Wednesday, July 31, 2013

ELL SUMMER OF POWER! Week 3: Reading Session Steals the Show!!

We knew the coaches would be good, they showed us their potential within the first few days of training and it was extremely exciting to see. During our gym sessions the coaches have shown their excitement and enjoyment of working with kids in their community.  There has never been any doubt that these sessions would run smoothly and with tons of energy. But just at the end of their third week (this past week) the coaches were set for the second reading session and the challenge of keeping 3rd and 4th graders excited about a sports based children's book that helps the transfer of the Supercognitives we teach our youths, a heavy task for these coaches in training to take on.

We talked to this group of coaches in the first week about being taken out of their comfort zone if they joined PC. The reading sessions are prime examples of this factor being put into action. Not only do our coaches have to read aloud and present the stories using different engaging strategies, but many of these ELL students have to do this in their second language. We thought for sure the coaches would shy away, at least for the first few weeks, from stepping into the spotlight.

Luckily, we were wrong. These motivated teens had seen their co-coaches enjoying themselves and having success the first time around, now it was their turn and they did anything but shy away from the opportunity. Entering the gym to a group of surprisingly quiet, visibly excited elementary students, the coaches proceeded to their designated areas to begin their literacy lessons. On this particular reading day we were set to cover the story titled Teammates, highlighted by the courageous relationship between Jackie Robinson and his teammate Pee-Wee Reese.

Right away I knew it was going to be a good session. The coaches jumped right into the books, making sure all coaches had a role in the reading and each elementary student was engaged in the presentation. Using multiple books and printouts, coaches displayed the pictures as they read aloud and asked open ended questions to test the students involvement. Some of our English Language Learning coaches who had shown signs of shyness and reluctance in the first few weeks were confidently reading aloud to their groups, stopping and reflecting on each page as they did, allowing their co-coaches to ask engaging questions and provide visuals for their narrative.  This was one of the rare times our staff felt proud to have a quiet gym.

A moment that stuck out in my mind, along with the groups actively talking about heavy topics of racism and inequality, had to do with a young student who was having trouble staying engaged during the literacy lesson. The coaches had tried everything to get the student to stay focused, but none of their tactics seemed to work. They provided excitement with their voices, asked interactive questions, used the pictures to steal his attention, But the student remained distracted. Until finally one of the coaches came up with a great idea. Maybe the young student could be the one to read aloud to the group? Before they knew it the student had become the narrator, reading aloud to his group of peers and young community leaders. His fellow students followed along as the coaches displayed the illustrations of Jackie Robinson and Pee-Wee Reese, while questions about slavery, equal rights, and Martin Luther king Jr. were posed by the young leaders.

This was a truly great moment to witness; young teens stepping out of their comfort zone, using the pull they have in their own community to get kids excited about learning and reading. Having one of these young students step up and take on the reading himself is exactly why our program exists. The more young adults we get to take on positive leadership roles and become serious about changing their community, the more children will follow their lead and will know what it's like to have that positive non parental adult  influence during their developmental years.

With only two weeks remaining in this intensive, five-week program, our focus will be to continually improve each day. The coaches are working extremely hard during training and prep days in order to be ready for the elementary students during both gym and reading sessions. This week the Project Coach staff has prepped these young ELL leaders to run their own literacy lessons and mini basketball practices while addressing issues of emotional regulation and conflict resolution. We are so proud of these coaches as they have taken huge steps each week, focusing and dedicating themselves more and more every day.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Engaging our Graduate Students and Veteran Coaches in Holyoke's "Summer of Power" Program

Empowering Youth Through Summer Programming
Andy Wood (Program Director of PC at Holyoke) 

Almost one year after taking the decision to return to the high school classroom, and to pick up the coach's clipboard once again, I'm delighted to be serving Project Coach once again during it's inaugural partnership with the Holyoke Public School's "Summer of Power" program for English Language Learners (see post below for details). 

Almost immediately, it felt like just like old times, as the PC staff begin the process of training its incoming graduate student (redshirt) cohort in the many facets of the organization. Equally familiarly, these highly recruited future educators warmed to the task, and wasted no time immersing themselves in the philosophy and curriculum of Project Coach, willing to throw themselves into whatever was asked of them. Nevertheless, over the last three of weeks, the biggest determinant factor in the success of the program - by far and away - has been the purple shirts, who have risen through the ranks of high school-aged coaching at PC and are now serving as homegrown leaders to current teens looking to follow in their footsteps.

