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Sports Mentors Help Kids Take 'Tiny Steps' To A Better Life09:37
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Programs like NBA Cares can make a difference, but experts say the real difference is made by coaches and mentors who work with the same kids over long periods of time.  (NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Programs like NBA Cares can make a difference, but experts say the real difference is made by coaches and mentors who work with the same kids over long periods of time. (NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images)
This article is more than 4 years old.

When done correctly, sports seem to have the power to change the lives of children, improving their behaviors and their futures.

Lou Bergholz of EdgeWork Consulting and Boston University's John McCarthy work with kids in need. They also help train others to promote youth development through sports. They joined Bill Littlefield to discuss these experiences and the latest research on how mentoring can change lives.


Highlights from Bill's conversation with Lou Bergholz and John McCarthy

Behavior Tells A Story

[sidebar title="Kermit Alexander" align="right"]NFL veteran Kermit Alexander mentored many kids in his hometown of L.A. But he can't shake his guilt over one athlete he was unable to save. [/sidebar]

LB: For a long time, I always saw behavior as just behavior. And, in the last ten years, with all the research and work we've done with kids affected by trauma and seeing how behavior manifests and where it comes from, the new mantra I live by is that, "Behavior tells a story." And, the more complex, the more confusing, the more aggressive, the more confounding their behavior, the more there's something going on underneath it. It's a radical shift and approach in empathy, to see that that behavior is, potentially, that child's best effort.

Figuring Out The Story

JM: You know, when working with coaches, or working with youth-mentoring people like we do, I think one of the biggest things is really trying to figure out that kid's story and learn more about who they are and who surrounds them and really trying to figure out how to individualize your coaching to that young person.

PTSD In Our Inner Cities

I think one of the biggest things is really trying to figure out that kid's story and learn more about who they are and who surrounds them.

John McCarthy

LB: So this is a fascinating full-circle around another NPR story that was on "This American Life" a few years ago, and they were theme-ing around doppelgangers. And basically, it was a story that compared soldiers coming back from active duty with kids in inner cities. The same biological changes were going on in both of them. And actually, the kids in inner cities potentially were worse off because the soldiers leaving these war-torn areas were leaving the physical location, so they were coming back with a level of trauma but into, generally, communities and areas and families that had some level of stability. And, in actuality, a lot of the kids living in urban areas...there's nowhere to go. Everywhere they go, they're experiencing, and the re-traumatizing aspects of that is incredible.

'Tiny Steps' Toward A Better Future

LB: The steps might take years. The sport context is really special in many ways, and it's not going to achieve all things for all kids. But it is about trying to keep that kid for one more hour, for one more day, for one more season, knowing that the progress could be dramatically slow and backwards for half the time, but that staying there by itself is a stabilizing experience.

Kids Becoming The Mentors

JM: I have one kid right now, he's coaching the football team. He was a kid from Puerto Rico, he didn't speak any English when he first came in, and now he's made this great transition to a real mentoring role. And he's from the community so he's the real deal--he can speak Spanish to the kids, he can do things that I could never do.

This segment aired on November 21, 2015.

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