The Power of Empathy in Sports

Empathy is defined as the ability to focus on what other people are thinking and understand how other people see things. This critical skill in sports has tremendous benefits to not only athletes but also to parents and coaches. Research shows that when individuals are able to show sincere empathy to others in pain or emotional stress, it produces a powerful calming effect. This effect depends on the level of empathy that an individual can demonstrate to the distressed individual.

In sports, this can make the difference in a team on the verge of giving up, to instead push through the toughest moments of the season to finish at the top. Coaches who show empathy can inspire athletes to give more effort, increase their confidence, and even their self-worth. Parents who are able to demonstrate high levels of empathy help their children to get past their problems faster; therefore, refocusing on the process of getting better, instead of results. How does empathy effect attentional focus? Many of the athletes who work with SPMI often start the program because of their struggles with focusing outside of the problem among others.

At SPMI, empathy is a powerful tool that is utilized throughout each session to help athletes begin to focus outside of the problem, trust in their support team, and most importantly, trust in themselves. Below are a few tips on how to improve empathy skills among athletes. 

Soften your tone: 

Studies have shown that tone plays a major factor on how an individual feels when receiving positive or negative feedback. When athletes receive feedback in a soft, warm, supportive tone of voice, they leave feeling more positive, even when the feedback is negative!

Listen attentively: 

When athletes feel they are truly being heard, trust also grows. It's important to not interrupt the athlete and instead genuinely listen to what the athlete is saying. 

Increasing self-awareness: 

Start studying how your own behaviors effect others in both positive and negative ways and work towards improving them. Recording your behaviors in a journal will better increase your awareness of what is working during your discussions with your coach, parent, player, or team.