What can our kids (and us) learn from sports?

Sports and Therapy have more in common than you might think.  As a goal keeper growing up I can testify first hand to the positive impact playing a sport had in my life.  As a therapist, I can testify to the positive impact therapy (or counseling) can have in someone’s life.  So, are they similar?  Not at first glance, but let’s take a deeper look, shall we?

I am going to focus on soccer, but this also applies to basketball, baseball, softball, golf, volleyball, etc.  I played a number of these sports and am very thankful for the life lessons learned (the stiff joints, not so much, lol).  If you play sports you know there are several keys to being successful.  Let’s talk about 5 that I think are keys to being successful in sports (and life too).

  1. Commitment
  2. Practice
  3. Comradery
  4. Respect
  5. Confidence

Commitment is such a huge part of being on a team.  It is the most important part in my book.  Because if you are not committed, you won’t hang in there when times are rough.  Commitment is having the will to see things through when they are easy, and when they are hard (harder than that 20th burpee your coach is asking you to do!).  The same is true when you are in therapy.  The biggest key to success is being committed to the process.  I tell my clients and supervisees every day to “trust the process.”  It is huge to trust someone enough to be committed through the easy and tough times.  We trust our teammates and we trust our therapists to be there when things get tough.  It is a commitment and we must choose to stay committed.

Practice.  Ever heard the phrase “practice makes perfect?”  Well, here is what a coach told me one time:  “if you practice poor form, you will perfect poor form.” WOW! I had never thought of it that way!  But he reinforced that perfect practice makes perfect play.  We must practice our form and our touches or we can’t expect to perform at an elite level.  I have a 7-year-old who loves soccer.  We are teaching him that it isn’t about how far you can kick it or how hard you can kick it, but can you make sure you know where the ball is going when it leaves your foot.  If not, you need to work on technique, or the details.  Again, therapy is very similar.  If you are coping with situations in a negative way, you will continue to cope with situations the wrong way.  But, with help, we can decide which skills (coping skills) are good, and which ones are not so good.  Then we can work on the details, how to handle that situation differently.  It isn’t who can scream the loudest or hit the hardest, it is who can understand where there works and fists are going and be in control.  Therapy helps us control our emotions and behaviors much like a good controlled touch on a soccer ball helps us be in control of where the ball is going and what impact it could have on a game.

Comradery.  Being a part of a team is special.  It is like family.  It’s also like Vegas… ”What happens on the way to an away game stays on the bus.” Teams form a special bond that cannot easily be broken.  They are built with trust and commitment.  They are built from helping each other through tough times.  Teams unify like no other.  Our families should be a team.  Our work in therapy should have a team approach.  How do we work together to get the best outcome?  I personally believe that if the family unit is healthy, then the child or teen that I am working with will have a much higher chance of getting better.  If the team is fighting and split, there is no unity.  If we cannot work together, then how do we make progress.  When I am working with a child, whether it is in therapy, or as a soccer coach, I want to know their name.  I want to know what they like, what they don’t like.  I want to know what excites them, what terrifies them.  The more I can bond with that child, the more respect and commitment they will have to the process because they see I am invested in them.  They quit being “Just another kid” and they have a name, a story, a story that matters.

Respect.  Whew! This is a tough one for sure!  I remember playing for coaches that I didn’t respect and it made my athletic season horrible!  But I also had coaches that I loved and respected and the season was a joy (I didn’t say easy).  I respected my coach and I knew that what he was doing or asking me to do was for a purpose other than misery.  This was because I felt my coach respected me.  When we feel respected or appreciated we are always going to do more.  The same is true in Therapy.  If a child/teen/adult feels respected, they will be more apt to participate and benefit from it.  Being respected is a right that we should extend to every person, children and teens are no exception.  We have to help them feel they are heard and noticed and they will respond accordingly.  Therapy isn’t something to be afraid of, it is a place for your voice to be heard, your story to be told, and your journey to move forward.

Confidence.  When you combine the last 4 keys to success, you find they all improve someone’s confidence.  When I was on the field, if I knew my teammates were behind me, my coach respected my skills, and I had practiced and learned the right way to do things, then I knew the sky was the limit.  I felt confident in my ability to play soccer and play it well.  The same is also true with therapy.  If my “team” is behind me and the family is supportive and involved in therapy, the therapist believes in me, and I have worked hard to learn positive coping skills, then I will feel confident in my ability to handle the situations life throws at me.  I will be able to adjust to transitions and learn to interact with others appropriately because I don’t feel I am alone in this journey.

In the same way that one player can’t play a soccer game by themselves against another team, neither can a child or teen navigate life without their “team.”  We at Art of Therapy Center want to be a resource to your family to help you connect to each other, learn about each other, and practice ways you can work as a team.  We are thrilled to be a part of your community and would love to hear from you.  Please contact us at 980-484-2111 or admin@ArtofTherapycenter.com.  You can also check out our website at www.ArtofTherapyCenter.com.


Jennifer Pennington, MA, Eds, LPC, NCC                                                                                      Co-Owner and Therapist                                                                                                                      Art of Therapy Center

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