He moana pukepuke e ekengia e te waka
A choppy sea can be navigated
The stats on anxiety and depression in young people continue to pour in. And they continue to alarm.
Earlier this year, WHO released a brief stating the prevalence of anxiety and depression had increased globally by 25% in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s massive.
What’s more, young people were even more impacted. Adding to the already distressing trends of increased anxiety and depression in adolescence pre-pandemic.
Sport for resilience – how sport done right can help build resilient young people
I’m not going to claim that sport is going to be the panacea for solving the world’s problems around rising anxiety and depression rates. However, when sport is delivered well, it does have a place in helping young people become more resilient, more confident, more empowered and to develop high levels of self-esteem (and conversely mitigate anxiety and depression).
It’s also important to acknowledge that sport, particularly competitive sport, delivered poorly, can be the impetus for physical and mental wellbeing challenges, which we’ve spoken at length about in various previous posts:
- How much is too much when it comes to youth sport?
- Parenting teen girls inside a world of expectation
- Parenting and coaching: The perfectionist athlete
- What’s next? A perspective of athlete identity
With that being said, in light of rising rates of anxiety and depression in young people, it’s worth revisiting how sport can help foster positive development in young people, and importantly, what this looks like.
So, what does building resilient young people through sport look like?
To begin thinking about this, let’s consider what resilience is. Neuroscience Trainer, Kathryn Berkett, explains resilience as the ability to “feel emotions (whether they be anger, sadness, frustrations etc.), manage those feelings and come back down”.
Importantly, this ability is something we can develop over time, and we do so in a similar way to fitness. Developing resilience is about being exposed to tolerable levels of stress and then coming back down from that stress (i.e. recovering). As Kathryn Berkett puts it:
“What the body needs to do is practice holding to a tolerable level and calming down.”
Sport inherently provides lots of opportunities for young people to experience moments of stress. The key, for coaches, in particular, is to consider are these moments tolerable? That’s not to say mollycoddle your athletes, but rather reflect on the challenges (physical, technical, tactical and social) you explicitly and inherently set – are they too hard or too easy? Are you athletes coasting or being overwhelmed? In between this continuum is a sweet spot, where sport (and your coaching) can help with resilience building.
Using sport as a vehicle for positive youth development
Dr. Ralph Pim, a global expert in character and leadership development through sport, often discusses how sport reveals character. For sport to be used to build character, it takes purposeful leadership (often at the hands of the coach). In this webinar, Dr Pim introduces how coaches can support their athletes to find and develop their own character strengths.
In a similar vein, sports psychologist, Lara Mossman, advocates for coaches to take a leaf from the work of positive psychology and positive youth development to help their athletes navigate the psychological and social challenges that sport provides. This could look like:
- Building a language around strengths
- Exploring the role of positive emotions
- Getting curious about mindfulness
- Write athlete development goals down
- Explore the concept of flow with players
Lastly, coaches will benefit from understanding Dr. Carol Dweck’s work around mindsets, particularly growth mindsets, to be better able to support their athletes’ confidence and self-esteem.
Image Source: Canva