Sports can help individuals build self‐esteem and confidence, making them stronger and better able to deal with challenges. The wide range of emotions athletes experience in practice and competition are normal, healthy components of sports. However, severe behavior or a repeated pattern of behavior by either coaches or teammates that inflicts psychological or emotional harm has no place in sports. By gaining a complete understanding of the actions that qualify as bullying, participants can be in a stronger position to take action.

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USA Swimming’s Definition and Policy

Bullying is prohibited by Articles 304.3.7 and 304.3.13B of the 2013 USA Swimming Code of Conduct:

304.3.7 Bullying is prohibited. For the purposes of the Code of Conduct, the term “Bullying” shall mean, regardless of when or where it may occur, the severe or repeated use by one or more USA Swimming members (“Members”) of an oral, written, electronic or other technological expression, image, sound, data or intelligence of any nature (regardless of the method of transmission), or a physical act or gesture, or any combination thereof, directed at any other Member that to a reasonably objective person has the effect of:

(i) causing physical or emotional harm to the other Member or damage to the other Member’s property;
(ii) placing the other Member in reasonable fear of harm to himself/herself or of damage to his/her property;

(iii) creating a hostile environment for the other Member at any USA Swimming activity; (iv) infringing on the rights of the other Member at any USA Swimming activity; or
(v) materially and substantially disrupting the training process or the orderly operation of any USA Swimming activity (which for the purposes of this section 20 shall include, without limitation, practices, workouts and other events of a member club or LSC).

Allegations of Bullying of an athlete by a coach shall be investigated under 304.3.13.


Bullying does not include professionally accepted coaching methods of skill enhancement, physical conditioning, team building, discipline or improving athletic performance. Constructive criticism about an athlete’s performance does not constitute bullying.

Examples of Bullying

Verbal acts

  • Repeatedly and excessively verbally attacking an athlete personally (e.g., calling them worthless, fat or disgusting)
  • Repeatedly and excessively yelling at participants in a manner that serves no productive training or motivational purpose

Physical acts

  • Throwing sport equipment, water bottles or chairs at, or in the presence of, participants
  • Punching walls, windows or other objects

    Acts that deny attention and support

  • Ignoring an athlete for extended periods of time
  • Routinely or arbitrarily excluding participants from practice

    Clubs are required to have an action plan to address bullying in place at their club. A model plan is included in the Appendix to this handbook.

    Any allegation of bullying of an athlete by a coach will be investigated by a three coach panel named by the USA Swimming President as required by Article 405.2.3.