Everyday Legend

Claire and Leo Perry

On August 18, we are inviting parents, guardians, volunteers, mentors and anyone who has direct access to youth to a special conversation with three Olympic athletes – and parents, like Claire – about the power that sport has to help young people understand and cope with adversity. Register today!

With the latest research showing nearly half of young people from all walks of life in America 

have experienced at least one adverse childhood experience, trauma-informed, or healing-centered, coaching has begun to find a home in more areas than just sports practices and competitions.

Just ask mom and basketball coach Claire Perry, who’s been leveraging these trauma-informed tools in her coaching practices for nearly 10 years and has seen them spill over, to much success, in other areas of her life. 

“Everyone should be healing-centered,” Perry said. “Parents, coaches, CEOS. Everybody. Everything I do as a healing-centered coach is the same thing I do as a parent.”

Perry, who grew up outside Philadelphia, and her 8-year-old son Leo, have experienced the power of healing-centered sport and have become a shining example in their communities of what happens when competition combined with love is incorporated early in a child’s life.

“I had some incredible coaches who were loving,” Claire said, “then I had some other coaches who would sub you out after making a mistake, yelled while we were playing, and made us run for mistakes. You know, the current norm, and what we’re trying to change. The joy of playing was taken away.”

So, Claire took all the good and all the bad from her own experiences as an athlete, and turned them into a career and a home built on making sport fun, competitive and accessible to all, especially in areas that are not getting the resources they deserve. 

“Once you start learning about the brain,” Claire said, “and you start learning about when it develops and what happens when trauma is introduced either acutely or overtime – that overwhelming stress changes the way we behave. And when you adopt this way of being—of just giving grace—you then are more patient, more empathetic and more understanding of how and why people behave the way we do.”

From the time he was born, Claire has shared this passion for healing-centered sport with her son Leo, who said he enjoys having his mom as his basketball coach because she “knows him.”

This is something they both say is not unique to their mother-son relationship but can be incorporated in any coach-player dynamic.

“She knows what I do, she knows what I like and what I love,” Leo said. “And if you really know your player and you get to know them better, then you know what to do with them and how to motivate them.”

Claire grew up playing all sorts of sports, even playing collegiate basketball at Cornell University before taking a fellowship in South Africa with PeacePlayers International, a network of young leaders around the globe creating a more peaceful and equitable world through sport.

There she trained local coaches, worked on local HIV/AIDS prevention and education efforts, and was involved with girls basketball and leadership programming—a job she still feels very passionately about to this day.

“I feel like PeacePlayers really gave me a lens at how sport can be more,” Claire said.  “And it’s not that we don’t want to win and do well and get better. That’s part of the journey, and sport can be used to build that confidence in oneself, compete and bring people together.”

Claire said two of her favorite healing-based coaching tools are coaching in questions and leading with love.

“Showing that you care is not a weakness,” Claire said. “It’s a strength to bring out the best in yourself and to bring about the best in others, in performance and also just off the court.”

This is something Leo said he’s found works well, too, when interacting with his teammates.

“If they make the shot or they give you the ball for an assist or something,” Leo said, “on the way back, you high five them or if they fall down you immediately run all the way back down the court to help them up. You’re acknowledging that they do feel loved and that they’re not alone.”

And while Claire said there’s still more she feels she can learn about healing-informed coaching, she’s glad she has Leo along for the journey.

“I feel very lucky that I get to bring Leo because we’re playing,” Claire said, “and that’s what kids should be doing anyway (playing). And through play and sport, we’re learning so much more about bigger issues, like addressing racial inequality and systemic injustices any and everywhere. So for me, I feel lucky that Leo has been with me everyday of his life on this adventure with me.”

At CHJS, we believe incorporating both love and competition in youth sport can help solve some of society’s biggest issues; because nothing heals like sport.