Tuesday, 28 May 2024

Uncomfortable vs. Unsafe: Promoting Resilience in Young Athletes

Helping young athletes distinguish between uncomfortable situations and unsafe ones is crucial for their development. As parents and coaches, it’s important to understand that while we should protect children from danger, we shouldn’t shield them from discomfort. Resilience and essential life skills are built by learning to navigate through discomfort. This article aims to guide parents and coaches in helping young athletes recognize the difference between uncomfortable and unsafe situations, fostering resilience while ensuring their safety.

Understand Your Role

As caregivers, our primary responsibility is to protect children and warn them about potential harm. When faced with uncomfortable situations, we can see them as valuable learning experiences for our young athletes. Our role is to provide guidance, allowing them to make decisions and take responsibility for the outcomes. However, when an environment becomes unsafe, our intervention is necessary to eliminate the danger or alert the appropriate authorities. Both scenarios require empathy and understanding from us.

Understand Unsafe vs. Uncomfortable

Although uncomfortable situations can be challenging for young athletes, it’s essential to differentiate them from unsafe ones. A child once described the difference as follows: “Uncomfortable can lead to bruises, but unsafe can lead to scars.” To promote understanding, encourage athletes to create a Venn Diagram, distinguishing between unsafe and uncomfortable elements. Establish clear definitions for each category, enabling athletes to recognize when they need to seek assistance from an adult. This process also fosters open dialogue, allowing for better conversations and problem-solving between parents and children.

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Believe Your Child

Trust is the foundation of our relationship with our children. It’s crucial that we believe them when they share their experiences or express their emotions. As Dr. Gilboa explains, defaulting to trust shows our children that we take their perspectives seriously and prioritize their safety. Although kids may sometimes make things up, assuming that their point of view is valid and true helps to create a safe environment where they feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and concerns.

Step In If It’s Unsafe, But Follow Up

When faced with an unsafe situation, it’s important to take immediate action by addressing the issue with relevant authorities, such as coaches, principals, or law enforcement. However, it’s equally important to involve our children in the process. After resolving the immediate concern, engage in a conversation to discuss what they can learn from the situation. Consider whether there are valuable lessons that can prepare them for similar challenges in the future. It’s essential to empower our children to advocate for themselves whenever possible.

Unsafe and Unhappy Aren’t the Same Thing

While our natural instinct may be to keep our children happy at all times, it’s crucial to recognize that our role is to help them grow, not to fix every grievance. Constantly solving their problems prevents them from learning, trying, failing, and ultimately developing the necessary skills to navigate life’s challenges. By allowing them to face discomfort and guiding them through it, we provide opportunities for growth and resilience.

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Use Discomfort as a Learning Tool

Learning to manage discomfort is a crucial skill that builds resilience. Growth rarely occurs in comfort zones. Encourage your young athletes to embrace discomfort as a necessary part of their development. For example, encourage them not to quit a team simply because they are struggling during practice. Instead, help them work through challenges, such as conflicts with teammates or difficulties in their performance. By facing discomfort head-on, young athletes have the opportunity to learn, grow, and reach their full potential.


It is our responsibility as parents and coaches to protect young athletes while nurturing their resilience. By helping them distinguish between uncomfortable and unsafe situations, we enable them to navigate life’s challenges with confidence. By believing in their experiences and involving them in problem-solving, we create an environment where they feel safe to share their concerns. Embracing discomfort as a catalyst for growth and learning empowers young athletes to become resilient individuals. Let us continue to support and guide them on their journey towards success both on and off the field.


Q: How can I help my child differentiate between uncomfortable and unsafe situations?
A: Encourage open dialogue and guide them in creating a Venn Diagram to distinguish between the two. Establish clear definitions and provide examples to aid their understanding.

Q: What should I do if my child experiences an unsafe situation?
A: Take immediate action by addressing the issue with relevant authorities. Ensure your child’s safety and well-being, and then follow up with a conversation to discuss what can be learned from the experience.

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Q: Do I need to solve all my child’s problems to keep them happy?
A: No, it’s important to allow your child to face and overcome challenges. Constantly solving their problems prevents them from developing the necessary skills to handle adversity.

Q: How can discomfort benefit my child’s growth?
A: Managing discomfort builds resilience and enables personal growth. Encourage your child to embrace discomfort as an opportunity for learning and development.

Q: What is the role of adults in promoting resilience in young athletes?
A: As adults, our role is to protect children from harm while also allowing them to navigate through discomfort. By believing our children’s perspectives and helping them develop necessary skills, we promote resilience and growth.