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This is sport's moment to heal

Girls playing rugby in a huddle
Copyrights: BigStock/Edgework (Photo)

This is sport's moment to heal

The pandemic has touched the lives of nearly every person on the planet, and everyone should be afforded the opportunity to get what they need from sport.

This is sport’s moment.  Never in its history have we seen a time when sport is more needed. So many people around the world are surviving in cramped spaces. Fields, gyms, pools, parks, and arenas are shuttered for play, but also for supporters. 

We long for the return-to-sport. However, we will overlook the true potential of this moment if we only focus on the game. 

This is sport’s moment to heal.  We are not going to return to what was before. Many people will find their way back to relatively high functioning without much intervention. However, for others, the return will be marred by mental health challenges such as depression, deep anxiety and fear, grief, emotional dysregulation, and hyper-vigilance.

In our post-pandemic life, sport will serve as a profound agent for healing, particularly in communities without access to definitive clinical care.  In relation to many traditional types of treatment, including talk therapy, sport stands apart in its ability to have an impact on the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of people affected by trauma.  In short, sport can heal.

Healing happens when a person has the opportunity to experience:

  • A sense of safety and security
  • More consistent regulation of their emotions and actions
  • A connection to people who look out and care for them 
  • Opportunities to feel skilled and successful
  • Experiences that promote choice-making and a sense of control of their lives
  • Ways to break out of feeling stuck in the past, and living in the present; even having a future, hopeful focus
  • A re-connection to and joy in using their bodies on their terms

Each of these healing elements can be found in a well-managed and well-coached sport program. In our post-pandemic life, sport’s power to heal needs to be extended to everyone: players, coaches, managers, our administrative team members, volunteers, and of course, the supporters. The pandemic has touched the lives of nearly every person on the planet, and everyone should be afforded the opportunity to get what they need from sport. 

It starts with all of us becoming students of trauma and how sport heals.  While preserving the core of our existing sport program, we can implement a set of trauma-sensitive coaching techniques and approaches that ensure that:

  • We do not allow any of the darker sides of sport to retraumatize individuals
  • Our sport program is the safest place possible for everyone involved.
  • Our coaches are aware of and can successfully facilitate the many therapeutic moments that can benefit our players.
  • We integrate principles of trauma-informed program design to ensure that our league, the rules of the game, and the structure of our training sessions are aligned for maximum impact.

We have the opportunity to construct, not only a better, but the best version of what sport can be for our world: a stunning catalyst for hope, a collective energy release, and a burning light on the world in a time of darkness.  Let’s make the most of this historical moment. 

The future of sport is trauma-informed.  Our players need it. Their families need it. Our communities need it. When the whistle blows, let us play with extra purpose and intention. Let’s play to heal.

Lou Bergholz is the founder and managing partner of Edgework, a global consulting firm researching and designing sport for social change programming for partners around the world. Lou is an expert in trauma-informed program design. He has been creating programs and training coaches and staff for 20 years across four continents.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2020 - 14:46