Care and Feeding

My Teenage Daughter Is Being Accused of Bullying—I Think Her Teammate Is Just Weak

I feel like the real world will eat this girl alive.

A girl holds a basketball on her shoulder.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Scottshotz/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a dad to a 14-year-old girl who plays on a high-level club basketball team, and yesterday we were pulled aside by her coach who accused her of bullying another girl on the team.

At first, I was shocked because that’s not like my daughter to behave that way, but when I dug deeper, I learned she was just trying to motivate one of the lazier girls on the team. My daughter is fiery and competitive, but she’s not a bully. I played college basketball, and I dealt with a lot of teammates who would get in my face if I wasn’t performing well, and I didn’t complain about being bullied. Apparently, my daughter has reduced this girl to tears on multiple occasions, but my kid just wants to win. I feel like her teammate needs to toughen up a bit or else the real world will eat her alive. My daughter is a great kid who gets along well with others, but she’s also very competitive. I don’t want her to change because I think she will become a great CEO one day. Am I wrong for thinking my daughter isn’t the problem?

—Tough, Not a Bully

Dear Tough,

Throughout my upbringing as a basketball player, I dealt with my share of former teammates who behaved like your daughter. I despised them then, and I have less than fond feelings about them today due to what they put me through. On some days, it was yelling in my face, on other days it was enduring incessant ridiculing on road trips, and on many days, they would go to my teammates and tell them not to pass me the ball under any circumstances—and that’s just the “light” stuff I experienced. I spent many private moments in tears, I dealt with depression, and even considered quitting the game I loved because of it.

I persevered to the point where I also played college basketball and was the captain of my team as a senior, but the road to get there was a horrible one due to some of the people I encountered along the way. One thing I promised myself is I would never lead my team in a way that would make other players feel unworthy or unsafe, and I kept that commitment throughout that season, in my current role as a business owner, and as a parent to two young female basketball players.

The reason I’m telling you this story is I’m feeling a sense of post-traumatic stress disorder when I hear about how your daughter is behaving towards her teammate, because I’ve been there. Trust me, if this kid is getting her coach involved, it probably means it’s an issue that needs to be addressed. To answer your question, it is wrong to think your daughter isn’t the problem here, because she clearly is. You may be the problem as well if you think it’s OK to judge a child by calling her “lazy.”

This isn’t 30 years ago. It’s not acceptable anymore to yell at others like Neanderthals to get our point across. Nowadays we understand that motivation doesn’t need to be toxic and harmful. Toughness isn’t about being a jerk—it’s about being supportive during tough times and helping others weather the storm of adversity. It’s a shame that more people aren’t aware of that.

You said your daughter wants to be a CEO one day, right? You should use this as an opportunity to teach your daughter that there are more effective ways to be a good leader than what she’s doing now. A perfect example of that is Sean McVay, head coach of the defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams. He is living proof that you can be highly successful without disparaging others.

Please wake up and get your daughter to realize she’s heading down a toxic path before it’s too late. Nice people really don’t finish last.


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