During my time leading the organization, I often felt like we needed to really "stage", to some extent, giving youth coaches responsibility as leaders. In many ways it was absolutely necessary, of course, but perhaps too often in the past we would offer up opportunities already really knowing what we wanted to happen, and shaping things ourselves, almost giving them the feeling and impression that they - the purple shirts - were forging ahead, but essentially pulling the strings behind the scenes.

How that has changed! It's no understatement or use of excessive hyperbole to say that the power dynamic has shifted tremendously. Struggling to pull an activity together, I turned it over to the purple shirts to pretty much save me from sinking, and they blew my effort away with a quick, off-the-cuff rescue. Likewise, in the gym planning session, they are politely overruling my ideas with far better thought out, more engaging approaches. Their poise and thoughtfulness in working with entirely novice coaches - most with limited English proficiency - has been a lesson to senior staff, as has their ability to rethink and better deploy elements of our curriculum to make it more effective and better suited to a new audience. In short, they have become our best resource in thinking about how we continue to improve and refine the program.

It's testament to the work that everyone associated with the organization - from inception to present-day - has done with them, and from being a skeptic about how much they could genuinely inherit power within the program, I'm totally sold by their mastery of it. It has been truly inspirational and incredibly rewarding to witness; they have become colleagues rather than simply participants.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Holyoke Summer of Power and Project Coach

This past week marked the commencement of Project Coach's involvement with the ELL Summer of Power five week workshop helping to develop teens from Holyoke, MA. All types of resources, organizations and amazing personnel have come together to provide an amazing structure for these young adults to achieve and grow. Our goal as a program is to be a positive influence on the lives of twenty of these actively engaged individuals over the five week period. We have hopes that the platform we provide, and the guidance and hands on mentoring that comes with it, will allow the teens to take the skills they learn and apply them directly to their lives going forward. This is an inside look at the beginning of their exposure to our program and their incredible, immediate, positive response to experiencing it first hand. 

We were only a few moments into our second of five fifteen-minute pitches to the rotating groups of the local high school students from the Holyoke area when a student chimed in with words of inspiration. "This is a great way to positively affect a community," he stated (referring to the mentoring interaction between teen coach and elementary student). We all had to take a step back. Here we were wondering if our presentation was getting through to the students at all, unsure that they would even understand what signing up for our workshop truly meant, and this student nailed it right on the head. At this moment, we realized we were dealing with quite an exceptional group of young people. 

The three days that have followed only seem to support this theory. Our first Gym training involved over thirty active, engaged kids and teens learning and playing games that help there communication, confidence, and expression of emotions develop exponentially. The laughter, joy, and flow of sweat throughout the gymnasium of the Holyoke Boys and Girls Club was contagious and was extremely fun to be involved with. To end our week we have had a classroom/gym training session at the high school and another successful experience at the Boys and Girls Club where the coaches had a chance to put their newly acquired skills to the test amongst their peers and an energetic group of elementary students from their community.

Each week members of Project Coach will team up with this willing and motivated group of teens from the Holyoke community to develop as students, coaches, and professionals. The response of these young adults is truly inspiring and we cannot wait to see what the next four weeks has in store for us. Even in this short period a time we can expect to see great things out of these first time coaches, and we hope that the PC model can help them achieve greatness going forward! 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Youth Sports, Physical Activity and Energy Expenditure, Professor Donald Siegel

Over the years various organizations have called for children to get sufficient physical activity for the purpose of promoting lifelong health, and to minimize the potential for succumbing to a variety of morbidities associated with lifestyle choices such as obesity, Type II diabetes, heart disease, and some forms of cancer.[1] Currently, the common consensus is that children should get a minimum of 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity on most days of the week.[2] While this target may seem fairly modest, research shows that 61.5% of 9-13 year olds do not engage in physical activity during their non-school hours[3] and that underserved youth even fare more poorly.[4] An approach that is being embraced by experts in exercise science to increase physical activity levels in youth is to identify various periods in a child’s day and during each such epoch promote enhanced activity levels. For example, children are encouraged to be active prior to the start of school, be offered physical education and recess during the school day, and then be encouraged to participate in various afterschool sports programs. As an aggregate, experts believe that such multifaceted involvement will summate and result in more youth meeting the 60 minutes goal.

