The Power of Building Resilience in Kids

October 11, 2023

Kids should be spending time exploring, learning by doing, and developing skills that will help them as they grow. Many do this through sports and learning fundamental skills like throwing and catching but there also is an opportunity to emphasize life skills like teamwork, sportsmanship, making friends, and yes the buzzword- resilience. 

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from challenges and setbacks, and it’s a skill that kids need to learn just like any other. Many believe resilience is learned by overcoming a major setback. However, resilience is learned by experiencing the little day-to-day questions like Where do I sit at lunch? Did I study enough for the quiz? Or will I mess up in the game? Teaching kids tools to handle these situations is crucial for their emotional and mental well-being. 

As a young coach, I believed long practices using running as a punishment and pushing my players to exhaustion would build resiliency when in fact it did quite the opposite. I observed instead that they dreaded practice and sometimes questioned why they were even playing the sport. They were not more resilient but instead just physically spent. I asked a captain why the team was struggling even though we were winning games and she said, “It’s not fun and playing should be fun.” 

Over time I baked competition into everything that we did in practice. I started with tag games for warmups, small-sided drills where team competitions were highlighted, and even the introduction of another sport like ultimate frisbee giving the athletes a break. At the end of a close game, the athletes could now “leave it all on the field” and feel a sense of accomplishment, win or lose- this is resilience at work.

I also learned from conversations with my athletes that voice and verbally identifying emotions built resiliency. I began to start practices with a circle and a focusing exercise where they learned to leave behind anything from their day that might derail them at practice. As we built trust, girls began sharing aloud their distractions and what they were instead going to concentrate on at practice.

2-4-1 TOP SELF was born out of these coaching experiences. Through a simple graphic with emojis, kids circle up at the beginning of our programs and identify the emotion they are feeling, like today I am the red, frustrated emoji, or the purple anxious emoji, among others. We have found that kids feel all kinds of emotions when playing sports so our programs are a perfect place to identify how they are feeling and then quickly help them get to a place of how they want to feel, which we call Home Base. We use breathing exercises, tapping, and tracing of fingers to help calm down and get to Home Base. This is a simple skill that kids not only use in our programs but also at home and in the classroom when they are feeling overwhelmed. 

I read an interesting article in Harvard Business Review “Resilience is About How You Recharge Not About How You Endure,” by  Shawn Achor and Michelle Giellan. They write, “resilience involves working hard, but it also requires one to stop, recover, and then begin the hard work again. Recovery is key to maintaining good health, but also preventing lost productivity.”1

Positive neuroscientist Brent Furl from Texas A&M University coined the term “homeostatic value” to describe the value that certain actions have for creating equilibrium, and thus wellbeing, in the body. When the body is out of alignment from overworking, we waste a vast amount of mental and physical resources trying to return to balance before we can move forward. I believe this can also be true of kids who are specializing in one sport too early and racing from school to practice and then spending the weekend playing sometimes 6 or 7 games and thus not getting the necessary rest. 

Yes, rest builds resilience which goes against what many of us were taught growing up but the science proves it. 

Let’s build resiliency in our kids by modeling and teaching techniques that can help them get back to Home Base. Techniques like this paired with rest and unstructured time will help kids learn how to bounce back from setbacks and empower them to face life’s ups and downs and live healthier, happier lives with greater resiliency in our complex world.

Achor, S., & Gilean, M. (2023, January 19). Resilience is about how you recharge, not how you endure. Harvard Business Review. 

#241TopSelf #resilience #mentalhealth

To learn more about the cross section of physical activity and mental health, click here. Find a brief snippet below.

“Though many see athletic skill as the cornerstone of sports, it’s the emotional and social acumen developed through SEL that truly empowers athletes to excel, grow, inspire, and lead. As we hone our physical abilities, let’s also commit to nurturing our minds and souls.”🏆❤️


About Kerry Boyle

Kerry is Co-Founder and current Chief Operating Officer of 2-4-1. Coach Kerry has more than 30 years of experience in teaching, coaching, educational administration and leadership. Originally from Baltimore, Md., Kerry was a two-sport Division I athlete (lacrosse and field hockey) at Bucknell University where she majored in English and Political Science. In her career, Kerry has worked at all levels of schools including elementary, middle, high school and university. She has administrated, taught, and coached in New York City, Baltimore, Seattle and Hartford. Throughout her career, Kerry has taught US History and Government, developed international programming, led large athletic departments, and has worked in local and state politics. Kerry now lives in West Hartford, Conn. with 2-4-1 Co-Founder, Steve Boyle and they enjoy visiting with their three grown daughters Alannah, Michaela and Siobhan.


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