Youth Sports Healing Trauma and Other Coping Techniques

2020 has been a challenging year to say the least. From the COVID-19 pandemic and all the implications that came with it, to the ongoing systemic racism that plagues our nation, these challenging times have been difficult for many to navigate and hardly improve the mental health of our communities. In fact, some researchers warn that the coronavirus pandemic alone could leave long-lasting emotional trauma (cnbc.com).

The state of our country today certainly could induce trauma, but the U.S. is no stranger to it. An estimated 70% of adults in the U.S. have experienced at least one traumatic event in their lifetime and more than two-thirds of children report one traumatic event prior to the age of 16. Those at even higher risk for experiencing trauma and repeated trauma are those at an economic disadvantage. In fact, the American Psychology Association stated that exposure to trauma is directly related to socioeconomic standing.

Two-thirds of children report one traumatic event prior to the age of 16.

At Greater Youth Sports Association (GYSA) our mission is to support children, particularly those in low-income communities. But how do we provide the additional support needed given all these children are up against. Trauma, whether it comes from within the home or at larger scales, carries many implications, especially for children. Let’s look at these now.

The Implications of Trauma

Anyone who has studied the Vietnam war knows how dangerous the implications of trauma can be. PTSD is one of the most talked about disorders related to trauma, but hand to hand combat is just one of the many ways a person can experience it. Trauma comes in many forms, including abuse, neglect, natural disasters, death, illness, to name a few and can have a multitude of impacts on mental and physical health. Some common symptoms include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Low Self-Esteem
  • Chronic Pain
  • Lack of Self Respect
  • Addiction
  • Hormone Imbalance
  • Muscle Tension
  • Immune Dysfunction / Chronic Inflammation
  • Cardiovascular Disease

These are just a few of the symptoms of trauma that many children and adults suffer from today.

Childhood trauma is all too common, particularly in low-income households. Keep in mind that trauma literally reprograms and rewires the brain. This is why childhood trauma doesn’t simply fade over time, and often affects a child’s biological, cognitive and physical development and increases risk of lifelong emotional and physical problems.

Solutions to Trauma

But, there is good news when it comes to trauma. The brain’s wiring is not set in stone! There are steps that can be taking to rewire the brain and overcome trauma and many that can be implemented without professional intervention. Please note, in cases of severe trauma it is best to engage with a healthcare professional.

Sports as a Solution

GYSA Co-Founder, Devonte Woodson, and 2020 Basketball Particpant

At GYSA we believe that sports can build success on many levels. In addition to the obvious benefits such as improved physical activity levels, sportsmanship and discipline, sports when implemented correctly can also have many mental health benefits. In fact, JAMA Pediatrics published a study showing that people who had experienced traumatic events as children had improved mental health outcomes as adults if they participated in team sports during their adolescence.

Sports can teach many life lessons including resilience, grit and determination. Team sports also allow for improved self-esteem and better social interactions. GYSA conveys these important lessons during practices and games by using Social Emotional Learning (SEL) techniques.

Social Emotional Learning

SEL is the process through which children learn about and manage their emotions, set positive goals, show empathy for others, establish positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

SEL is important when dealing with trauma because it places strong emphasis on evaluating and controlling emotion. It allows children to look inward and understand their feelings. A common trait in trauma is to bury pain when it occurs, but SEL encourages the opposite. SEL also places major emphasis on establishing and maintaining positive relationships. Relationships can have a major influence on mental health. If surrounded by a strong support system, children are able to handle traumatic situations with more confidence and hopefully avoid long-lasting effects.

The reason GYSA chose to convey these important techniques through sports is because we wanted children to really feel and relate to the message. Nelson Mandela once said, “[Sport] speaks to youth in a language they understand”. We are working to share these lessons in a language our children can easily understand in the hopes that they will continue to use them as they learn and grow.  


We believe sports have the power to impact and improve the lives of at-risk children across the country, however there are many ways to cope with trauma and maintain happiness. Martin Seligman, the Father of Positive Psychology, came up with a model that delineates what we need to achieve happiness. Striving to integrate the elements of this model into daily life and teaching it to children at a young age may help in reversing the impacts of trauma. The PERMA model is as follows:

  • Positive Emotion

This may seem obvious, but positive emotion is powerful when it comes to overcoming trauma and being truly happy. Positive emotion is developed out of optimism, positivity, and enjoyment. Some techniques that can be used to induce positive emotion include participating in hobbies or activities that bring real enjoyment! This might be participating in a sport, going hiking, etc. Find what truly brings you joy and practice it. The key here is not to confuse true joy with pleasure. Another helpful activity for increasing positive emotion, is keeping a gratitude journal. Each day write down all the things you are grateful for. Over time your brain will start to more easily recognize the good things in your life over the bad.