Clearly, physical activity is a core element of sports based youth development programs. Yet, sport is a rather amorphous concept, and depending upon activity type, duration, intensity and frequency, a wide range of experiences can exist among youth engaged in a sport’s program. Whether or not children realize the 60 minutes of moderate-vigorous activity goal, despite participating in a sports program is equivocal. This is not to argue that satisfying physical activity needs is the only or most compelling reason for a youth to participate in a sport based youth development program, but our research suggests that with some “tweaking” most such programs can be enhanced to produce greater energy expenditures in the youth that they serve. Everything else being equal, we believe that just as staff wish to enhance the acquisition of their youths developmental assets, and academic achievement, they should also be deliberate about promoting optimal levels of physical activity in the sports that they teach. 

[2] National Guidelines for Physical Activity from the National Association for Sport and Physical Education:

Connection Among Activity Data, Sports, and Coaching

While many studies have assessed the energy expenditures for adults engaged in various sports, relatively few have been done using children as subjects. The most recent study targeted at youth is a compendium of results, using mostly energy expenditure estimates derived from adults.[5], As well, a summary table produced by this study, which associates various activities with caloric expenditures, although helpful, is also somewhat difficult to interpret for sport based youth development practitioners who are interested in bridging the gap between theory and practice.[6] A previous study also provides general “ballpark” estimates of energy expenditure of children, grades 6 -8, engaged in sports, which also suffers from using estimates and subject recall of activity type and dosage, for youth participating in basketball, skiing, soccer, wrestling, football, cheerleading, volleyball, swimming, and tennis. Researchers concluded that, on average, boys and girls, expended 20.4% and 16.3% respectively, of their daily caloric expenditure in sports. From these data, they also concluded that 55% of these calories were burned in moderate-vigorous activity for boys, and 64.6% for girls.[7] While such studies provide rough estimates for energy expenditures in sports activities, in general, they provide little guidance for program staff orchestrating sports with a particular group of youth, for a limited amount of time, in a specific setting. Given that different sports normally lend themselves to lesser or larger amounts of activity, as does a participant’s maturity and skill level, what occurs in real time in a particular sport session is highly dependent on a coach’s goals and his pedagogical capabilities. For example, while descriptive studies of sport and energy expenditure may produce general guidelines on the relative merits of basketball, soccer or tennis, they tell us very little about how a particular youth, in a particular program, orchestrated by a particular coach expends energy during the time he or she is engaged in such a session. Over the years we have observed practices in these sports, and others, in which all youth were very active for a large percentage of the time they were there, while in other practices, in the same sports, we have seen youth being sedentary or only modestly engaged for the duration. As we surmise, what transpires during a practice or game is not only dependent on the sport, but also on the goals and expertise of those leading activities.

As a result of these observations, we have run a series of small studies during the past three years to examine the amount of activity our 3rd – 5th graders are actually getting as Project Coach participants. In these studies we attached accelerometers to youth while they engaged in randomly selected volleyball and basketball sessions. Accelerometers are devices that assess movement in three dimensions, and in contrast to the indirect measures used in the aforementioned studies, they come closer to providing data which more closely connects what a child is actually doing in real-time with energy expenditure measures. Based on the activity counts that are provided, algorithms can then convert raw data to more useable measures such as calories expended, percent of time in sedentary/moderate/vigorous activity (METS/unit of time), and steps taken. While accelerometers can really only provide estimates of these measures, they are easy to use, are relatively unobtrusive, and have been shown to have relatively high correlations with more direct measurements such as oxygen consumption[8]. As well, they can provide sport based youth development staff with critical information about how much activity kids in their program are really getting.

[5] Ridley, K., Ainsworth, B. E., and Olds, T. S. (2008). Development of a compendium of energy expenditures for youth. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 5: 45.
[6] For a table of activities and their metabolic equivalents (METS) see:
[7] Katzmarzyk, P. T. and Malina, R. M. (1998). Contribution of organized sports participation to estimated daily energy expenditure in youth. Pediatric Exercise Science, 10, 378-386.
[8] de Vries, S. I., van Hirtum, Helmi W. J. E. M., Bakker, I., Hopman-Rock, M., Hirasing, R. A., & van Mechelen, W. (2009). Validity and reproducibility of motion sensors in youth: A systematic update. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 41(4), 818-827

