Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Red Shirt's Reflection on NJ (Emily)

Going to New Jersey, I didn’t quite know what to expect. I was not nervous, but I also didn’t feel prepared; I had no idea what I was in for! I remember standing in the auditorium greeting all of the boys as they walked in and chose their tables, and then being told to just sit at a table...those were the boys I would work with. My table had only four boys at it: two pairs of friends and they kept themselves that way the whole weekend. Two of the boys were very easy-going and engaged. They seemed to want to be there, and watching them coach it was clear they weren’t the best, but they put in the effort to improve daily.
Not all of the boys in NJ were that easy though, but this showed me even more why exactly I want to be involved in a program like Project Coach. Those two boys who did well coaching were fantastic, but they weren’t the challenge. They needed guidance and lessons, but they didn’t need motivation to be there. Another boy who sat at my table did, and he really reminded me why I want to be here. On the first day I asked the boys to tell me a little bit about themselves; this boy, Joe, told me that coaches and teachers have called him a natural leader in the past. He could have fooled me. His actions in the morning session did not reflect that whatsoever. When we played ice breakers he would stand or sit to the side without participating, when we watched film he would doodle, when he contributed answers (which was great) he would mumble and stare at the table (which is not great coaching practice).
But for some reason I really wanted to see this kid succeed. I made an effort to talk to him whenever we were walking from court to court; I wanted to figure out if there was any reason at all that he wanted to be there, or, if not, why not. He opened up to me, telling me about difficulties in his life right now, and I responded by showing him a lot of positive reinforcement. Whenever he would lead a good lesson I’d make sure to tell him that he did well, and if he seemed disengaged I’d let him know I believed in him and wanted him to do well. He responded to all of this especially well when he was not around his other friend, but getting the both of them engaged was something I never succeeded in doing.
At the end of the weekend there were discussions over the overall lack of enthusiasm of this group as a whole. Some boys were not invited to come back the next day to coach the kids. Joe was on the fence, but I advocated for him because I believed there was something in him that could lead to a really good coach. Much to my disappointment, he did not come on Monday (Was there something more I could have done??). My other two coaches, with whom I spent the day helping, rose to the occasion. They enthusiastically lead the games with clear direction, getting all the kids involved. The afternoon proved to be extraordinarily challenging; it was very hot out and the little kids just wanted to swim. My two coaches faltered and defaulted to assisting me in coaching the group, but remained as enthusiastic as ever. We debriefed in depth after the afternoon soccer session, talking about strategies to keep the kids involved, ways to avoid conflicts that arise from not enough balls being on the field etc, and while they seemed blown away by the intensity of actually being in charge of a group of young kids, they also were very eager for any hint or help I could offer.
Joe came on Tuesday and I’m told he did well, but he did not return the rest of the week. This upsets me, but does not leave me defeated. I feel like the weekend was a huge eye-opener but in the best way possible. I feel as though I learned way more from the high school boys than they learned from me, but I hope what I did manage to teach them helped! And as tough as the weekend was -- motivating kids that didn’t want to be there, pulling teeth to get responses to discussions -- getting to know those high school boys was the best part of the weekend, which reaffirms my belief that Project Coach this upcoming year is exactly what I want to be doing with my life.

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