Monday, February 27, 2012

PC in France (part trois) - Coach Jon Cotto

France est tres belle!!!!!

Je m’appelle Jon.  Je suis de Springfield, MA . Je suis en France comme une parte d’une programme d’echange ITD/Project Coach. France est tres belle!

I said it twice because I wanted to emphasize its beauty. I’ve been in France for eight days already and in the past two days I spent a whole day with someone from Marseille  and I also went hiking.

On Saturday I spent the day with a friend, Mostafa Annan.  It was better than what I expected. We went to a lot of places, but the first place we went to was the store because I didn’t have a camera. After we got my camera I met his family. They were great. His mom is an awesome cook. She made a Lebanese  meal.  Mostafa shared some of his past with me and it affected me pretty deeply. We ended our day with him giving me a tour of the Marseille.

On Sunday the group went hiking. Hiking is actually on my bucket list so when I get back I get to cross it off! Anyways, when we started walking up a hill I thought we already started hiking… but I was wrong. I faced a lot of my fears on the hike like going up ladders and being high up in the air close to edges with nothing to hold on to. There was many beautiful views that I have never seen in my life in Les Calanques, as they call them. When our guide told us he was going to take us to one of the most beautiful views I didn’t know what to think. When we got to our view I got nervous because the wind was so strong it moved me. So I was worried I would fall. But at the end it was worth it because I am one of the few people who can say I went hiking in one of the most beautiful cities in the world… Marseille, France.

-Jon Cotto, 18 years old
February 27, 2012
Marseille, France

Thursday, February 23, 2012

PC in France (part deux) - Coach Efrain Lopez

France is amazing! The people are great, the city is beautiful, and of course… ALLEZ L’OM!

The past two days have been crazy.  We went to the American consulate yesterday and met Diane Kelly, the American Consulate General.  We also met with Doug Brice, the NCIS agent in Marseille.  It was here that we learned about Varian Fry, the American that helped a ton during the Nazi occupation of France.   But there were two events that I wanted to talk about the most.

Shortly after our visit to the consulate, our group went to a local high school to talk to two French classes.  Both of the classes that we met were English classes, so most of the students spoke English pretty well.  But there were still a lot of awkward moments when we didn’t understand each other.  We did realize, though, that the only major difference between them and us was the language. If it wasn’t for the distance, I really believe we could become the best of friends. They listen to almost the same music, play the same games, and for the most part do the same things when hanging out with friends.

Shortly after that we went to our second basketball club in Marseille. We taught them the games we play with our Project Coach kids and they really seemed to love them. We played dribble knock out, 3 vs 3 no dribble, and hot spot. They enjoyed our high energy games and the especially love that there were no lines.  We kept asking them if they were tired (“Vous etes fatigue?”), and they would playfully yell “No!!!!!” But they kept asking for water, so I’m pretty sure they were lying.  After an hour and a half of 12 year olds, we had 9 and 10 year olds.  And then we had a whole other basketball club to visit.  It was a crazy day of basketball but the kids and their high energy kept us going the whole time.  We were all wiped out after that but we had a great day.
      Efrain Lopez (19) - Project Coach 
Marseille, France
February 22, 2012

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

PC in France (part une)

Bonjour, Marseille! 2/19/12

After a flood of tears and some choreographed handshakes, the Project Coach contingent finally left for Logan International Airport at 3:30 pm.  Our party of twelve arrived on time and easily made our 7:45 flight to Paris’ Charles de Gaulles airport.

We then proceeded to miss our connecting flight to Marseille, which may or may not have been Kiana’s fault.  Considering, though, that her and I were stuck behind every child under the age of four west of Moscow in the airport’s security line, I would say it was out of our hands.  Fast-forward three hours later and 40 miles away in Paris’ Orly International airport, where only serious persistence and politicking by our trusty chaperone Julie Hooks-Davis allowed us to get on a 1:30 flight from Paris to Marseille.  An hour and a half later and we finally made it to Marseille, where the lovely Josette from the US Consulate Office greeted us

After we dropped our bags off at the youth hostel we made for the beach, which is just blocks away.  The wind was strong, but our curiosity and excitement trumped the wind and jet lag.  Our first choice for traditional French cuisine produced a McDonald’s-like chain. (As you can tell, we have a very cultured palate at Project Coach.) But our meal would be the last real event of the day, as we all succumbed to jet lag shortly thereafter.

