In this first account, Tricia Chase compares her expectations of the program alongside the reality of her experience:
When we arrived in New Jersey at Camp Cromwell on Saturday I had no idea what to expect. I had observed the Project Coach program earlier in the spring as a volunteer, but helping to run it as a red shirt was a completely different experience. I wondered what this group of teenagers would be like and how they would respond to the workshop we would be running with them over the next two days. What I
found was we did face some resistance as I had expected due to the fact that much of the workshop asked the teens to step out f their comfort zones and step up in front of their peers. On the other hand, I also found that these kids have enormous potential. The majority of the group improved vastly from the first day to the third when they were thrown in front of the kids for the first time on the first day of
camp. It goes to show that often when you give teenagers responsibility, after you have equipped them with the proper information and tools, they will most likely rise to the occasion, and can handle much more then they are typically given credit for by society.
For example the two coaches that I mentored during the whole weekend and on the first day of camp Monday were on the quieter side when we began on Saturday morning. If I went on first impressions I would’ve assumed that neither of the two could have handled having a group of kids looking to them for direction and attention. Instead of creating assumptions I observed my mentees in discussion,
activities, and in free time in between and promptly discovered that both were very smart and level headed, and really got the concepts and skills we were trying to convey to the group, despite the fact that they did not speak up as much as others. One of the coaches in particular would always mumble things under his breath that were exactly the point we wanted to rest of the group to understand or articulate,
but when I would encourage him to speak up with his thoughts or ideas he would say he’d rather not or say he forgot what he said when he began to speak. Slowly, but surely through a lot of encouragement and praise of his good ideas from another red shirt and myself this coach began to speak up a little more and more. When you got him in front of the kids he had clearly been listening to what we had talked
about the entire weekend, as he was very careful and determined to incorporate many of the lessons the workshop covered.
This coach like many of the others seemed to be willing and confident to engage the most when the other red shirt and myself showed that we really respected their ideas and opinions and thought highly
of their capabilities. When treated like equals many of the teenagers rose above the likely expectations they would normally receive off first impressions. Overall the weekend was a great learning experience for not only the New York Boys Club teens, but also for ourselves as red shirts to be prepared to jump into the program with the Springfield kids come the fall.
I met Juan on Saturday morning. He was one of approximately twenty Boys Club of New York members who would join us for the weekend in an intensive coaching clinic designed to turn them into positive coaches and role models for the younger members of BCNY. I was excited to meet him because he was a big soccer fan, and we spoke for a few minutes about our favorite players. We also spoke
about his soccer team, and what he liked and disliked about his coach. He said he wanted to be a coach who was always positive, because he knew that players responded well in that kind of environment. A few minutes later, even before Andy, Greg and Tom had started the first presentation of the day, Juan was asleep on our table.
My first thought was to write Juan off—if he didn’t want to be there or to participate that was his choice. I hoped he wouldn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the three other boys at the table. But then Juan woke up and he became a bit of an enigma. At times he would offer thoughtful responses and seemed genuine in his interest in soccer, as well as coaching. The next minute he’d have his head buried in the crook of his arm. Throughout the first day he seemed to gain momentum. When our group would debrief after watching a video or running a drill, his responses added value to the discussion. Still, there were extended lapses when he lost focus, and I’d see him playing with his iPod in the middle of the workshop. I wondered how to keep him “on” at all times, because when he was “on” he brought a lot to the table.
The second day, Juan continued to progress. By the end of the day, I knew he’d be able to hold his own as a coach when the campers arrived the next day. He seemed confident in his ability to run drills, to input variations and to offer feedback and encouragement. Unfortunately, he would find out quickly that
controlling a group of seven year olds is far different in theory than in practice. When the kids arrived on Monday morning, Juan took the role of head coach. He had the five young players take a knee. He used good eye contact and his voice was clear and confident. He gave concise directions about the “name game” we’d be playing as an icebreaker. The group was two names into the game when Josiah, one of the young campers, spotted a cricket on the blacktop. He went scampering after it and was followed by two other curious young campers. The icebreaker broke down and Juan expressed his frustration by yelling at the three campers who were heading off in three different directions.
I took over running the drills for the morning session and Juan was an enthusiastic assistant coach. He showed boundaries for the games we set up, he made sure the campers were focusing, and he helped explain how to play dribble knockout and line basketball. At the end of the morning session he sought me out and talked about how he could’ve improved his explanations, how he’d spent a little too much time describing the icebreaker and that may have caused Josiah to lose concentration. I was so impressed that he took the initiative to bounce ideas off of me. It showed that he really wanted to be there. I asked him if he’d liked his first coaching experience and he didn’t hesitate to say that he liked it a lot.
I hope Juan will stick with coaching. He has a ton of potential that showed in the flashes of insight and enthusiasm over the three days that I got to know him. If he works hard and continues to think critically about the positives and negatives of his coaching sessions, he will be successful.
At first it was hard to break the tension, many of the coaches in training were reluctant to get involved with the activities right away. However, once we split off into smaller groups and began to develop a dynamic amongst the six of us, things started to flow. One of the keys that really brought the group out of its shell was brainstorming about the positives and negatives we see in coaches. It forced us to reflect on coaches we've had in the past, and identify the things we disliked or enjoyed about specific coaches in our lives. The kids began to express how certain actions affected them, and how a coach from their past either brought out the best in them or left them with a bad feeling in their stomach. When we were forced to find the “artist” in our group and draw pictures of what represented the ideal coach, the mentorees began to have fun and really get into the topic at hand.
The next two days were certainly a grueling process. We were challenged as teachers and mentors to keep our coaches in training focused and activated. It was hard to tell if they truly wanted to be there at times, and we questioned whether they would be ready for the campers come Monday morning. However, as the hours passed and Saturday morning turned to Sunday afternoon, many of the coaches showed progress, and demonstrated their desire to learn and be attentive. Many of the key points we tried to hammer home over the past twenty-four hours started to come to the surface during their lesson demonstrations and deliveries. We talked a lot about eye contact, “coaching voice,” enthusiasm, and attention to detail. Forcing our way through conversations involving coaching strategies, conflict situations, disturbances, and times where words of encouragement must be used allowed us to develop our relationships and showed me that they were engaged and focused.
We had to fight through tiredness and lack of focus at times, but for the most part my instruction was met with eyes of eagerness and excitement. The kids seemed ready to take on the challenge of the week. By the end of the second day of training I was confident that the pairings we put together could take on the campers the following morning. E and B were the two I stuck with for the remainder of our time at Camp Cromwell.
At first the two were reluctant to take initiative and assume their coaching role with confidence and assertiveness. However, after I provided a few keys and demonstrated the level of enthusiasm and command needed, the pair sprung into action and took the lead. E took the role of head coach for most of the day and B became a solid assistant. They used each other well when describing and demonstrating the upcoming game, and delivered commands with confidence. Focus was tough to hold on to as the day went along for both the coaches and the kids. More conflicts between the campers began to arise, and keeping their attention was much more difficult in the afternoon. The coaches fought back with enthusiasm and did their best to project their coaching voices.
Overall I am extremely glad I was able to join the Project Coach team for the weekend in New Jersey. I was able to get a taste for what the program in Springfield might be like throughout the year. My patience was tested each of the three days, but as a team we were able to come together, feed off of each other, and bounce back with enthusiasm and confidence in our voices. These are two of the most important things I will need to take with me heading into the school year. The coaches we mentored showed me that it is easy to lose control at times, but as long as you bounce back with enthusiasm, excitement, encouragement, and assertiveness, the results will be positive.