Wednesday, 22 May 2024

How Sport Can Support Athletes in Dealing with Community Trauma

Sport and Community Trauma

In the world of sports, injuries and illnesses can occur even to the most diligent athletes. However, when these incidents happen, it is crucial for the sporting community to come together to support and prepare young athletes. In this article, we will explore ways to help athletes navigate traumatic times and equip them with the tools to overcome such challenges.

Understanding the Challenges Athletes Face

Traumatic injuries are prevalent in sports, occurring at all levels. High school athletes, for instance, account for a significant number of injuries, doctor visits, and hospitalizations annually. Additionally, student-athletes face immense stress, which is often overlooked. Creating awareness about the stress young athletes experience enables coaches and administrators to provide effective guidance during both good and bad times.

Effective Communication as a Team

Openly discussing tragedies and traumatic incidents is essential for coaches. By explicitly addressing such events, coaches can foster a supportive environment within the team. The recent cardiac arrest incident involving Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin serves as an opportunity to initiate these crucial conversations. These discussions emphasize the importance of relationships and the transient nature of life, allowing the team to come together and heal in healthy ways.

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Establishing an Open-Door Policy

As a coach, you may not always be aware of the tragedies or traumas experienced by your athletes. Nonetheless, maintaining an open-door policy encourages athletes to seek your support during difficult times. Promote a team culture that normalizes discussions about emotional experiences both on and off the field. By adopting a preventative mentality, you can better equip your team to face adversity.

Encouraging Offline Engagement

In today’s digital age, it is important to encourage athletes, especially youth athletes, to limit their exposure to social media. Traumatic events and tragedies are often shared extensively online, which can retraumatize individuals and disrupt their emotional well-being. Instead, consider providing resources, such as mental health professionals, to help athletes cope with and process their trauma effectively.

Recognizing “Invisible” Injuries

It is essential not to overlook the less apparent injuries that can lead to trauma and tragedy. While some injuries are visibly evident, others, such as concussions, may not be immediately noticeable. Coaches must educate athletes about the signs and symptoms of these “invisible” injuries, such as post-concussion syndrome or overtraining. By validating and taking seriously the struggles of athletes dealing with these types of injuries, coaches can foster a supportive environment.

Emphasizing Community Care

While self-care is important, community care plays a significant role in supporting athletes during tough times. Rather than solely focusing on individual self-care, it is crucial for the community to come together and offer support to those in need. Facilitating team discussions led by therapists or grief counselors can be far more impactful than simple self-care strategies. By shifting the responsibility of care to the community, athletes feel supported and empowered during difficult situations.

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Having a Plan in Place

Coaches should proactively plan for handling challenging moments, even if their team has not experienced any tragedies yet. By preparing in advance, coaches can effectively support their teams when the need arises. Collaborating with administrators, psychologists, therapists, and trainers to create an action plan is crucial. Consider having larger discussions through assemblies or smaller conversations within teams, ensuring the presence of mental health professionals to guide these discussions.


Q: How can coaches support athletes during traumatic events?

Coaches can support athletes by openly discussing tragedies, fostering a culture of communication, maintaining an open-door policy, and providing resources for mental health support.

Q: What are some less apparent injuries in sports?

Less apparent injuries include concussions, overtraining, chronic fatigue, and muscle tears or strains. Coaches should educate athletes about these injuries and create an environment where their struggles are acknowledged.

Q: Is self-care enough to help athletes cope with trauma?

While self-care is essential, community care is equally important. Encouraging the community to come together and offer support to athletes in need has a more significant impact than solely focusing on individual self-care.


Tragedy and trauma are unfortunate aspects of the athletic experience. As coaches and administrators, it is our responsibility to create a culture of openness, communication, and support. By proactively addressing these challenges, equipping athletes with the necessary tools, and having an action plan in place, we can help athletes navigate traumatic times and foster a resilient sporting community.

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