The next day was quite busy for our coaches.  We opened the day up with a visit to Marseille’s Sport Minitstry, where Josette was joined by Francois, Max, Meline, Mohamed, and Benoit, who made up the rest of our French welcoming committee.  We outlined our itinerary for the trip, which looks incredible for so many reasons, and were introduced to a few more useful French phrases.

The morning meeting was followed by a traditional French lunch (veal and rice, not fast food this time).  This lunch led to a bus/walking tour of the city.  We saw beautiful churches, unbelievable cityscapes, and stunning beach scenery. 

But the highlight of the day for everyone was the evening reception at the Marseille City Hall, hosted by the mayor and the US Consulate General of France, Diane Kelly.  While our coaches were surely excited to see French and American dignitaries, the chance to finally reconnect with all of the French basketball players that had made the trip to the United States just one year earlier was the real highlight of everyone’s night.  Parents and other adults sat back and giggled as the coaches relived past interactions and crafted new memories within minutes of meeting one another again.  Their overly loud cackles and handshakes were the image that Project Coach, ITD, and the US State Department envisioned when they dreamt up this program 16 months ago.

Over the next two weeks, they will create moments just like these a thousand times over.  Our blog will be filled with pictures, videos and stories from our coaches about their experience on this unforgettable trip. 

Stay tuned!
A bientot!

Greg Rosnick -- Assistant Director / Academic Director

Friday, February 17, 2012

Programs like our are chock full of stories. We have young people who immigrated to the United States and have mesmerizing stories of their journey. We have staff members who attended our nation's finest and most prestigious schools, but yearn to work with schools and programs that serve high-need youth. We have young people who hit bottom in terms of school performance and get to the preceppice of dropping out, but then find the resolve and focus to climb back into the game.

Programs like Project Coach are filled with stories. Sports is also a space of stories and words. I make this case in the video below that focuses on my 'part-time gig' as the play-by-play commentator for the Smith College Pioneers. Enjoy.

And watch the final game of the season against Wellesley.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

PC @ Amherst College hoops clinic!

February 13, 2012

This past Monday evening, Project Coach staff and coaches made the 40 minute trek north to Amherst, MA for an unforgettable night with the men’s and women’s basketball teams of Amherst College.  

As the blue shirts are gearing their teams up for their first competitive games against the other local elementary schools, a trip to Amherst’s gym came right on time.  After all, both of the Amherst squads find themselves at or near the top of the national rankings for Division III basketball and their expertise and fine-tuning should help our coaches think about how to better prepare their own teams for their upcoming games.

Though the night got off to a bit of a late start, Connor Johnson, the Senior men’s guard from San Diego, did a wonderful job of having both of the teams prepared for our coaches when we arrived.  They were split up into different skill stations, where they led our coaches through drills that focused on passing, dribbling, defensive footwork, shooting technique, rebounding, and other essential skills.  Their expertise was evident and our coaches did their best to soak up as much as they could.

After the stations had drawn to a close and before the teams and coaches shuffled out to catch the last of the dining center’s dinner, the Project Coach staff and coaches had the opportunity to talk briefly to Coach Dave Hixon and Coach GP Gromacki, who touched on the importance of team dynamics and the of mentorship.  

