Friday, July 20, 2012

Redshirt Recap: Our latest cohort of Fellows reflect on their initial experiences

The following accounts - each written by a new 2012-13 Project Coach Fellow entering their year of service in youth development - reflect on the learning experiences gained during Project Coach's latest partnership program with BCNY, where our 'redshirts' had their first real taste of mentoring and coaching alongside dynamic teen coaches-in-training.

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.

Joe Martinez:

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.

Kelly Coder:

The weekend was my first official experience with Project Coach. Going into the trip I wasn't sure exactly what to expect, it was the first time I would be meeting my co-workers for the year and interacting with them as co-coaches/mentors. Following a long road trip, we were introduced to the coaches from BCNY that we would be mentoring and overseeing for the next three days. We immediately jumped into ice breaker games to start building relationships and getting to know one another.
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.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Project Coach returns to Camp Cromwell @ BCNY!

Although hard to believe that a year has passed since a fresh-faced cohort of graduate "redshirts" arrived on the beautiful 180-acre summer home of the Boy's Club of New York in July 2011, the latest additions to the Project Coach team set off early this past Saturday morning to work with another incredible group of young men from the three city clubhouses that form BCNY.

After shaking off the early-morning blues with a series of fast-paced icebreaker games and teambuilding activities, our redshirts got to work quickly on implementing an intensive 2-day "bootcamp" designed to get our new cohort of coaches up to speed with all the knowledge and techniques that they would need to be successful when bus-loads of eager campers arrived on campus on Monday morning.

With the support of the Physical Directors from the three clubhouses - Manny Maldonado, Norris Gordon, and Jaime Sanchez - who will oversee the implementation of Project Coach-style programming in their buildings during the course of the school year, our coaches-in-training quickly immersed themselves in the hands-on Project Coach curriculum, and before long were out on the courts and fields putting their new skills to the test as they adopted the role of coach for the first time, and led their peers through a series of "Games Based Approach" activities that they would later roll-out in their activity plans with the young campers.

In true Project Coach and BCNY fashion, our new cohort acquitted themselves admirably as they ran an action-packed basketball and soccer schedule for over 60 members of the Harriman Clubhouse on Monday, followed by equally fun-filled sessions for the Gerry and Abbe Clubhouses on the two subsequent days. Our coaches are now thrilled to be rounding out the week with a return visit from the Harriman boys, and can't wait to try out a whole new repertoire of games to keep their campers engaged and eager to keep perfecting their sports skills. Stay posted for more news of ongoing collaborations with PC and BCNY!

Friday, July 6, 2012

PC in a Global Context - an African Assessment

Editor's note: we are delighted to submit this "guest" blog post from Mopati Morake, a citizen of Botswana who recently graduated from Williams College, and who is currently teaching at the African Leadership Academy in South Africa. Mopati wrote this compelling account of a recent visit to Senegal, in which he considers the great need for sports-based youth-development programs - such as Project Coach - in a developing continent.

Project Coach in Africa: 
Youth, Sport and Africa’s Development

By Mopati Morake (see the end of the blog for a more complete bio)

July 4, 2012

I have spent the last year thinking a lot about Africa’s future. I teach at African Leadership Academy in South Africa, an institution whose mission is to directly contribute to long lasting peace and prosperity in Africa by developing and connecting its future leaders to resources that harness their potential. In thinking about Africa’s development, two things come to mind. One is a statistic that never ceases to amaze me. It is the fact that approximately 70% of Africa is under the age of 30. Further, about one-fifth of Africans are between 15-24 years of age. This is staggering to me - basically everyone is young! Of course, the reasons for this population imbalance are manifold, but atop that list is the high birthrate. In Mali, the fertility rate is 6.3 children per woman. Given these facts, youth empowerment shouldn’t just be a political buzzword. It should be a real priority in the development agenda.

The second thing that I think of is how to create and develop educational institutions that really can cultivate all the talents that young people have to offer. We all have multiple intelligences, and different areas of skill. Yet, too often, our education system focuses on developing one set of skills in the classroom, and testing it by way of a massive, comprehensive final exam. But some talents just can’t be assessed in a two-and-a half hour exam paper. Some of our innate ability needs to be drawn out in other more creative and engaging ways.

This is where I see space for the Project Coach (PC) model on the continent. What excites me about PC is that it finds a way to combine what young Africans are particularly passionate about – sports – with the tools to empower, and transform them into effective leaders – something the continent desperately needs.

