Addressing the Social and Emotional Crisis in Youth Sports

by Justin Sayban

Unless you’re an educator, “Social and Emotional Learning” (SEL) for kids probably hasn’t been on your radar.  But without a doubt, in the midst of a pandemic and on-again-off-again school and sports, our kids’ social and emotional health is more important than ever.  During this time of elevated depression, anxiety and fear, many coaches would probably even argue that your athletes’ social and emotional health is more important than their actual skill development.  We agree wholeheartedly, and that’s why we are working hard to bring the SEL competencies from the classroom to the ballfields RIGHT NOW:

  • Self-awareness: Student athletes need to understand their own strengths and weaknesses.  Help athletes set goals and then, just like progressive educators,  ask athletes to self-assess and reflect.
  • Self-management:  At present, nothing is more important than kids managing their emotional well-being.  This means recognizing emotions, responding to those emotions and learning to keep them in check.  Open lines of communication between athletes, their coaches and their parents to make sure they are staying healthy and strong.
  • Social Awareness:  If there’s anything that can heal a sick nation, it’s empathy, tolerance and respect.  Fortunately, these come naturally for teammates in sports.  And we believe that youth sports will help bring our nation back to health.  
  • Relationship Skills: We all know that the key to success in sports is building relationships with teammates, coaches and parents.  But the pandemic and restrictions on play have jeopardized the ability to build these relationships.  Gone are the days (at least temporarily) of fist bumps and high fives.  So we foster a healthy, safe and distanced environment to make sure coaches and young athletes can maintain and build healthy team relationships.
  • Responsible Decision-Making: Certainly good decision-making is a life skill but now more than ever our young athletes are fragile, nervous, anxious, and rightfully so.  But we need to encourage them to take time to weigh options on and off the field, then forge ahead and own the outcome (positive or negative).   We promote empowerment of our athletes and this is where kids in sport will be the tip of the spear that defeats COVID-19.

Wishing you a safe and healthy return to play.