Loeb Rosario, a Senior from Central High School and a Project Coach veteran, spoke for the entire organization when he brought the night to a close with a nice wrap up and a sincere thank you

Thanks again to the Amherst men’s and women’s basketball teams and best of luck in the upcoming NESCAC and NCAA tournaments!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

An 8th grader writing about Project Coach

We have many cross-cutting goals in Project Coach. We strive to provide leadership opportunities for the teenagers that work with us as coaches and enriching educational and athletic experiences for the elementary aged players. As community members, our commitment is to employ local youth and provide them with opportunities to impact their community. As a 'lab' for Smith College we also intend to prepare college and graduate students to be teachers and key leadership staff in the out-of-school world. As faculty and researchers, we intend to learn from the enterprise and share our understandings through writing and presenting at conferences.

All of the above is critical, but we also strive to be advocates for the transformative power of sport. As advocates, we try and influence the dialogue and political processes around what youth sport can do for young people and the formidable impact that out-of-school programming has on young people. 

Here is an interesting story of how our many roles come together. An 8th grader from Northampton is assigned a persuasive essay to write. He chooses to write on the role that youth sports can play in helping youth, and in particular, inner-city youth succeed in life. As you can see Project Coach takes on a formidable role in the essay. Enjoy-- and remember, it's written by a 13-year old.

By Casey, 13 John F. Kennedy Middle School, Northampton, MA
English: Persuasive Essay
Period 5
All Sports for All People: The Effect of Sports
in the Lives of Inner-City Kids

            “Sports give me and other young people in my community a safe haven to feel secure and feel like there's not a care in the world,” said Ktrice McNeill who grew up in a tough New York City neighborhood, and recently received the 2011 Coach Across America Coach of the Year award.  For inner-city kids, sports can be their only escape from the difficulties they may face on a daily basis. Sports offer an outlet where they can put aside their problems for a couple hours everyday to have fun and compete. Not only that, but it can have a positive effect on them in the classroom, and their community, and by doing so give themselves a greater chance to succeed in the rest of their lives. For these reasons and more, I believe that it should become a priority to provide more athletic opportunities for inner-city kids.
            Considered by many to be one of the best players in the NBA, Derrick Rose went from growing up in the most crime-ridden district of Chicago to NBA stardom. This is just one of the many storybook tales of a kid overcoming the odds and living their dream. However, Rose not only changed his life by doing this, but he affected the lives of many others by giving them the inspiration to never give up and reach for their dreams. The lack of programs that give inner-city children the chance to play sports, especially if they don’t show an exceptional talent for sports at an early age, limits their possibilities. The imbalance of this is so severe that one study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health found that “urban youth have one-third the opportunity to participate in sport than their suburban counter- parts.” Rose was lucky enough that he stood out from the rest from the time he started playing. We can’t have the programs being focus on just the “special athletes,” or on the more privileged youth. We need to start by providing for the majority of the population, the typical athletes, and the kids who don’t have anywhere else to play organized sports. Once we are able to offer programs to the bulk of the inner-city kids, then we can avert our attention to the kids who may have careers in sports. This is important for creating opportunities for urban youth to play sports and exercise, but sports can also help instill essential qualities in a person that will assist them their whole life.
            Sports is more than just competing and exercise, John Wooden one of the most revered coaches of all time, spent more than 40 years teaching this concept. He was able to lead his teams to unmatched success, while teaching them lessons in life that they would never forget. Wooden did this by creating what he called “The Pyramid of Success,” which is a group of fifteen traits that he believes you need to have in order to reach success in any field. They include loyalty, initiative, self-control, and skill to reach “competitive greatness.” He intertwined his teachings with his coaching in a remarkable way. When his players moved on they left with not only unbelievable accomplishments in their sport, but also with a better understanding of how to achieve success. One of these teachings was that "Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming." Not only will sports be capable of providing you with unforgettable lessons in life, but it can also bring together strangers at the park for a game of pick-up, or the entire world for the Olympics and it can unite a group of dejected, disheartened kids into champions within themselves. The power of sports has no end, and to deprive kids of this, which is what is happening to inner-city kids around the world, is appalling. However, this is beginning to change as organizations around the globe, including in nearby cities and towns, start to form and provide the opportunities every child deserves to have. 
Project Coach is a unique organization based in Springfield, Massachusetts that trains and employs high school students from all over the city to be coaches and mentors to elementary-aged children. The program uses sports “to engage, connect, and empower adolescents and youth.” Project Coach is an exceptional program because it teaches teenagers who come from unfavorable neighborhood and family situations invaluable lessons in life, while providing a safe haven for the kids to forget about their troubles and play. These kids cherish this time because, until this program was founded in 2003, there were no sports leagues in most of Springfield due to the inflexibility of parents work schedules. That’s where the idea of using the high school students to coach came in. This provides not for the star athletes, but for the majority of the community. The high school coaches highly value this opportunity. The salary helps put food on the table for their families, and will help create a better future for themselves. One coach talked about the best part of his experience, “Having fun with the kids. The best thing, to me, is the reaction of kids afterwards, when it's the end of Project Coach, and they don’t want to leave." This is a local, exemplary model of a program that provides a structured time for inner-city kids to play sports and develop skills necessary for success in life.
            There is a lack of opportunities for inner-city kids to play sports, and it should become a priority around the world to change that. In the past 10 years we have seen a vast improvement in the United States, with getting nearly twenty million more children involved in organized youth sports. As more people begin to realize this then we will be able to create new programs to generate more opportunities for urban youth, as well as support the already existing organizations. This could also have a positive effect on our country as well with more kids coming into adulthood with an understanding of how to achieve and deal with success.

