3.4.2. Appropriate activities

Examples of how to connect the Hobfoll principles of psychosocial support to physical activity and sport1

Examples of programme goals Key principle Example activity Description
To promote better cohesion amongst participants ‘Promoting connectedness’ Team touch football Divide the group into teams of 4-5 players. In short five-minute games, each player must touch the ball once in order to score. Mini fields and small goals are best for this game. 
To provide an opportunity for participants to share feelings and emotions about the crisis they have experienced  ‘Sense of safety’ Sharing Circle At the end of each session, find a comfortable place, for example under a shady tree or in the corner of the gym. The facilitator introduces a relevant topic for discussion with the group (e.g. health, safety or emotional topics). Make sure everyone knows the basic ground rules for the group, e.g. everyone should have a chance to contribute to the discussion, no-one passes judgment on other people’s opinions, etc.
To create an atmosphere where participants feel relaxed ‘Promoting calming’ Guided relaxation Have each participant find a place to sit or lie down. Ask participants to close their eyes. Guide the participants through a visualisation exercise. Remember to use a calm, soothing voice.
To give participants feelings of confidence  ‘Increasing efficacy’ Create order Create a circle with as many chairs as there are participants. The chairs should be placed carefully - participants should be able to move from one chair to another without touching the floor, but this should only be possible with the help of another person. Ask the participants to stand on the chairs. Explain that the goal of the game is to end up standing in alphabetic order by their first name (or height, or age, etc.). Follow-up by talking about what it was like to be in physical contact with each other and about the communication in the group. If physical contact is not appropriate in a group, the exercise can be done without chairs.
To give participants feelings of confidence ‘Increasing efficacy’ Circus performance Group participants into different teams. Each team rehearses and then performs a circus activity. This could be acrobatics, clowning, gymnastics, etc.
To facilitate positive and hopeful states of mind and contribute to good feelings about self and others ‘Instilling hope’ Light physical contact Ask participants to form pairs, based on height or gender. One person is “A” and the other is “B”. If possible, play some quiet, relaxing music to accompany this activity. Ask the pairs to stand or sit back to back. Ask them to find a balance, so that each person can feel the other’s back, without leaning on or carrying the weight of the other. Tell the participants to concentrate on their own back and skin for a while, then shift their attention and focus on sensing the other person’s back. If there is music, ask participants to find a common rhythm, and follow the music. Now, ask participants to concentrate on sensing the place where their backs meet, and to gently start swaying, finding a common rhythm. Ask “A” to take the lead first and then “B” follows. Finally, they try to find a common rhythm, where no one is leading and no one is following, and they do that for some minutes. Spend a few minutes sharing how the activity worked out. Second part: Gently massage each other’s shoulders. ”A” will do it for 5 minutes and then “B” will do it for 5 minutes. Then spend a few minutes sharing three positive things about the movement exercise and the massage. “A” goes first and then “B”. Finally, the participants thank each other and return to plenary. Invite each person to say one positive thing about the day’s activities.

As we have mentioned before, one of the most important tips is to be aware of the needs of the individuals in your group, especially potentially traumatised persons. Therefore, gathering information and assessing the needs of those individuals you work with is the first crucial step. Information gathered during an early stage will enable you to plan your sessions - as far as possible - for the specific needs of your target group.

The following points should be followed when planning training with refugees:

  • team sports or group activities are preferred over individual sports wherever possible
  • be cautious in using contact sports
  • try to maintain constant group size to enable bonds to be formed
  • try to avoid a focus on winning and losing
  • be flexible and open to making changes to training in response to the changing needs of your participants.

Although the fun component of sport should be emphasised and encouraged in all activities and matches, it is beneficial for you as a coach to also focus on skill-building, challenging the participants to practice and improve on what they already know. Help them set goals for learning new skills and create plans to achieve those goals. For example, set a goal of juggling the ball three times in a row without hitting the ground, and then show how they can reach that goal. This activity helps create a sense of accomplishment and achievement, however small, and helps build the confidence to seek and work towards larger goals2.

A show of strength is something that young people often enjoy. But young people affected by trauma can be so overwhelmed by the traumatic experience, that they lose sight of what they have, that is still strong and positive3. Therefore, it is helpful to:

  • Ensure all participants to speak up
  • Create collective rules
  • Create leadership roles for participants
  • Provide opportunities to ask questions.

Help the person to express their feelings and accept a person’s feelings, whatever they are and however strong they may be. Expression helps the person to feel relief, think more clearly and manage their emotions:

  • Listen to the person – listening encourages sharing and expression
  • Be empathic - put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Make a genuine effort to imagine how the other person feels, what might have led to those feelings, and how we would want someone to respond to us in that situation. Frequently repeat and check with the person to find out if you have understood their words and feelings correctly
  • Approach each person with respect, openness, kindness, curiosity, and genuine interest
  • Know your limits and refer if needed to expert’s support. Consult regularly with other coaches and counsellors to get support, new perspectives and to share ideas
  • Be flexible in your approach. Try to change and respond to the needs of the person and follow what the person shares with you
  • Consider the trauma-informed key principles: provide information on trauma, connect with loved ones, strengthen relationships, facilitate social support, be honest and trustworthy, maintain confidentiality, provide choices, encourage people to make their own decisions, and focus on strengths and solutions.


[1] Wiedemann, N.; Koenen, K.; Engelhardt, J; & Meier, M. (2014). Moving Together – Promoting psychosocial wellbeing through sport and physical activity. International federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Reference Centre for Psychosocial Support

[2] p.6

[3] p9

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