Why Kids Who Play Sports are Great at Empathy

Source: Lukas Blazek, Pexels.com

My 10-year old daughter Chloe, along with her mighty Raptors teammates, recently played their hearts out in a tough soccer tournament. Over the course of the weekend, they played six games, fighting until the very end.

It came down to a tied match, ending in a series of penalty kicks. Each team had five kickers with five chances to score, each team alternating a turn against the opposing team’s goalie. The team with the most goals would win.

First up was our kicker versus their goalie. Then their kicker against our goalie, and on it went. In the fifth round, our team nailed it! Then we all held tight while the other team stepped up to take a fifth kick.

I have to say, it was so exciting! Parents from both teams nervously cheered on the kickers for their children’s teams. The air was electric with anticipation. Other soccer teams who had been playing in the tournament nearby even came over to watch and cheer from the sidelines.

The opposing team kicked, and our goalie dove to catch it. The ball popped out of her little hands into the air. But before it had a chance to land on the ground, she dove for it, and caught it! Our team erupted into cheers. We had won!

Amid our celebration, the opposing goalie burst into tears. I was standing next to her parents on the sidelines and congratulated them on their daughter’s great effort, offering her mom a hug.

What I saw next was incredibly touching. The girls from our team, including my daughter Chloe, gathered around the goalie from the other team, and gave her hugs and consolation. They also offered hugs to everyone on the other team.

When I finally found Chloe, I gave her a big hug and high five. Proud mommy moment! But as she hugged me, she reminded me to check myself. “Mom, she’s really upset! Let’s get off the field and celebrate later.”

I learned so much from her that day. Our kids showed us that with all their hard work and dedication to their sport, they had learned a lesson much bigger than how to score a goal, and gave us a lesson in empathy, too.

This wasn’t an accident. The decision to console the other players was entirely the girls’ idea, but it helps that Chloe’s coaches have created what researcher Mary F. Fry calls a “caring climate.” It’s focused not on winning, but on empathy and love of the game. Chloe and her teammates are valued and respected in a safe and supportive environment, one that has consideration for others. Young athletes in these environments report “greater empathy for others, more engagement in prosocial behaviors, better emotional regulation, more hope and happiness, and less depression and sadness than those in less caring climates.”

A caring climate has a huge impact on kids, and it creates opportunities for them to take the lead in caring actions. A group of middle schoolers in Michigan decided on their own to give up scoring points in a game so that their teammate, who has learning disabilities, could score a goal. As one player said, “I kind of went from being somebody who mostly cared about myself and my friends to caring about everyone and trying to make everyone’s day and everyone’s life.”

Another example is this team of youth soccer players in Barcelona, who comforted their opponents from Japan after winning the U-12 Junior Soccer World Challenge 2016.

And there are many more great examples.

Michele Borba, a renowned educational psychologist who specializes in empathy and bullying, says that “empathy is made of habits, habits that we need to work on.” We all have the basic tools for empathy, but it doesn’t just magically happen for kids. It has to be mindfully taught and activated.

Coaches, parents, teachers, and youth leaders can build on what they are already doing to model and encourage empathy by helping kids learn to love service to others through volunteering.

We have made it easy by taking out all the guesswork so that young people can find activities for causes they care about, wherever you are, whatever age they are, and whatever time commitment they can make. They can also log their service hours if they create an account, to help meet service learning requirements. Our YouthGive app for iPhone makes it super easy for parents and youth to find and track activities.

Coaches know that cultivating empathy leads to better performance on the field and in life, and it’s something that parents can feel good about encouraging, too.

This post was co-written by PGK Advisory Board member Liza Batallones and  Sundari Johansen, Manager of Strategic Engagement for PGK.

Help Your Kid Build Emotional Intelligence in 3 Simple Ways

We all want our kids to succeed, and we want to give them the skills they need to do it. But are you putting volunteer service on your child’s list of crucial extra-curriculars?

If you aren’t, here’s why you should.

Did you know that emotional intelligence is a bigger predictor of long term success than good grades?
Source: GIPHY

The biggest thing that is going to help your kid through their life and future career isn’t IQ, test scores, or academic skill – it’s emotional intelligence. Decades of research shows that kids who develop skills like empathy, resilience, and how to differentiate and name emotions are much more successful as adults, and much less likely to self-harm and engage in risky behavior as teens.

Volunteer service helps prepare teens for college, not just by looking good on college applications or qualifying them for service-oriented scholarships, but by strengthening their character.

It’s been proven that volunteer service is strongly associated with more positive outcomes such as higher grades, better mental health, and better follow-through with commitments.

