bystander Intervention

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 Intervention, defined

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.

bystander intervention process steps [14]

  • Notice a concerning or harmful event is happening (or may happen).

    Is there anything about this situation that concerns me?

  • Decide whether action is needed in the situation.

    Does something need to be done?

  • Assume responsibility for acting or delegating.

    Is it my responsibility to do something? If I don’t, who will?

  • Figure out your options for intervening and identify risks and barriers to acting

    What actions can I take safety? What might make it hard to do something? What power do I have in this situation?

  • Understand how to carry out the action safely

    How will I keep myself safe while taking this action? What might help the person being harmed feel safer in this situation?

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: [15]

  • Be Direct

    Say something in the moment, such as telling someone to stop their harmful behavior or that their inappropriate joke is not funny, or asking someone being harmed if they want to leave.

  • Distract

    Create a diversion, like asking what time it is, changing the subject, or asking one of them to help you with a task.

  • Delegate

    Get someone else to address the concern, such as a supervisor, a friend of the individual acting inappropriately, or relevant authorities (like a building manager or security guard) if warranted.

  • Delay

    Buy time until it is safer to intervene or wait until you can have a private conversation with the individual acting inappropriately about your concerns.

  • Document

    Record the date, time, location, information about people involved, and a summary of what happened; give the information to someone with more power to act.If the situation involves potential misconduct, you may be required to report it. More information on reporting is in the Responding to Abuse and Misconduct section.

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)

Be Direct

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.

Learn more

Visit the below pages for resources and links to help you recognize, prevent, and respond to abuse and misconduct in your organization.


Use these Toolkit handouts and activities to help your team or colleagues discuss principles together and put them in action in your sport setting.


A broad range of organizations and community resources are just a click away to help coaches, parents, and other athlete allies support individuals in need.