The Team of Life Approach

The Team of Life approach uses sporting metaphors to enable young people to deal with traumatic experience without having to speak directly about it. It is an example of a collective narrative practice methodology, developed by David Denborough from Dulwich Centre Foundation. Thanks to the support of Collier Charitable Fund, this webpage provides examples of the use of the Team of Life. If you are using this methodology in your work, we invite you to send us stories from your work and we will include them here. Thanks!


The following two videos include a Team of Life workshop from 2010 presented by David Denborough and an example of the Team of Life with a young man in Adelaide.

Part One: Developing Team Sheets

The first part of the Team of Life process involves young people considering who are the members of their ‘Team of Life’:

  • Who make up some of the team members of your life? These people can be alive or no longer living. They can be present in your life now or people who you have known in the past. Who are the people who have been most influential (in a positive way) in your life?
  • Who is your goal keeper? If you had to name one person who looks out for you, who guards your goals, who is most reliable, who would this be?
  • Who are some of the other team-mates in your life, those you play with, those whose company you enjoy?
  • Who is your coach? Who is it you have learned most things from? It is possible to have more than one coach. And it’s possible that they may or may not still be alive. What are some of the things that they have taught you?
  • What is your home ground? Where is the place you feel most ‘at home’? You may have more than one place. They may even be in more than one country. Your home ground might be somewhere that you go regularly, or somewhere that you only visit in your memories or dreams now.

A World United

Sometimes it’s also possible to create Team of Life theme songs! Here is an example from a group of young people who came to Australia as unaccompanied refugees. They have called their team World United!

We are the World United

We have a message to send

It’s faith and trust that we defend

For these are in our hearts

And with team mates all around

This is the World United sound

Part Two: Celebrating Goals

Acknowledging and celebrating goals

The second part of the Team of Life process involves acknowledging and celebrating goals that participants’ Teams of Life have already achieved. It is very important that we look back before we look forward. We work to create a heritage of achievement. We do this by creating ‘goal maps’ that demonstrate how past goals in life have been achieved and acknowledging all those who contributed to these achievements.

Here are some examples of goal maps:

Once these goal maps have been created, we then re-enact them and celebrate them! Here is an example of a goal map celebration from Mt Elgon in Uganda!

Once we have looked back and celebrated past achievements, then we look forward … what are the future goals your team is working towards? And how are you training to achieve this?



Here is an example from a softball Team of Life, in which a woman from Ntaria/Hermannsburg speaks of how she is now in training to look after kids:

These days, I am in a different sort of training. My sister has kids and she’s training me and my other sisters how to look after kids. I’m the youngest and I learn by watching what she has done so that if I adopt one or two then I will look after them in the same way that my sister is doing. When my mum and dad were drinking, my young uncle and aunty looked after us. They trained us in how to show love and care for each other. In softball, you practice by throwing the ball around. It’s the same in life. We practice by throwing love and care to each other. And the outfielders do the same – my mother, cousins, brothers and sisters. In life, when love comes your way, you catch it. If your brother or sister throws you love, you catch it and put it in your heart.

Part Three: Tackling Problems

The third part of the Team of Life involves using sporting metaphors to exchange knowledge about ways of ‘tackling’ the problems of life.

The Western Arrente Football Team, the Bulldogs, from Ntaria/Hermannsburg and Wally Malbunka, have documented some of the ways that they have for tackling problems on the football field and in other spheres of life. Click to read their document.

This document has been shared with World United (young men from refugee backgrounds) who then sent the following message in response:

Thank you. It was awesome to hear about how you are tackling problems, how you play together for your community, and how you share your skills and talents. 

When you play football together, you play for each other and you play to get happy. We do this here also. You said that when difficult times come there are special things that you remember. We do this too. We remember family. 

I remember what my mum told me – that it doesn’t matter if you lose as long as you try your best. We also remember people who we are missing or who may have died. I wish my dad was here. Whenever I work hard, whenever I play well on the field, I think of him. I think ‘my dad would be pleased that I am doing this’. 

Sometimes we play for those who cannot be here. We play for those who cannot play. When we are facing hard times we tell ourselves, ‘I can do this’, ‘Don’t give up’, ‘Keep trying’. We are World United and we’d like to support the Western Arrente Football Team in spirit. We’d also like to send you a copy of our theme song. Thank you again for sharing your words with us. Asante (thank you). Akuna matata (no worries).


World United

Part Four: Celebrations

We then seek to create definitional ceremonies in which we honour participants skills, knowledges and achievements. We also create certificates.


As practitioners engage with the Team of Life in different contexts, various innovations are emerging.


The Team of Life approach is readily adapted to different sports. Recently, a Cricket Team of Life approach was developed for use with vulnerable children and young people in India. Read more about this here.

Brazil and Mexico

Two videos from Reciclando Mentes/Recycling Minds (Brasil) and Romina Martínez/Marta Campillo (México) showcasing creative uses of the Team of Life Approach

Read more here. 


It Takes A Team: A collective narrative project involving young people with chronic health concerns and their families in Melbourne.

The ‘It takes a team’ project involved a partnership between the Transition Support Service and Dulwich Centre Foundation.

Read more about the project here



See below for a selection of articles on the Team of Life.

The experience of being a child or young person with a refugee or asylum-seeking status can be extremely challenging. They often arrive in the UK with a history of trauma, which can have a profound impact on their developing identity and ability to cope (Valentine et al., 2009). Even without this, refugee children face the demanding tasks of learning a new language and culture, settling into school, working out how to fi t in and gain social acceptance with their peers, and integrating this new life into the identity they have developed in their homeland. They have to learn to manage racism in the school playground, and live with the negative stereotypes about refugees propagated in the mainstream media, where they are portrayed as a burden on the state with little to contribute to society (Bauböck et al., 1996). We will be describing our work with children and families at all stages of the asylum process, but will use the term ‘refugee” as shorthand to include anyone forcibly displaced from their homeland, regardless of their legal status in the UK.


To continue reading click here. 

This paper describes how the Team of Life narrative methodology can make it possible
for young men to speak about what is important to them, what they have protected, held
onto, despite the hardships they have seen. This way of working also makes it possible for
young men to speak about identity in a collective manner, to celebrate ‘goals’ that their
‘teams’ have already scored, and to make plans and preparations for the future. This way
of working utilises sporting metaphors which are powerfully resonant within masculine
culture and yet, significantly, provides possibilities for supporting and acknowledging
alternative masculinities.

Click here to read the article. 

This paper outlines an application of the ‘rites of passage’ and ‘migration of

identity’ metaphors from narrative therapy and community work, in conver-
sations with Brazilian immigrants in Australia. The author also employed the

‘Team of Life’ methodology, which was highly culturally-relevant, given the
Brazilian people’s love of soccer/football, as well as the ‘narrative timelines’
methodology and ‘definitional ceremony’ map of narrative practice.

Click here to read the article.

We’d like to hear from you!

If you are trying the Team of Life in your context, please send us your stories, pictures and songs and we will include them on this site! Thanks.

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