I am writing this from the small coastal village of Joal, in Senegal. Schools are on holiday, and as I sat in back of a taxi this evening, taking in the scenes just before sunset, I saw children playing soccer on virtually every corner. This is obviously because its fun, but one must also consider the fact that during school holidays, there are very few structured activities for students do participate in. There aren’t many summer camps. For close to three months, most Senegalese students simply don’t do much. In Botswana (where I come from), there is virtually nothing for students to do when school is out.

So why not transform the school holiday from a period of idleness into one of enriching, empowering, and fun programming? Why not build an educational institution, like Project Coach, that would give teenagers practice in leadership? Young people would move from being bored at home to adding value to their communities by running youth sports leagues. They would be given real responsibility. They would learn to lead teams, set goals, and communicate clearly. And they would serve as mentors to young children, and thus become community organizers at age 16.

What I particularly like about this idea is the cascading of leadership skills. By building Project Coach, we would engage a team of people, perhaps university students, to train and mentor teenagers. These teen coaches would then pass down good habits and lessons to their young players.

In a time when kids are otherwise just hanging around, Project Coach could help create an ecosystem of young leaders who take initiative and create opportunities for others in their communities. What Africa needs is proactive young people who take action and make positive changes in their communities, instead of simply waiting for the government to do all the work. Coming from a country where the unemployment rate exceeds 20%, this mentality is essential.

As Nigerian Central Bank Governor Lamido Sanusi recently said, “development really just means creating opportunities for people.” Through Project Coach, young people would actually be doing development work, and having fun along the way. 


Mopati hails from Botswana, but as child he lived in Sweden and the United States before moving to Hong Kong to study at Li Po Chun United World College.
He is a proud alumnus of Williams College, where he graduated with a BA in Political Science, concentrating in International Relations. While at Williams, Mopati was deeply involved in community building, and served as a Junior Advisor to mentor first year students. He was guided by the belief the relationships, conversations, and interactions one has with a diverse community provide a tremendous and invaluable opportunity for learning and growth.
He pursued his passion for equity in education with summer internships at the Maru-a-Pula School in Botswana and Ditshwanelo – the Botswana Center for Human Rights. In 2010, he was granted a travel and research fellowship to study education equity and the politics of school reform in France. He also played ultimate frisbee for Williams, and sang in the concert choir. At his graduation, Mopati was awarded the Francis Sessions Hutchins Class of 1900 Memorial Fellowship Prize, given to a senior who shows promise of becoming a “useful, worthy and loveable citizen.”
Mopati brings a passion for social change through education to ALA. He teaches English, is a member of the residential faculty team as hall master of one of the boys’ halls, lovingly nicknamed “The Office.” He also coaches basketball and supervises the Emthonjeni Community Service Project site.
Here's the link to African Leadership Academy -

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A Day in the Life of a Veteran "Blueshirt"

The school year has already wound down, summer is in full swing, Fourth of July is just around the corner, and after a hard year of work in Project Coach the teens that staff our program are...working 8 hours a day to ensure that our organization continues to grow and thrive.

Although it sounds distinctly untypical, PC youth coaches this week launched an exciting new summer initiative with the HASBRO Summer Learning Initiative and the YMCA of Greater Springfield assisting their seasonal staff in providing fun sports programming for over 250 campers enrolled at Camp Weber in West Springfield. Alongside Head Supervisor and Springfield Public Schools Phys Ed teacher Kym Kendall, a team of 12 experienced PC coaches are devising and implementing fun games for kids through August, and wasted no time making a big impact. Even after day two, campers of all ages were on first name terms with their favorite coaches, and the partnership promises to be a great success.

Nevertheless, not even a day of blazing heat and "Jedi Dodgeball" could deter veteran coaches Loeb Rosario, Ismael Lopez, and Jon Cotto, who cleaned up quickly after camp and headed up to Smith College to play an integral part in the orientation process for our new cohort of incoming graduate student "redshirts" - seven Master's of Arts in Teaching candidates awarded full tuition-waivers for their work as mentors, coaches, and educators in Project Coach. After a series of team-building activities, an article discussion around the coaches' experience in the program and what it is about coaching that "lights their fires", Loeb, Ish, and Jon stole the show with their presentation on what it takes to be a "perfect redshirt". Focusing on the key elements of building relationships, mentoring youth coaches, and providing academic support, the three vets did a great job guiding the new redshirts on what it takes to make the grade as a new member of the PC team.

We're excited to have their continued input and expertise as we move into a summer packed with orientation sessions designed to prepare our new cohort with the hands-on and theoretical knowledge crucial to their success in the program. Next stop...the Boy's Club of New York's summer camp at Martinsville, New Jersey. Stay posted for updates on the second year of another great Project Coach collaboration!!