Social-Emotional Skill Building

Use deliberate structures and language to support the development and transfer of social-emotional skills necessary for athletic and life success.

WHY: The inherent demands of sport allow for the development of important social-emotional characteristics, such as resilience, interpersonal communication and problem-solving. However, social-emotional growth must be explicitly mediated by the coach to maximize holistic development of athletes.

HOW: Expert coaches employ athlete-centered tactics and behaviors to facilitate a positive climate that allows athletes to grow and safely explore connections and practice transfer between pro-social skills developed in the sport to life skills outside of sport.  One way a coach cultivates the social-emotional skills and attributes they wants to see in individual athletes and in the team culture is to explicitly name them. Coaches describe the importance of essential concepts—like respect for the game, unity, accountability, selflessness—and find opportunities throughout training sessions to highlight those concepts through drills, discussion, modeling, or demonstration.  The coach identifies athletes who are exhibiting those attributes during team activities, labels their behavior (i.e. - "That showed real grit when you....”), and provides positive reinforcement. The coach also explicitly discusses the ways these skills transfer to other situations in athletes’ lives and structures time for athletes to explore these connections. In some cases, coaches and athletes might work together to name and define the social-emotional skills necessary for success.

Video Examples 

The following videos from a high school football program demonstrate both implicit and explicit approaches to developing social-emotional skills through sport. On the explicit side of the spectrum we see a post-practice meeting, where the Head Coach is talking about how and why his athletes should get involved with the school community (“Patriot Friend Program”) and recognizes athletes who have been doing that so far. The coach is encouraging the "practice" of a variety of social-emotional skills in an explicit fashion off of the football field. This practice outside of the sport context supports the explicit transfer of sports-based skills to the real world.

Next, as the HC continues to prepare the team for the upcoming games, he talks about dealing with adversity, both on and off the field.

As the post practice meeting continues, we also see the coach explicitly demonstrating a commitment to inclusion and a culture of mutual support and respect among team members, as evident in the motivational address to the team by one of the members.


Positive Youth Development Through Sport (edited by Nicholas L. Holt, 2008 and 2016)   

Both of these volumes offer a collection of research articles and essays from leading academic experts on the subject of Positive Youth Development Through Sport. They offer in depths perspectives on the development of PYD as a concept and its application within youth sport. Articles examine how the context of the sport can be structured and what specific behaviours are adopted by the coaches to facilitate PYD. A closer look is also given to some of the negative outcomes of sport participation, as well as different philosophical and psychological approaches to studying PYD through physical activity.

NAIA Champions of Character Program 

This program is a comprehensive resource for athletes, parents and coaches who are interested in the specifics of why and how character should and can be developed through participation in sports. Resources include free online training courses, videos and overviews of community programs that put development and cultivation of positive character traits (integrity, respect, responsibility, sportsmanship and servant leadership) through sports as one of their core values.