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Why ALL Coaches Need to be Trauma Sensitive & Aware

Editors Note: A version of this post appeared earlier in Play Like a Champion's Weekly Coach Note email. These emails are sent weekly to all partners and feature a variety of important topics & news for coaches, parents and athletes. Contact us for more information on subscribing or partnership!

Hey Coach! Do You Need to be Trauma Sensitive and Responsive?

Ask the average youth sports coach if they feel the need to be trauma sensitive and responsive, and you might get an answer like, “We really haven’t encountered any players who’ve been victims of trauma.” But how do you know?

According to the latest statistics, 26% of children in the United States will witness or experience a traumatic event before they turn four. Four of every 10 children in America say they experienced a physical assault during the past year, with one in 10 of those receiving an assault-related injury significant enough to require medical attention. One in five children witnessed violence in their family or their neighborhood during the previous year, and more than 60% of youth age 17 and under have been exposed to crime, violence and abuse either directly or indirectly. These statistics do not take into account kids who are traumatized by divorce, substance abuse or death of a family member.

So chances are that if you a youth coach you HAVE encountered players who have experienced significant trauma. You just didn’t know it.

As participants in the presentation discovered, signs that a player has suffered trauma include:

  • Benign fouls or small incidents escalating into verbal and/or physical aggression

  • Quitting the team for an apparent minor incident

  • Lack of self-awareness re feelings/ behaviors

  • Inability to develop friendships or pro-social relationships with coaches

  • Lack of focus/concentration

  • Difficulty abiding by the rules of the sport or team.

  • Additional signs include: being overwhelmed by their feelings of fear, concern over their own safety, headaches and stomach aches, unusually reckless or aggressive behavior, and guilt or shame.

Chris Coghlan, 2009 National League Rookie of The Year is just one example of an athlete who experienced trauma as a teenager that nearly destroyed his career and his life. See his story here:

As a coach, you have tremendous influence over your players; you don’t need to be a mental health professional, and “you don’t have to have the right letters after your name or any letters after your name,” to help these kids, according to Dr. Allison Jackson, founder of Integration Solutions, an organization that provides consultation, education, and technical assistance to those invested in the lives of children, families and adults impacted by emotional trauma, “you just need to be able to connect with them and inspire them…”

Dr. Jackson gave a TEDx talk on this topic that's well worth your time as a coach. Watch her video below.

As a coach, chances are nearly every child on your team is dealing with some form of trauma, no matter where or what you coach. That means it's important that you are aware of possible issues as a coach and informed about how to be sensitive to things that may come up. Learning to be Trauma Sensitive and Aware will help your athletes have a better experience while maximizing their potential on and off the playing field.

For more resources on this topic, check out our website's dedicated page on the topic at

This post was originally written by Bill Matthews, MA, LPC, PDDEd. Bill is a long-time friend and contributor of Play Like a Champion. He has over 30 years experience as a licensed professional counselor and is one of Play Like a Champion's resident experts in this field.

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