Role plays and analytic based social skills


Well-Known Member
Now that is some heading isn't it? :rofl: But I couldn't come up with a better one.

I just wanted to write you something I find interesting in work my son's sport psychologist does with him. Me and husband are currently paying for him so we do get both plans and summaries on what they have worked with. Sport psychologist is rather adamant that while we are paying (or with many of his clients, teams, federations etc.) an athlete is his client and while goals are discussed together and he does give summaries about how the time is spent, he keeps a high bar for his client's privacy. We have nothing against that but actually Ache doesn't mind telling and showing me some more about the work they do. Most of the stuff is sport performance related but lots is also life management and balance and with my son, social skills.

I think I have some time ago written about how they worked with concept of proactive assertiveness.

What they have worked during last season have actually been rather complex social skills. Lots of analysing different kind of situations, people's body language, conversational choices and so on concentrating especially on things that are not stated plainly. Role plays, analysing videos (movies, celebrity, athlete and politician interviews) and so on. Role playing how to influence on how and where the conversation is going, learning 'politician with public speak': friendly, non-committal way of mostly listening and showing vague signs of agreement while not committing to anything.

Tools like active listening for interaction with team mates etc., verbal judo for conflict situations or situations he feels threatened at (instead of bolting, or if that is not possible, lashing out), how to use body language and overall gaining feeling of control over social interaction situations.

Ache has had lots of homework over this, analysing the communication situations from the examples the sport psychologist has given him but also from his real life or from tv shows or movies he watches. Or finding examples of certain type of interaction, situation or communication tool they were discussing at the time. Mapping the conversations, writing heated conversations down and looking into the structure, cutting the conversation to pieces and looking how one of the people involved could had lead the conversation differently.

And it seems to work. Around Easter he was with me doing groceries, when we run into a neighbourhood kid. One of those kids who used to bully and use Ache and then play friendly for the moment to bully and use him some more (it started in Kindergarten age, when he fooled Ache to believe he was invited to his birthday party only until he made a big show how he wasn't and made Ache a laughingstock of the class. Rinse and repeat next decade.) Now he was again being friendly; he wanted something from Ache (he seems to believe, and is partly right, that Aches has access to some people and places he would like to accompany Ache) and while I cringed already from the sight of him and was sure nothing good would come out of it, I was totally surprised how well Ache dealt with it. He was friendly, jovial and absolutely non-committal over anything. Absolutely not going to be fooled once again but also not making a scene, not being confrontational nor leaving this neighbourhood kid any chance to lead to conversation how he wanted to. Job very well done!

Okay, I'm sure that was one of the situations they have been role playing and practising a lot and Ache likely used the lines, comments and questions he had memorized, but it was still very impressive from him.

Kids usually learn social skills like any skills, trial and error. They try something and see if it works. In social skills they look for what kind of feedback they get from acting, talking or looking this or that. If they get approval or disapproval. At very young the skills learnt are still rather gross, for example saying thank you or please and favourable outcomes those get you. And parents are teaching very hands on. And I think most of us have experienced how quickly even couple contradictionary feedback can mess things up (for example parent spontaneously laughs when a child says a naughty word, could luck with re-teaching that one.)

But just a little bit later the skills they are training for are already exceedingly subtle. Very difficult to even for parents to explain or put into words. Subtle non-verbal language, being on top of peer humour or changing situations and dynamics can make you or break you in the playground. And then if something happens, like the type of bullying Ache was victim for. The type where whole group either actively bullied or passively accepted bullying and avoided him, the whole process becomes impossible. Bullied kid can do everything right socially and still not get the approval from peers. Or maybe get approval every tenth time but not the other times. They can make everything right and get intense disapproval. And again, when they are doing something wrong, others may actually give them approval, because what they are doing will make them a laughingstock of the class. And whole time there is no rhyme or reason in any of it. When approval or disapproval are not logical consequences of things done right or wrong, it becomes impossible for child to learn, when they actually did do it right. You can not learn the skill if nothing gives you a hint when you are doing it right and when wrong.

And this is something that very much happened to Ache in peer relationships. And it is amazing how well he responds to this very hands on instruction his sport psychologist is giving him. I never would had believed it. Somehow I guess I just assumed that it was just something wrong in Ache that made him unable to learn, but maybe it was more that he didn't have a chance to learn from peers and family etc. could only substitute so much. I guess that the fact that Ache's social skills with family are mostly alright should had hinted me. Of course he needed more practise to learn also those skills as a kid, so being little slower to learn may well be a reason he got bullied at. But after that it was just as much that he didn't have a chance to practise through trial and error and over the years he got so used to social disapproval and inconsistency of it that he wasn't really able to learn from the hints.


Well-Known Member
Can you ship that sports psychologist over the big pond for a couple of years??? PLEASE???

That's exactly the kind of interaction I've been looking for as help for my conundrum kid. Can't find it anywhere!


Well-Known Member
IC: I think we have established before that Ache's sport psychologist should be cloned for the wider distribution. He has really been heaven send for us.

We too did try to find this type of services before for Ache, mostly before he hit his teens and became very uncooperative. We did get something called neuropsychiatric coaching for him at one time but it was aimed more for executive function difficulties.

For social skills there never seemed to be anything concrete available aside of very basic skills that Ache mastered just fine after I spent quite a lot of time 'dog training' him to master those.

We got extremely lucky when Ache's former team was looking for sport psychologist to work with him and someone had heard that this guy was good with more challenging athletes and he happened to have room for new client at the time. He really seem to have very wide area of experience and is also willing to find new stuff, consult others to figure out his clients issues and what could help and also try new. It also seems he strongly prefers to work with more complex clients instead of taking easier jobs. I happened to hear what he charges for lectures about basic sport and performance psychologist techniques for example corporate clients or trendy gyms etc. and comparing that to what he bills us for the about the same time used... Well, yikes! And apparently it is even very difficult to get him to give those motivational type lectures despite the high prices. So I just assume he strongly prefers working one on one with challenging clientele.