"FYSI: An Innovative Model for Community Empowerment." Fitzgerald Youth Sports Institute. Fitzgerald Youth Sports Institute. Web. 12 Feb. 2012. .

Isackson, Noah. "Derrick Rose's Leap from Inner-City Baller to the NBA." Chicago Magazine. Web. 12 Feb. 2012. .

"Mission." Project Coach. Web. 12 Feb. 2012. .

Monday, February 6, 2012

PC and the Pyramid

One of the greatest challenges as program director - as I alluded to in my last post - has been finding an optimal balance between utilizing curriculum generated within our own organization, and that which has been created by externally. Similarly, figuring out our 'end goal' in terms of exactly what we want our youth coaches to achieve has driven this search for the right blend of curriculum design. Our decision to pilot the use of John Wooden's Pyramid of Success to help drive at achieving excellence - or 'competitive greatness' - for our coaches centered around the need to have a progressive model that builds key foundational skills in pursuit of a final goal. Wooden's record as a coach remains unsurpassed, and a brief consideration of his career in numbers at UCLA makes this abundantly clear; 10 NCAA men's basketball championships (7 in consecutive seasons), as well as 8 perfect regular seasons and an 88 game winning streak. In short, if you're going to follow someone's model, this is a pretty good one to choose! 

So how do we go about operationalizing Wooden's model in our own program? This past Saturday, 22 Project Coach youth visited Smith College as part of their pre-season orientation training ahead of this week’s launch of our spring programming. In keeping with the notion of linking the ‘supercognitive’ development of coaches to an established framework, coaches spent 3 hours during the morning session familiarizing themselves with the concept of John Wooden’s ‘Pyramid of Success’, and understanding how it relates to their development in Project Coach.

The session began with an overview of the pyramid, its 15 composite attributes, and the theory behind the hierarchical structure. To help better understand the concept of building to excellence - or ‘competitive greatness’ as Wooden refers to it - coaches interviewed their respective redshirts to uncover the qualities of someone that they know who has excelled in a particular field; responses ranged from ‘hard work’, to ‘working as a part of a bigger team’, to ‘loving what it is that they do’ -- all fundamental features of Wooden’s model.

To help see the pyramid in relation to themselves, coaches considered each of the various components, and engaged in dialogue with their peers to help consider which areas they believed to be personal strengths, and which areas they perceived to be skills that they still needed to work on. As coaches were working in the same assignments that they operate in during academic and sports sessions, coaching teams were able to see collectively what their combined assets were, while at the same time discussing how they could improve.

