A new survey by cricketing charity Chance to Shine has raised serious concerns about the impact of bullying and taunting on the school sports field. It reveals that more than half of pupils have suffered actual threats, as well as seeing physical violence take place on the pitch.

The survey, which assessed over two thousand parents and pupils, shows a worrying trend towards violence and mean-spiritedness on the school playing field, traditionally thought of as a space where children are able to learn important life lessons about teamwork and cooperation. 55% of pupils revealed that they had experienced threatening jibes or taunting at some point whilst playing school sports, suggesting that an atmosphere of mutual support is not being successfully achieved in many schools.

And the impact of this bullying follows children off the pitch, with 42% of parents stating that it had resulted in a significant loss of confidence in their children. 20% reported that this led to an unwillingness on the part of their child to take part in sport in the future, jeopardising their ability to benefit from its physical and social benefits, whilst 10% even admitted that it had resulted in their child dropping out of participation in a particular sport altogether.

Charity and school heads all agree that this is a disturbing trend that needs to be addressed, but it is difficult to envisage how it might be effectively tackled. It is not clear whether the problems loom largest during in-school practice or in the course of matches played against other schools, where traditional ‘team spirit’ and competitiveness have traditionally been encouraged, but may now be escalating too far. The line between a competitive spirit and a mean spirit seems to be becoming blurred, as winners get more and more aggressive about taunting the losing side and losers become more prone to bad-tempered tantrums.

Some would argue that the role of school sports coaches is just that: to coach, whilst it is down to parents to instil the moral values of grace in victory and defeat in their own children. It might be suggested that it is a tough enough task for sports teachers to communicate the rules and techniques of the game to youngsters, let alone fulfilling the role of moral arbiter at the same time. On the other hand, team coaches are often amongst the most admired and respected of school staff and if anybody is likely to be able to inspire better standards of behaviour in pupils they are perhaps just the right mentors for the task.

One thing is certain – it is vital that these statistics are taken seriously and addressed if the school playing field is to remain a safe space for children to explore team building and learn about essential life skills such as cooperation and leadership. It must not be allowed to descend into an arena for bullying and exclusion under the guise of ‘sporting instinct’ or the instilment of a ‘competitive spirit’.