Problem solving skills come into play in a variety of settings and situations. In school, problem solving can be literal, figuring out the solution to problems a teacher gives. Outside of the classroom, problem solving skills can be built and utilized in interpersonal relationships and extracurricular activities like sports. In fact, participating in sports can help kids to build problem solving skills that they can then take to other areas of their lives.

Coaches and parents can encourage problem solving in kids by not swooping in to help find a solution immediately. Let kids think through it and reason on the solution for themselves. Initially, you can help kids by offering guidelines. When there’s a problem:

  1. Stay calm
  2. Identify the problem
  3. What are several possible solutions to the problem? Try to identify at least 3 and reason through the pros, cons, and possible consequences of each.
  4. Did that solve the problem? If not, repeat step 3.

These steps can be taken for something as simple as What should I wear to school today? to What should I do about kids who are picking on me during recess?

Parents and coaches can also model problem solving skills. Kids, especially younger kids, look to adults for how to behave in different situations. Thinking out loud through your problem solving process can help kids to realize that everyone has problems that can be solved this way.

Sports frequently present great opportunities to practice problem solving in a safe environment. During games, kids have the opportunity to quickly problem solve in the moment and see immediate consequences. Between games, encourage kids to think about ways to problem solve aspects of their performance. For example, How can I improve my free-throws?