Treating Trauma Through Sports


Last week, Up2Us and Edgework Consulting delivered a training on the power of sport to help traumatized kids heal.  It was part of a partnership between the US Attorney’s office and local SBYD leaders in Philadelphia to use sport to address the difficult challenge of working with youth in the juvenile justice system. Most initiatives aiming to keep court-involved youth out of trouble fail to recognize one critical characteristic of the population.  Youth who have been exposed to a lifetime of poverty, violence, or both, are traumatized.   Trauma impairs the normal development of their brains and bodies and keeps them from functioning in social situations.

Traumatized youth don’t develop the tools to regulate their emotions or control their impulses.  Sometimes, they are aggressive and self-destructive; sometimes they isolate themselves.   Either way, the behavior is not consistent with social norms and youth are punished for it…even though they can’t control it.  Instead of punishment, what traumatized youth really need is a chance to reconnect with their bodies and redevelop social and emotional skills.

They need to play sports.

Within the lines of a lacrosse field or basketball court, youth have the chance to be in control of their bodies and overcome the paralyzing fear of their past.  They are encouraged to take risks in a safe and supportive environment where the consequences are not a matter of life or death.  They develop a relationship with a caring adult who offers the consistency and predictability that helps them feel in control.   They have the chance to heal.

The potential for using sport in the process of healing traumatized youth is boundless.  And the need is great.  In Philadelphia, they have proposed a simple solution- for probation officers and coaches to work together to provide youth a place where they not only get respite from the chronic trauma of their everyday lives, but also the chance to reverse its effects.  We think they are on to something brilliant.  And we’ll be supporting them in every way we can.

Megan Bartlett Director, Up2Us Center