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Bullying and basketball

February 10th, 2011 by Meredith

Sports novelist Steven Barwin talks about the bullying theme in his new basketball novel

Q: As a middle school teacher you must see your fair share of bullying. Was there a particular incident that prompted you to write Fadeaway? 

A: Fadeaway came about from my experiences in the classroom and from coaching a junior basketball team. As a teacher I knew I had to write a book on bullying. Cyber and social bullying are something I see all the time, especially with girls, which is why my main character, Renna, is female. My angle was to take a very optimistic, glass half full type character and force her into the role of victim and see how she reacted.  The coach character is based on me. While there wasn’t bullying on my team, I was new to coaching and this lead to a coach character who was so distracted by his coaching duties that he was oblivious to the bullying issues on the team. Besides, so much social and cyber bullying plays out below the radar of teachers and coaches.


Q: What's the hardest part for you when it comes to dealing with bullying at school?

 A: All of it! Almost all of the bullying that I see is social bullying. And more among girls than boys. It’s like they’re walking a social high wire where friendships are forming and dissolving in front of my eyes everyday. I’m amazed at how quickly a student can be left out to dry and as a teacher I get frustrated because I can’t force friendships.  When it comes to cyberbullying, I had an incident when I taught grade seven. In an online chat room, unflattering comments were said about another student and myself. Someone on the chat printed it and reported it. It was horrific to see the parent’s reaction to what their daughter had written online. I remember how I felt reading about myself and I made sure to relate that experience to Renna when she is the target of cyber bullying. 

Q: What is being done in your school or classroom to fight bullying? Do you have any advice for other teachers about how to deal with bullying?

 A: My school takes a restorative approach. The bully and the victim meet face to face each with a buddy of their choice for support. A mediator asks a series of questions to engage in dialogue centered around getting the bully to understand the victim’s feelings and the impact they’ve had on them. It’s a great approach that forces both parties to deal with the situation. As for other teachers, this can be done in the classroom as well. It’s all about keeping an open dialogue and not letting friction build up to a boiling point. Students need to know that there is zero tolerance when it comes to bullying. 

Q: What about the kids themselves, what can they do?

 A: A big theme in the book is how Renna becomes a bully by being bullied. It’s a vicious turn I’ve seen a lot at school.  First stop is a great go-to source - (1-800-668-6868).  There is a lot of very valuable information on this site. At that moment of truth when someone admits to being a victim of bullying there’s an online forum where they can reach out to others. At the very least, that’s a good place to start. For cyberbullying, the message to bullies is that what goes online stays online. The message for victims is to learn how to print the screen. It’s the best way to get proof. Clicking the Alt and PrintScreen keys will take a screen shot and it can be saved and printed. I know the research and the students have been educated about the language around bullying (bully, victim, and bystander). One of the best messages I’ve heard about anti-bullying comes from Q-Mack (see foreword inFadeaway). He empowers students by telling them to one-up their bully by going out and becoming better at something than them. The entire bully and victim scenario is all about power ­— and those who are bullied can take back the power if they want it. 


Q: You've written quite a few books about middle school kids and sports: Icebreaker,Rock DogsSk8er, and Slam Dunk, to name a few. Where do the ideas for  your characters from?

 A:  Coming up with ideas has never been a problem for me. Sometimes I think they’re floating in the air waiting from me to grab them, other times they’re inspired by something I see or hear. I’ve yet to write a book about a kid I’ve taught… it’s more about the environment, the vibe. I feel lucky being a teacher and a writer because every day I show up to school, it’s like walking into a focus group. I’m privy to tweens and their world. They’re my audience and I definitely cater my stories, my writing towards them. A big “character” in my books is also the Toronto area. Each book features a unique part of the city (Kensington Market, Castle Loma, Richmond Hill, etc.).

FadeawayIcebreakerRock DogsSk8terSlam Dunk

Q: In Fadeaway there was a scene where a group of grade 7 girls were in the cafeteria hovering around an iPhone that they weren't supposed to have. Did this scene come from a real experience?  

A: This moment was inspired by what I see at my school. When I was in grade six and seven, other kids would hover around someone who was willing to share their candy.  Now it’s the iPhone that gathers a crowd. Texting is a big part of a kid’s and teen’s world today. I see students in grades three and four with cell phones. Schools need to keep up with these changes because more kids are now going online via their smart phones than their computers. Since writing Fadeaway, my school has gone wireless and acceptance of technology brought in by the students has increased.


Q: Do you play all the sports you write about?

 A: Some of my best writing advice was from author Eric Walters. He told me that writing shouldn’t be all made up. He said experience it and write from your senses. I played ice hockey and as an adult I play floor hockey. As for rock climbing, I did research inside a rock climbing gym in Toronto and visited Rattle Snake Point. It took a while to build up the courage because I’m afraid of heights, but I eventually did go climbing. Maybe my next book should be about skydiving!


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