Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Project Coach Goes French!

This week marked a historical moment in the history of Project Coach as Red Shirts and Blue Shirts alike welcomed ten students—three girls and seven boys, ages 14-17—from Marseilles, France to take a walk in their shoes for the next three weeks. This cross-cultural youth exchange program, which was sponsored entirely by SportsUnited, a division of the Bureau for Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S Department of State, will specifically aim to train the French students how to become coaches for elementary children in their own hometowns as well as foster meaningful discussions and cultural awareness about various issues regarding racism and discrimination in both countries. Yet, Julie Hooks, who is the Executive Director of the Institute for Training and Development (ITD) in Amherst, MA and Project Director of the exchange program itself, says that above all, we can expect the program to build a number of personal relationships between both sets of youth over the coming weeks—not to mention, well into next year when 10 students from Project Coach travel to France for two weeks to participate in similar activities.

Although the France Sports Initiative is the third exchange program that ITD has developed around youth sports since the organization started in 1985, this is the first program that has actually involved the youth themselves in the training process and cultural awareness activities that ITD seeks to traditionally provide for its visiting participants. Indeed, upon hearing about Project Coach’s success with training Springfield youth to coach and mentor elementary school kids from disadvantaged neighborhoods, Julie saw a unique opportunity to build an exchange sports program that would “bridge cultural gaps” as well as provide its participants with practical coaching skills and information about the importance of youth development sports programs. 

In the end, Julie hopes that everyone will come away from the exchange with new perceptions about their current ideas of diversity. One of the main reasons she cites that Marseille was specifically chosen for the exchange was because of its “diverse population” since the community has a fairly large presence of northern African and Muslim immigrants. Thus, it is expected that conversations surrounding controversial issues such as immigrant and minority representation within the French community may crop up over the coming weeks. Additionally, there is also a notable lack of girls’ participation within youth sports programs in France, which is unfortunately evidenced by the fact that there are only three girls that were selected by the Marseille Sports Bureau and U.S. Consulate for participation in the exchange program. Julie hopes this observation will also strike engaging dialogue among the program participants and intrigue them to think about the various ways today’s youth can address these and other important social issues through the world of sports.

By Project Coach Reporter -- Danielle Santos

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