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

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Day in the Life of Project Coach

It was a rainy, overcast Wednesday when I spent a recent afternoon at Project Coach during Basketball season. Despite the weather outside, however, the coaches, mentors, players, and students inside were bursting with energy!

To kick off the day for the elementary school kids, there were tables for each team in the Gerena School cafeteria with a list of questions: What does sportsmanship mean? Why is sportsmanship important? What can I do to be a great teammate? Each team of five to eight players and one or two coaches sat down together and brainstormed answers to these questions. I asked Madison, a precocious and friendly team member, what she thought of the questions; she answered, after pausing for only a moment, "Together, everyone achieves more."

Moving across the parking lot to the middle school gymnasium, I found a handful of teams were already practicing and going through drills. Destiny, one of the coaches, is a female coach of a team of all boys, the Eagles. Don, Co-Project Director, commented on how important it was for the middle school boys to see "a woman in charge" and how this empowered both the coach and the player. Destiny led her players through a series of drills, including one in which team members were asked to dribble in a small designated area while Destiny and another Project Coach mentor tried to distract each dribbler, in a "Games Based Approach" activity that stresses the importance of using high-energy, game-like scenarios to build authentic practices. Look below for a video clip!

Once it was time for scrimmaging, the energy in the gym grew tenfold. Some players did cartwheels down the court, while others patted each other on the back. Coaches stayed close-by on the court to continue to instruct and help out each player and the team as a whole.

The teams rotated between doing drills, scrimmaging, and spending a few minutes with Andy in a separate room to watch a few clips and take part in a discussion of coaching. Andy chose to show a particularly humorous clip from the movie, Bad News Bears, in which the coach was sarcastic and uncaring towards the players. The clip lasted for only a minute, but sparked discussion for much longer that involved players considering meaningful questions about what it means to be a great coach, what a coach's responsibilities are to their players, and how a coach can impact the lives of their athletes both within and outside of sports. Look below for a video clip!

Once parents, friends, and family members started to usher into the gym at the end of the day, the energy had subsided some, though not completely. A few players tried to squeeze in a few last shots at the basket before packing up to go home.

By Molly Ristuccia

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Project Coach student stars on CBS 3 News!

Project Coach student Hakeem Hopper-Collins starred yesterday on CBS 3 News as part of a team from The Renaissance School in Springfield that presented its findings on how the city can become greener and more cost-efficient to Mayor Dominic Sarno.

For more details and the video story , see below:

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Camera Behind The Camera

When a six month old baby is placed in front of a mirror, he or she will smile and giggle at his or her image in the mirror. Later, as the child develops into a twenty month old toddler, he or she will recognize his or her reflection in the mirror as a self image. In the mirror test, psychologists place a red dot on the child nose. As the child looks into the mirror, he or she reaches up to touch their nose, recognizing that the image in the mirror is a self image.

During la
st week’s session of Project Coach, the high school coaches had a similar experience of recognizing and critiquing themselves. The high school coaches ran through drills, plays and games with fellow coaches to improve their positive encouragement, loud voices and enthusiasm. The activities were filmed by Will Bangs, a graduate student at Smith College Master of the Arts in Teaching. Will and the high school coaches watched the video to increase their awareness of body language, presence on the court and coaching voices.

Just like the twenty month old
toddler, the high school coaches develop a mental conception of their coaching style through the modern day mirror, the camera. Selected footage is then reviewed in front of the whole group at the weekly Coaching Academy to help all coaches learn from each other, and to refine their coaching style through continual assessment and development.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Project Coach @ The Smith Sophian

A great article by Yuna Kim of the Smith Sophian was published today in print and online, detailing the development of the program and some of its latest accomplishments. Check it out below, and via the title link. Thanks to Yuna for a detailed and thoughtful account of our program.

Issue date: 3/4/10

Since its founding in 2004 by two Smith professors, the Project Coach program has trained hundreds of high school students from Springfield to be sport coaches for elementary-aged children. Through sports, the program promotes health and nutrition, as well as values of sportsmanship and teamwork.

Education and child study professor Sam Intrator, who co-founded the project with exercise and sports studies professor Donald Siegel, believes that the significance of Project Coach is the ability to make a difference in the community.

"What's meaningful to me is working with my colleagues and students to make things happen beyond the walls of Smith. Together, we learn every day about how to create a program that matters to kids and matters to the community," said Intrator.

The north end of Springfield, which has an 80 percent minority rate, ranks as one of the most impoverished neighborhoods in the state. It suffers from high crime rates, persistent drug and health problems, few after school programs and a lack of opportunities for youth employment. However, Intrator and Siegel saw an area with good facilities, under-utilized due to a lack of organization, and an abundance of teenage youths willing to create change.

