Trauma-Informed Sport Coaching

To best support girls with a history of trauma, sport coaches should consider and include principles of trauma-informed in their practices when possible.

Eight core principles of trauma-informed programming include:

  1. Opportunities for girls to make meaningful contributions
  2. Established code of behavior
  3. Evidence of positive traditions
  4. Opportunities to opt in or out
  5. Coaching in pairs
  6. Body & brain-based warm-ups / cool-downs
  7. Repetition of practice
  8. Modified competition

(1) Coaches can offer multiple opportunities for girls to make meaningful contributions during practice. By doing so, the coach teaches her athletes the value of beyond-the-self actions for the betterment of team and community. This enables the athlete to feel connected and empowered in social situations.

(2) Establishing a clear and collaborative code of behavior promotes consistent conduct, such as the prosocial treatment of teammates, referees, and opponents.

(3) Evidence of positive traditions — such as coming up with team names, team cheers, or supporting teammates — can establish a team’s code of behavior.

(4) Coaches can also explicitly offer opportunities to opt out or in of a particular activity. When opt outs are built into sports practice, girls make autonomous decisions and only participate in situations that feel most comfortable to them. This is good practice for voicing their opinion and being independent in other aspects of their current life (e.g., negative peer pressure at school) or future life (e.g., toxic work situations or potentially unhealthy romantic relationships).

(5) Given that girls can opt out, adults should aim to coach in at least groups of two. This would increase the coaching staff’s capability and availability to provide individual support to athletes – such that one coach could continue to lead an activity, while the other attends to girls who have elected to not participate.

(6) Practices can be strengthened by incorporating body and brain-based warm-up and cool-down activities. This can help girls be in tune with their bodies and learn self-awareness.

(7) Coaches can build in the repetition of skills across activities within modules. Repetitive activities helps youth self-regulate.

(8) Modifications in competition should be included whenever possible. Girls are still building their athletic skills. Competition can be scaffolded to meet their developing needs and budding skills.

(!) The valuable components of trauma-informed programming help not just girls with a history. All girls on the team benefit when practice is trauma-informed!

More information about these core principles can be found in this 2016 article by Dr. Lou Bergholz and colleagues.

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