If cheerleading is about positivity, spirit, and encouraging a team or crowd to come together and show support, bullying has no place in the cheer world. However, and predominantly during busy and stressful seasons, bullying creeps its way into cheer discussion boards, social media pages, blogs, and locker room whispers and shared notes. The unfortunate truth is that bullying is common in middle and high school and cheerleading squads aren’t immune. Just because it happens doesn’t mean you, or your squad, has to partake in it. It can be scary taking a stand, but by doing so you can help someone, or a whole team, avoid the devastation of being a victim. As fall and competition season approaches, the amount of bullying you see or hear about will likely increase. Remember, gossip and drama can be just as bad. Often, bullying is the product of gossip or drama. Be a shining example of what a cheerleader is and don’t fall prey to bullying. Follow our tips for a bully-free (and drama-free) season: Tip #1: Do your research. Before you can deal with bullying, you have to know how to spot it and whether it’s bullying or just constructive criticism. Research and read about anti-bully organizations, which share stories, wisdom, and words of advice. Many cheerleading groups, including Cheer Channel and Cheer News Network, are taking a public stand against bullying and provide additional resources. Tip #2: Don’t go on the attack. It’s great if you want to defend yourself or someone from being bullied. No one should be victimized. But this doesn’t mean you should retaliate or immediately assume the bully is a “bad” person. First of all, an individual may not even realize he or she is being a bully. As athletes, cheerleaders can be very competitive and may not realize how far they take their “we will rock you” taunts. Second, by retaliating you’re just as much of a bully as the other girl or boy. It doesn’t matter who started it; it’s about who ends it and handles it appropriately and maturely. Tip #3: Talk it out. As mentioned, an individual may not realize he or she is bullying. Many times, this is the person who you’ll hear say, “I’m just being honest” or something similar. If this is the case, try to talk it out with the person. Help him or her understand that, even if she’s just being honest, her words can come across as vicious and hurtful. While honesty is the best policy, there are better ways to express opinions or emotions. If someone isn’t sure if what they’re saying could be taken as bullying, just don’t say it. If it’s something critical or mean, you probably don’t need to say it. It’s the coach’s job to correct someone. Tip #4: Don’t fall silent. If you or someone else is being bullied, don’t keep quiet about it. Talk to a parent, coach, captain, or someone you feel comfortable speaking with and report what’s going on. Bullying can rip a team apart. Don’t assume that you are being “too sensitive;” bullying is bullying, no matter how much you sugar coat it with fake smiles or “not to be mean or anything” statements. Tip #5: Hold a team meeting. At the beginning of the season, have a team meeting that specifically addresses bullying and rumors. Many coaches have a no tolerance policy; if a cheerleader is caught spreading rumors or bullying a teammate, he/she is either suspended or benched. Express to everyone the harm (and consequences) of bullying. In order to be champions, cheerleading squad needs to be united and spreading rumors will only cause the team to come crashing down. Coaches or captains should also address cyber bullying. Monitor discussion boards or team social media pages to make sure no one is bullying online. Cyber bullying can be just as hurtful, if not more so, than in-person bullying. The first and foremost squad goal should be to exemplify what it means to be a team. That means sticking together through thick and thin, standing up for one another, and coming together as a family. For more information on bullying, visit Cheer News Network, Cheer Channel, and the Cyber Bullying Research Center.