How Have Accelerometer Data Affected our Practice?  
In our first study we attempted to find out whether 3-5th graders, who were involved with the Project Coach basketball program, were actually getting more activity than they would normally get had they not been in the program and left to do whatever they typically do after school. Consequently, we had 19 girls and boys wear accelerometers on a day when they had Project Coach and a day when they did not.  The participants wore the devices from 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m, basically from the start of school to the end of their after school hours. The data that we were particularly concerned with was the hour from 4:30 to 5:30, which is the time of the Project Coach sports session. However, having the data for the entire day was crucial because it allowed us to compute the percentages of physical activity that a child got throughout the day. That is, we were able to determine the level of activity the child was getting at each hour of the day. The measurements collected were then converted into percentages. Our hope was that Project Coach was contributing to a large percentage of the child’s daily physical activity. In Chart 1, we can see the percentages of calories burned at each hour of the day. We found that Project Coach participants burned approximately 28% of their calories during the sports session, which is the largest percentage represented in Chart 1. We also found that in comparison to the non-Project Coach day our participants were burning 10% more calories when they were in the Project Coach sports sessions.

Chart 1

Chart 2, portrays the average number of steps taken at each hour of the measurement period. According to our data, the average steps taken during the Project Coach sports hour was 2,000. On the non-Project Coach day, our participants took 500 steps in the hour from 4:30 to 5:30. We also noticed that there was an increase in steps taken during the 3:30 to 4:30 hour. Our hypothesis for this unexpected spike in steps is that the group of participants walked to the playing venue which was more distant than if they had simply walked home from their school to the gym at the Gerena school.

Chart 2

In Chart 3, the MET (Metabolic Equivalence) levels of nine of our participants are represented. Simply put, METs measure how hard your body is working. The harder your body works, the more oxygen it burns to release the energy it needs to perform the activity. At complete rest, on average, your MET level would be 1. We found during the Project Coach hour from 4:30 to 5:30 that 42% of the time our participants were at a level of 3 – 6 METs, which is considered moderate activity. For 12% of that hour, our participants were at a level of 6 – 9 METs, which is considered to be vigorous activity. On average, these 9 participants were at a level of 3.8 METs.

Chart 3 

Theory to Practice
While these data clearly support the added value of participation in Project Coach to enhancing a child’s daily physical activity level, we have also learned that a fairly high percentage of the time (approximately 45%) that a child is at Project Coach he/she is engaged in sedentary or light activity. Subsequent studies that we have done with our volleyball and basketball programs have corroborated these patterns. The obvious question for us is how to shift the distribution in Chart 3 so that the bars on the right side are incremented, while those on the left side are reduced?

Initially, our staff met, processed what we were finding with these energy expenditure data, and planned various interventions to increment activity levels. For instance, when we went back and looked at the actual activity that youth were getting in volleyball we found that because of low levels of skill, there was minimal ongoing action, a great deal of time spent retrieving balls that had gone astray, and, consequently, too much standing around. As a response, we purchased beach balls that were larger, softer, and floated back and forth more slowly so that children had more time to position themselves and successfully keep rallies going. We also reconfigured some game-like activities so that children had to quickly move from one side of the net to the other as they struck balls. Another variation that we tried entailed introducing random exercise breaks during which coaches blew their whistles and then asked children to do jumping jacks, run in place, or do sit-ups. These types of enhanced physical activity offerings also were used in our basketball program during games. Rather than simply having half of a team sit on the bench while the other half played, we asked coaches to engage those on the bench in various sideline drills while they waited for their turns to enter the game.

Having “the data” clearly sensitized us to where we were with regard to maximizing physical activity levels with our players. Coaches became acutely aware that they needed to get and keep their kids moving, and that periodically having players wear accelerators would provide feedback as to whether they were able to do so. Subsequent studies that we have run have produced promising results. Game modifications, and various types of “exercise breaks” within activities have resulted in increasing the overall activity levels of our youth, as well as moving more of them toward moderate and vigorous levels during the course of a session. However, we also realize that we can still do more. Currently, we are working on crafting more activities/games, within the sports that we run, that engage all players on a team simultaneously, and keep them moving as much as possible for the hour that they are with us. We are also working with our coaches to help them to reduce their talking time, and to get their players, as quickly as possible, into planned activities. In contrast to more traditional approaches that promote the notion that youth need to have acquired a higher level of technical/tactical knowledge before playing various games (which also means less physical activity), we believe that coaches can teach the technical and tactical aspects of games by using intermittent feedback to shape the play of their players from the start (i.e., the games approach). So far, we see little downside to this approach as youth seem to be learning as much, and enhancing their levels of physical activity.