Bystander intervention can prevent acts of abuse from occurring and can stop inappropriate behaviors from escalating or recurring. It also can consistently reinforce what behaviors are acceptable and can be particularly powerful when friends intervene with friends who are doing harm.
Bystander: Someone who is present when something concerning or risky happens
Intervention: Choosing to act to make it less likely abuse or misconduct will happen or continue
When faced with a concerning situation, we all make decisions about if and how to intervene. Often we move through important steps of the intervention process without much thought—but we are more likely to intervene when we understand and intentionally think through them.
The Five D's
In working with athletes, you may sometimes need to intervene even when the person being harmed does not want you to get involved. If this happens, try to balance their needs with your responsibilities.
Also consider power differences when you decide how to intervene. What kind of social or physical power does each person have in the situation? It may not be realistic to expect a first-year player to directly confront a team captain about homophobic comments, but the player could talk with a coach or other players with influence. In deciding how to respond, it can be helpful to think of 5 D’s: 
There is no one best way to intervene in a situation: sometimes a combination of several responses is appropriate. But doing something is more helpful than ignoring the situation. If you choose not to directly intervene in the moment, think about ways you can address the behavior later. No matter what you choose to do, remember that no one can do everything, but everyone can do something.
The following example suggests various ways you might intervene; it may prompt ideas of other actions you might take. Be sure to follow your organization’s rules for reporting misconduct when applicable.
An athlete on your team mentions that an upcoming meet is scheduled on the third day of Diwali, an important Muslim holiday. You contact the league administrator to request the meet be rescheduled so it does not interfere with any athlete’s religious observances. The administrator says, “No. If they want to celebrate their holidays so badly, they should go back to their own country.”
(Click headings below for potential responses)
Tell the administrator that since the league does not schedule meets on major Christian holidays, it should do the same for other religions. Remind the administrator that the U.S. is their country and that many of the Muslim athletes were born in the U.S.
Ask the administrator to think about the schedule change, then change the subject without addressing the comment.
Ask someone else in league leadership to request the change.
Get support for rescheduling the meet from coaches, athletes, and parents, then bring the request back to the league administrator.
Log the date and time of your request and the administrator’s response. Keep a record of other meets that are scheduled over religious holidays. Consider any reporting obligations you may have.
One of the most important ways you can help athletes learn about bystander intervention is to model that behavior for them. When they see you positively intervene in situations, it gives them confidence to do the same.
You can help athletes become positive bystanders by:
- Talking about what motivates you to say or do something when you see a potentially abusive or dangerous situation. Be honest about the challenges and how you overcame them.
- Using free online resources such as That’s Not Cool and NoMore for helpful talking points and scenarios. Find additional scenarios in this toolkit’s resources section.
- Hosting a bystander intervention workshop for your athletes; contact your local sexual and domestic violence organization for support.
Visit the below pages for resources and links to help you recognize, prevent, and respond to abuse and misconduct in your organization.