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Athletes Practice with Compassion

In the summer of 2015, The Anti-Cruelty Society and the Chicago Park District will partner to create a pilot program that would integrate empathy development into sports education.


January, 2015

After several starts and stops, the Athletes Practicing With Compassion (AWPC) program is underway!

Sessions are to take place at the Franklin Park Field House where the Chicago Hoops basketball program takes place. We will work with a number of youths who attend the program, with a new group participating every two weeks. APWC sessions are scheduled for Fridays from 5-7pm, starting January 8, 2016 and running through February 26, 2016

To receive a copy of the program guideline, please e-mail


Jan. 8, 2016 – First Session

Arrived at the field house and was greeted by the CPD staff. Was set up in a room that was large enough to accommodate up to 20 people.

After intros, I did a quick capture of how each participant felt at the moment. Out of the 16 present, 14 said they felt good (“chill” & “fine”) and 2 said they were “bored.”

Went into first activity, the variation on “Simon Says” (see program guideline) that works on focus and attention. The group got into the activity and requested several repeats. I was unable to go into the next activity due to a basketball game taking place that the students wanted to see.

I concluded the program by making a quick capture of how the students felt, with all participants saying they felt good, and even one who reported being bored saying that “it was fun” and “I wish school was like this.”

Will need to work out how to get into second activity sooner.


Jan. 15, 2016 – Second Session

Back to the field house and in the same room. Another 16 students participating, but only 1/2 of the group were repeats from the previous week.

After intros and icebreaker, all 16 reported feeling positive. Went into “Clicker Training Game” (see program guideline), where the students learn non-verbal communication. All students participated.

Activities cut short again due to conflict with basketball game. Also made the mistake of giving out snacks before doing second data capture. Must remember to not do that next time.

Having challenges with setting a beginning and end to each session that allows for data capture and activity time that allows for participants to understand why we’re playing the games.


Jan. 22, 2016 – Third Session

Started session a little late since turnout seemed to be smaller than expected. Started with about a dozen students. Previous sessions only had male participants, but this session had three (3) young ladies attend.

Pre-activity capture had all report that they felt fine, with exception of one “bored.”

Started with “Simon Says”, which proved popular, followed by “Clicker Game” which was also successful. Issues occurred when new students kept filtering in to the room while activities were in progress. Started with around a dozen and ended up with more than 20. Room was starting to get a bit crowded for physical activity.

Post activity capture had everyone reporting that they felt “fine” or “good” with the previously bored student saying he had fun.

Challenge now is to get participants to recognize the emotional states of others during activities. Doing that in such a short time period is proving difficult.

Still need to figure out a way to give out snacks. Some kids will grab more than one bottle of sports drink even after being asked to only take one.


Jan. 29, 2016

Another session with some repeat participants from the week before. This one felt solid because they had already tried the activities previously, so I was able to transition from “Simon Says” to “Clicker Game” more readily.

Also able to have more discussion about what it takes to recognize how other people feel, and what we’re learning in the different activities.

The challenge is keeping their attention while the basketball games are going on. Even the promise of prizes and snacks can only hold them for so long.

Spoke with Park District staff about adding a second group of kids since we seem to get through the first session quicker than scheduled. Maybe adding another session in the evening will help?


Feb. 5, 2016

First session of the month! Turnover wasn’t what I was expecting, with a this new session starting off with half new participants and the other being students who have been participating the last few weeks. It gave me a chance to not only repeat previous activities, but also introduce some ice breakers that focused on recognizing how one feels and how the words you use can affect others.

Finished session with 16 male participants who all gave positive feedback! (One of the exercises involved saying something nice about someone else in the room. The past participant named me and said “you bring fun games.”)

The 2nd session was attended by 8 female students who had never participated in previous sessions. It gave me a chance to start with a clean slate. Activities like “Simon Says” and “Clicker Game” went over well after a few repetitions. Post activity data capture had all participants saying that they liked the activities and understood their purpose. “It was fun”, said one participant,”We thought you were just going to talk about team work.”


Feb. 12, 2016

Session rescheduled due to City holiday. Will add session on March 4, 2016.



Feb. 19, 2016

Session canceled due to power outage at field house caused by wind storms. Will add session on March 11, 2016.


Feb. 26, 2016

Resumed program after a two-week absence caused by holiday and weather.

Today’s group was very small due to the gym being closed. With a lack of game play in the gym, the students present seemed very subdued and distracted. Was very difficult to get them motivated, more so than on previous days.

One factor may be that the program takes place on a Friday and a lot of the students are tired from a week of school. Most seem ready to “check out” by this point and can be tougher to motivate. Will note for future programs.

One of the hardest things to do is to get the boys to speak positively about each other. They spend lots of time taking shots and insulting each other, sometimes playfully but in other cases not. When called on it, they struggle with coming up with compliments for their peers other than “those are nice shoes” or “he plays good.”

Considering adding another activity that emphasizes positive interactions with each other.


Mar. 1, 2016

Smallest session yet. There was a game going on, but not as many non-participants as in the past.

The challenge of motivating the group so late in the day was very evident this time. Getting the boys to participate was very challenging.

As an exercise in emotional awareness, I asked the boys to give me an emotion that one could feel. I was given “sadness” “frustrated” “nervous “angry” irritated and “annoyed” before any positive emotions were offered.

We then went into the part where the boys had to compliment each other, and that proved to be another challenge.

One week left.


Mar. 11, 2016

The last session was attended by about a half dozen students, ages 7-9, both boys and girls. Even though the program wasn’t designed with this age range in mind, the activities were very successful.

The kids were very open to share how they felt, and were enthusiastic about the activities. When asked to share how they felt, the responses were mostly positive.

The students enjoyed the Simon Says activity, along with the Clicker Game.

It may be beneficial to come up with a version for younger participants.

Lead Organization:
The Anti-Cruelty Society

Partner Organizations:
Chicago Park District

Project Goal:
Create an adaptable program model to incorporate empathy and compassion into sports education.

Pilot program to have approx. 100 participants, ages 6-16 years of age.

Project Tags:
2015 Round 1 RFP, 2016 Round 2 RFP