Learning emotional intelligence through service to others is important at every age.
Source: GIPHY

Volunteer service helps kids seek out and listen to what others need, connect with them, and create meaningful emotional connections. We can help them name all those feelings and get comfortable talking about them, help them better understand how their actions impact others, and help them process how service affects their own lives.

Teens lose half their brains in puberty, and what they do in their teen years matters.
Source: Reaction GIFs

With teens, it’s especially important to reinforce lessons of empathy and giving. The pre-teen and teenage brain goes through several (literally!) mind-blowing biological transformations, and things like regular volunteer service can help teens establish and feed life-long habits rooted in personal responsibility, empathy, and compassion.

Showing kids and teens in real, concrete terms how their actions affect others can be challenging, but it’s also vital. Service helps make those lessons easy and positive.

We’ve created a simple challenge for kids and teens of all ages to help you get started.
Source: Gifer

A Little #GivingChallenge is designed to help young people of all ages reflect on these things simply and easily, so the lessons stick, reinforcing pathways in the brain that support empathy and kindness.

With A Little #GivingChallenge, we’ve taken out all the guesswork to help you get started. Three days for kids and teens to give back in three different ways, with three concrete actions.

 

A Little #GivingChallenge

  • Day 1: Help your family
  • Day 2: Do something kind for a teacher, friend, or neighbor
  • Day 3: Give back to your community

 

With our downloadable quick guide, you’ll get ideas for each day of the challenge and a place where kids can reflect on why they chose a particular activity. This moment of reflection is super important, as it’s what builds those pathways in the brain that help kids process and retain these lessons of empathy, service, and kindness.

Download the PDF here!


 

To The Mothers This Mother’s Day

It’s Mother’s Day, and I can’t help but reflect on the multitude of ways being a mother has changed me. I not only have a new appreciation for all my mom went through trying to raise me to become a confident and capable young woman, but I also recognize with deeper appreciation how critical the role is we mothers play in our children’s development in forming good human beings.

In a world full of distraction, temptation, and egocentric messaging, true intentionality is required of parents today in a way that is perhaps greater than ever before. Yet because of all those distractions, it is often harder today, I think, to always keep the eyes on the prize, so to speak. But I am also convinced, it IS possible.

I have watched my now teenager go from the innocent, awe-inspired child I once knew who so readily soaked up those early moments of service we enjoyed together, to a budding young man with an awareness of the world and the role he plays in it. While weekend soccer games, school dances, seemingly endless homework, and so many other things occupy our time and focus, there is still regular discussion about how we are living our lives to better the lives of those we have the chance to touch, and moments still carved out to make sure we are doing as well as talking.

As our spread stretches from said teenager to toddler, I will be thinking this Mother’s Day about the privilege and obligation I have to be the one mother my kids have on this earth. And while I may take this one day to relax from my duties just a little, I will remember that my respite from instilling the value of hard work, honesty, compassion, and service must be (relatively) short if I hope to see the outcome I so longingly desire.

And just as importantly, I will also remind myself to cut myself a little slack when I come up short – each day is filled with enough moments to make this happen. The race is long, and we have all the ingredients we need to make the magic.

Happy Mother’s Day to moms everywhere. May you feel loved and appreciated for all that you are and all that you do!

Cultivating Kindness NOW

Yesterday brought another historic tragedy, contributing to a narrative of violence not seen in any other western society. Why?! As a mother of four and a believer in the innate goodness of all people, I can’t wrap my head around it, nor can I explain it to my kids. The loss of innocent young life at the hands of yet another child is not something to be explained, I suppose. There is just simply no way to make sense of it.

I’m sure in the days to come, a picture will be painted by the media offering ideas as to how this came to pass, but the full truth will likely never be known. Regardless of the reasons, it should be a wake-up call for all of us – not to put more armed guards at the door of every school, but to arm ourselves and our children with love, to fight back not with more violence but with more tolerance and empathy, so the next youth who is crying out for help – of whatever kind – gets the support he or she needs before they go to such extremes.

Regardless of the storyline that may be developed around what led to this, the reality is every life is an accumulation of moments and experiences that shape us. As parents, every day we make choices about how we spend our time and how our kids spend theirs. Things like serving others and partaking in experiences that cultivate understanding and empathy too often fall in line behind math tutors, soccer tournaments and, sadly, even video game time. As we mourn this latest tragedy, let us remember we have the opportunity to be a force for good in the lives of our kids, their friends, and our communities. It is our job to help them, guide them, and teach them in all of the little moments that present themselves each and every day to be bearers of love, compassion and kindness. If we don’t, we will be part of the reason why this inexplicable narrative continues.