  • Engagement

Engagement involves finding activities that demand our full attention. This is that activity that makes “Time Fly” and that puts you in a state of flow, completely and totally focused on that one thing and oblivious to the outside world. This involves trying new things, maybe it’s playing sports, dancing, singing, playing an instrument, etc. Explore different things and don’t stop until you find that thing that you truly love.

  • Relationships

Humans need love and social interaction. We are social beings and cannot function at a high level without human connection. Make time to spend with the people who mean the most. Also, make sure that the people you do spend the most time with align with the happiness you want in your life.

  • Meaning

Having a purpose in life is necessary for happiness! Unfortunately, our world puts a lot of stock in material wealth, but money is often not the gateway to happiness. Finding your purpose may take time, exploration and experimentation. Ask yourself important questions such as, what would I want to do each day if money were not a factor? How do I wish to give back to my community? What brings me joy? By looking inward and asking deep questions your purpose will start to reveal itself.

  • Accomplishments

To truly achieve happiness, it is important to set goals and be ambitious. There is a sense of pride and satisfaction that comes along with achieving our goals. Start by setting small goals and appreciating the small wins as you achieve them. As you grow and flourish in these small goals you will be able to start expanding your goals and dreaming / achieving big.

Press On

The world continues to challenge us in new and unprecedented ways, but it is our job as members of society to offer solutions to these challenges. Mental health is not a conversation to be passed over, especially in such troubling times. We must press on and actively work to improve as individuals and in turn we will be able to improve our communities.

At GYSA we believe sports can heal, teach and prepare our youth for adulthood. This is our solution. This our mission. When we stand together, we all win!


COVID-19 and Our Children’s Physical Inactivity

The current state of affairs has brought our nation to a sudden and screeching halt, a complete shut down of the world we once used to know. From gyms, to sporting events, from small and large businesses, to schools, normal no longer exists. The adverse effects of this shut down will be plentiful. Among those effected are the children of America. Today’s youth already live an increasingly sedentary lifestyle and staying home for prolonged periods is not doing any favors for their physical activity levels. 

GYSA Founder, Devonte Woodson

Let’s take a step back for a moment. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic our nation’s youth were not the most active group around. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that ONLY 24% of children, ages 6 to 17, participate in the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity per day. Again, this finding was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and the state-wide stay-at-home order. So, not only is it unlikely that 76% of children will start incorporating physical activity into their daily routines during this strange new time, but it is expected that the number of previously active children will fall as well. 

The CDC found that ONLY 24% of children, ages 6 to 17, participate in the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity per day

According to the CDC the consequences of not being physically active include:

  • Energy imbalances which lead to increased risk of becoming overweight or obese. 
  • Increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Increased risk of factors for cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and insulin resistance and glucose intolerance. 

On the flip side, students who ARE physically active tend to have higher grades, better school attendance, improved memory, and more appropriate classroom behavior! 

“Unhealthy children become unhealthy adults”. Right now, it is vitally important to encourage physical activity in our children, and once school resumes, after-school sports programs such as the GYSA “School Sports Solution” (https://greateryouthsportsnv.org/school-sports-solution) will be more important than ever  for our schools and their students. GYSA believes in educating children at a young age about the importance of daily physical activity. By instilling this knowledge in our children at a young age, they will grow to be healthier, happier adults. 
We understand staying active during this time can be challenging. Below, GYSA has provided several tips for incorporating physical activity in your child’s daily routine:

  • Play a game of catch with a football or baseball outside (be sure to follow social distancing guidelines)
  • Work on your dribbling and passing skills by kicking around a soccer ball
  • Complete virtual home workouts, like Coach Woodson’s 15 Minute Daily Workout on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/greateryouthsports/live). Workouts are kid friendly and take place at noon each week day. 
  • Set aside one hour a day for any type of physical activities – avoid phones, the TV and other electronics. 
  • Avoid sitting for extended periods by taking a walk or just standing up and moving regularly – studies have shown that sitting for 3 hours a day or more can cut up to two years off a persons life expectancy!