Project Coach currently employs 25 students from five Springfield high schools as sports coaches for Springfield elementary students. Although Project Coach works with soccer in the fall and basketball in the spring, its main focus is not on the sports themselves. Instead, sports serve as a powerful hook to involve adolescents in activities that promote positive youth development.

Graduate students in Smith's education and child study department take responsibility for four to five high school students and monitor their performance in the program, as well as their social and character development. Project Coach provides academic support for the high school students, checking their grades every two weeks, preparing them for standardized tests and helping them get into college.

One Project Coach participant, Dwayne Henry, mentioned that a graduate student previously involved with Project Coach had assisted him with his schoolwork.

"I was struggling in school with math and English, and she helped me every day before Project Coach," Henry said.

Other high school students say Project Coach helped decide their futures.

"I originally wanted to be a teacher, and Project Coach has helped me to grow and make the decision to become a teacher," said Francesca Rodriguez.

Project Coach also aims to provide caring and reliable adult figures for student participants.

"It's good because I don't have a relationship with older people outside of Project Coach," Henry said.

Similarly, the elementary school students participating in the program benefit from their interaction with the high school student coaches. The coaches and the children come from the same community, have attended the same schools and share a common culture, which inspires the children to connect with their coaches.

Coaches in the program must be committed and reliable, as well as prepared to work in a professional manner. The students are paid to work for the program four afternoons a week, for a total of six hours per week. Andy Wood, Project Coach program director, said that although most students would volunteer whether or not they were paid, they deserve the payment because they are held to high standards.

"It's been a really eye-opening experience and helped me understand the capacity that the youth have for development and for growth when they're put in a position of genuine responsibility and when they're asked to be positive role models for children that need somebody to look up to," said Wood.

Project Coach also provides the opportunity for different students and faculty to work with each other. Undergraduate students involved in Project Coach work as researchers and reporters.

Marie Wallace '11, an education and child study major who works with Project Coach and writes for the Project Coach Daily News Blog, values the hands-on experience she has gained from this program.

"Learning about theories and educational issues in the classroom is one thing. But going to Project Coach and seeing a person like Sam [Intrator] actually make a difference in the lives of teenagers makes it all seem worthwhile, and it is truly inspirational," said Wallace.

Smith has various physical, human and historical resources, and its proximity to Springfield makes it possible for it to contribute to the local community. Intrator recognized that Project Coach could not have been successful without Smith's support. Smith awards four fellowships to students pursuing their master's degree in the education and child study graduate program, which consist of a tuition waiver and a small stipend.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Project Coach Theater Company...!

On February 17th, 2010, Project Coach came to Smith College for a day full of activities. At noon, coaches and mentors alike gathered in a carpeted room in Ainsworth Gymnasium for almost an hour of theatre exercises. Sweaty from a late morning round of racquetball, the members of Project Coach staggered into the bright, open room.

Kia, a Smith student, led the workshop. As in ice breaker, she asked everyone to form a circle and pair their name with a movement, which everyone had to remember and repeat. For instance, Kia shouted her name and performed a little dance move, which got a laugh from everybody. With more than twenty people participating in the circle, the exercise became increasingly difficult as more names were added.

Following this brief exercise, two Smith students performed a variety of skits to show different interpersonal scenarios. The first two skits showed the importance of body language in a conversation. Dara spoke harshly to Lauren, but with friendly body gestures. Then Lauren, pretending to be a coach, kept her back turned during an entire conversation with Dara, who acted as a player. Kia highlighted that it is important to look at a "team as a unit, but also to look at the individual."

Kia then posed the question, "What does it take to be a good coach?" A few coaches piped up; Marcus said a good coach must "interact with your kids," and Francesca said it was about "respect...present[ing] yourself strong." Cassandra added that a coach has to be "motivating" and to "look the person in the eye."

After discussing the skits, Kia split Project Coach members into small groups and introduced the next activity. She instructed everyone to repeat three phrases--I believe in you, I love you, and I hate you--using various levels of body language. At first, everyone was only allowed to say the given phrase without any inflection or hand gestures; then the allowances slowly increased. A similar activity followed, in which group members had to take turns reading nursery rhymes with different tones of voice, such as angry, happy, or worried.

With time running short, Kia decided to end the workshop with trust falls. Pairing up randomly, everyone was to take a turn trusting the person behind them to catch their body. Some were able to trust, while others struggled more. Kia, highlighting the importance of this particular activity, ended the hour by saying "players that respect each other play well together."

Once the theatre workshop ended, it was pizza time for all. Project Coach members and mentors alike had worked up an appetite after an hour of exploring the nuances of interpersonal relationships, and especially how these nuggets of wisdom can be applied to the field!

By Molly Ristuccia