Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Project Coach - A Founder's Perspective

A long time ago, before there was Project Coach, there was Don Siegel, a professor at Smith College and a squash extraordinaire, on sabbatical in Boston. Ok, so it was just in 2003…but it was still before Project Coach. It was here that Don Siegel saw how sports could connect to academics and saw how they could change kids’ lives. He worked with projects such as “Squash Busters” which connects underprivileged kids with the game of squash and community service. However, even after researching this program, it was unclear to Don whether the kids actually did better in school because of this program, or if it was just an alternative to babysitting.

Back at Smith, Don connected with Education guru, Sam Intrator and had a study group with some undergrads to brainstorm. They discovered that Springfield had many great sports facilities, but they weren’t being utilized. Thus, the idea of teaching Springfield teens how to be coaches and using sport as a mediator for growth and development was born. Don says, “As a coach, the teenager needs to know how to communicate, teach, problem solve, etc. and all these skills are vital for success”.

Five years later, after much grant writing, many cycles of grad students, and various sports drills, Project Coach had grown and expanded successfully. Don and Sam’s goal had been that kids would do better in school, but now, in the 6th year, the goal has grown to getting these bright and charismatic teens to college. To accomplish this goal, the program, this year, is focusing on literacy and the students’ grades through progress reports. If it is discovered that a student is having difficulty in a subject, the student receives help from a Smith College tutor.

Don loves this addition to the program, but says “It’s not a solution. What is needed is an earlier intervention. The schools need to be changed. This program does a lot, but it can’t do everything”.

Don does so much for Project Coach, so I asked him what the program did for him. He gave me two reasons why he loves being a part of Project Coach. First, from his professor point of view, he loves seeing his theories and ideas operationalized outside of his classroom and in the real world. Secondly, he really loves the social capital that Project Coach inspires, not just between the Springfield teens with their young Springfield athletes, but between Smith College’s grad students and volunteers and the Springfield community.

Each group of people involved in Project Coach, the teens, the young athletes, and the Smithies have bonding capital within their own groups, but not with people different from them. Project Coach is the bridge that allows these bonds to happen. It brings together the three different worlds or teens, kids, and Smith and enables them to learn from one another and grow together, creating a larger and stronger community.

By Marie Wallace

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