Bullying at school and in sports has become a major news headline across the country and for good reason. Too often, individuals in a place of power, like a teacher or coach, use that power to bully a student or team member. Schools and organizations are cracking down on students, teachers, and coaches accused of bullying and more victims are speaking out.

While this has improved conditions of school and group environments, it has left constructive criticism out to dry. Suddenly, any critical feedback can be seen as bullying. The line between bullying and constructive criticism has been blurred. In order to both handle constructive criticism and know when you're being unfairly picked on, you need to know the definition, and differences, of each.

Constructive criticism is valid and well-reasoned opinions or advice. While it may include negative comments, it is given in a polite tone. Teachers and coaches give constructive criticism in order to help you improve your work or skills. It is not meant to injure you; it is meant to correct you.
Bullying is a form of verbal or physical abuse. Typically, if a teacher or coach is bullying, it is verbally. Bullying is mean-spirited and isn't intended to solve a problem or offer a solution.

If your coach singles you out and says, "You're not pointing your toes during your toe touch," this isn't bullying. Even if your coach yells that feedback at you, it is still not bullying. It is bullying, however, if your coach calls you a name or physically abuses you, or asks your teammates to do those things, every time that you don't point your toes during a jump.

In the first example, the coach is simply pointing out something you are doing incorrectly. Now you know that you need to work on that. In the other example, your coach isn't offering help or advice on how to fix the problem. Instead, it's just negative criticism meant to make the receiver feel bad about themselves.

The fact of the matter is, you will experience constructive criticism. Everyone does because no one is perfect. Don't take it personal; it's helping you improve! If your coach never pointed out your faults, you wouldn't improve or perfect your skills. When receiving constructive criticism, take in everything your coach says. If you're still not sure about what you're doing incorrectly, ask! Your coach will be more than happy to help. Use the criticism as motivation to become a better cheerleader! Your coach will notice your improvement. Whatever you do, don't take the criticism as a personal attack.

While constructive criticism is necessary, bullying is not. If you feel your coach is always calling you out and only mentioning the negatives and never the positives, first talk with your captain or one of your teammates. Do they also feel bullied? Most likely if someone else also views it as bullying, it is bullying. Second, try talking to your coach. It may be intimidating, but explain to her that you would like to know specifically what you're doing wrong or how you can improve.

If the situation doesn't get better, or if she doesn't offer an advice, go to your parents and school administrators. You should never tolerate bullying or hide it from your parents. Explain to them the situation and, on your own, with your teammates, or with your parents, speak with school administrators.