From the field: examples of working with the group

‘I have tried to be open and authentic and extra alert to signals that demonstrate that certain topics and/or activities are sensitive to people. I have also tried not to condemn their responses and work out for myself from which frame of reference they come and how that differs from mine. I think these things are important. Sometimes, it is difficult to put yourself in another person’s shoes because living environments and personal experiences are so different. For me, there was a field of tension between linking up with their living world, feelings, values and norms and keep my own – or even transmit my own. I will give you a concrete example: what is the limit of your avoidance of physical games with children who have been raped? How do you handle this? How important do I consider teaching and playing physical games?

Here’s another example. How do I work my own feelings and the way I express them in the presence of others when yet another brother of one of my colleagues has died? I do not think you can behave in a way that is too far removed from your own self. You are not being authentic and especially children have an extraordinarily fine-tuned antenna for this. It was important to me that outside my working circles I had someone to just talk to or even use a shoulder to cry on. In short, yes I think that this safety net is important, whether this is a diary, or sending emails to your friend and family, or a good colleague or friend nearby’. (Anneke van Drimmelen)

Ensure safety and trust

I think that the first step is safety and trust. This is important, especially when you are dealing with a particularly vulnerable group; you must start building trust with that group. You can use various methods to achieve that: show that you will stick to agreements made, show the group that all its members are equal, make sure you are working with a stable group, i.e. a group that is not constantly changing composition. It is also important that you work in an environment that is physically safe, certainly if you work out of doors. Take good note of all the surrounding factors and make sure children are safe when coming to the place you have chosen. Another point of attention is the creation of a sound design of your sports and games. Do not start straight away with an enormously competitive program. First of all, emphasize the pleasure the game can bring. As time goes on you can introduce a few more competitive elements. (De Jager, War Child)

Preparations and rules of the game: contract

Before you invest into a relationship with or enter into a contract situation with the group, establish very clear rules and agreements. An important term in psychotherapy is “contract”. What this means is the preparations and the rules of the game. One of these rules is: if someone becomes aggressive, make sure that you yourself do not move into the domains of fear or aggression. Still, the other also ought to know that the rules have been infringed upon, which will carry consequences. This is the rationale behind establishing very clear rules and agreements before any relationships or contracts are entered into. So if someone is in breach, then something really should be done, there must be a follow-up. You must halt the game, must ask someone to leave, ask for outside help, and similar things. But is you work from that fear or a wrong kind of countervailing power, your own aggression, then we are dealing with very vulnerable matters. That is the importance of a contract, in the psychotherapeutic sense of the word. (professor Wolters)


In the Community-based Psychological Support Training Manual of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (2002), a number of skills are described that are essential in the way you relate to sportspersons who have had a traumatic experience

Listening skills


Caring attitude




Non-judgemental approach



Pieter van der Houwen

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