Following the Project Coach belief that you can best understand a concept through different levels of analysis (as it applies theoretically, as it applies to others, as it applies to oneself), coaches launched into a film study of Coach Carter, based on the true story of Ken Carter, a basketball coach who transforms the academic and personal fortunes of an urban high school team that are underachieving both on and off of the court. Determined to restore pride to his alma mater, Carter shows resilience in pursuing his moral expectations for student-athletes despite the controversy surrounding his methods, and his insistence that academic success supersede athletic pursuits.

Throughout the film, coaches considered how Coach Carter exhibited many of the same attributes that comprise Wooden’s pyramid, and highlighted examples from the movie to support their claims. More importantly, coaches were able to transition this knowledge into an appreciation of how these same skills can be harnessed an utilized in their own coaching in Project Coach.

After lunch, coaches moved from classroom study to a hands-on basketball clinic led by physical education teacher Dennis Nelson, who introduced them to an array of games that they will operate for their 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade teams during the coming season. As well as developing an understanding of the games themselves, coaches used the opportunity to refine the communication skills that are critical to successfully executing such games; a strong coaching voice, effective body language, eyes that track those around them, and being an active listener.

After further work on these fundamental aspects of coaching during Monday’s upcoming Academy session, coaches will be ready to hit the ground running as they get ready to greet the 125 elementary school students from the Gerena, Brightwood, and Lincoln schools that will be eagerly anticipating their arrival on Wednesday!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Geoffrey Canada tells the parable of the train during his speeches. It's a short illustrative story meant to illustrate the predicament poor children face trying to catch up to middle class children. "If a train left Penn Station at 10 a.m. and it was traveling west at 30 mph, and another train left Penn Station at noon and it’s traveling west at 30 mph, when will train B catch train A?"

He tells the story to emphasize why it's important for schools that serve poor children to provide longer school days and intensive summer education.  In other words, if train B is going to catch train A it needs to tenaciously chug-chug long past when the first train has stopped running.

Maglev Train-- 300 mph!
I thought of the story reading an article in this week's NY Times that reported on how the tuition at New York City private schools was nearing an average of $40,000 a year. In other words, to stay with Canada's metaphor-- train A perhaps used to resemble train B-- but with the infusion of resources train A has now evolved into a high-speed, state-of-the-art Maglev train that is capable of speeds up 300 mph.

To belabor the metaphor-- if one train is whipping along at 300 mph and the other train is chugging along at 60 mph the result is a gap that widens to a chasm.

As the director of Project Coach, I had several responses to the article:

First, the gap in services received is colossal. The youth and children in our our program attend Springfield public schools where the per pupil costs are $13,605 (09-10).  The idea of "catching up" and competing on 'equal ground' feels utterly naive when presented with such a stunning differential. In other words, we could provide a range of engrossing, educative, and imaginative activities with the difference of $16,000.

Second,  I suspect the gap will trend from colossal (big) to gargantuan (enormous). Here is the article:

The median number of applications to New York schools has increased 32 percent over the past decade, according to the association, and in some schools the acceptance rate is staggeringly low. At Trinity, only 2.4 percent of children from families with no previous connection to the school were admitted to kindergarten last year.
Why are there even more people willing to pay for education when they can get it for free? The social and economic pressures of our time result in our feeling tremendous uncertainty for our children. This trepidation manifests as an urgent need on the part of parents to provide the best education possible. Parents translate that anxiety into an intensive focus on doing whatever they can to provide experiences and environments that cultivate the skills, capacities, talents, and knowledge base of their children. It's the classic 'arms race.'

So when we write a grant every application asks us to justify our budget and our per pupil costs. We probably cost about $1,400 per student. We provide athletics, literacy activities, leadership development, community support, and academic coaching. It's almost too mind bending to think what we could do if we had resources akin to what it cost to provide a NYC private school education.

--Sam Intrator
Project Coach