statement. This piece of advice CAN make matters worse. It can also WORK. Really, it’s situational. I think “Bystander syndrome” would be a good topic for a new post. I mentioned that one of the 7th graders encouraged Andrew to do what the bully wanted. He was trying to protect Andrew. It was his way of standing up for him.

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