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Understanding Trauma’s Impact on Behavior

Working with a team and managing all the different personalities and dynamics while developing competitors and life skills is difficult.

Young people don’t usually misbehave without a reason for those behaviors. As a coach, identifying the context of your players’ behavior will set both of you up for success.

Kids who have faced strong, frequent and/or prolonged adversity, as well as collective traumas like racism and community violence without supportive adults in their lives, can experience toxic stress.

This excessive activation of the stress-response system can lead to long-lasting wear and tear on the body and brain. As a result, kids often exhibit effects of serious trauma exposure, such as the inability to control impulses, aggression and a heightened sense of fear.

What does this look like for a kid playing sports?

  • A minor foul escalates into a fight with teammates
  • A lack of focus
  • The inability to handle competitive pressure

While these behaviors can be frustrating from a coaching perspective, we encourage you to remember two essential components in supporting kids:

  • Always assume kids’ disruptive behavior is the symptom of a deeper harm and are outside of their control.
  • For kids to manage their behaviors and emotions, they need support from a regulated adult.

Coaches Can:

  • Identify their own triggers and have strategies to regulate themselves when anger or frustration develops
  • Listen deeply to understand players’ perspectives
  • Ask “looking back” questions to help kids name previous emotions
  • Help kids identify new responses to behavior and emotions

3. The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog Bruce Perry, ME, PHD and Maia Szalavitz (2017)