Saturday, July 13, 2013

Get the Right People on the Bus! The Importance of Staffing in a Youth Development Program

             July is an exciting time at Project Coach. Each year in July, our new Graduate Fellows begin their year long program with Smith College and Project Coach. They meet our teen coaches for the first time, receive training in youth development, coaching, mentoring, and working in Project Coach, and this year they are learning first hand by running a Project Coach summer program in Holyoke, MA. This year's group comes from near and far with one student having just graduated from Smith College and another having returned from South Africa to join us. Their athletic experience ranges from soccer and baseball to cycling and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Already, their energy, enthusiasm, and passion has impressed the teens and other staff members at Project Coach. After their first two weeks with us, they took some time to reflect on moments or aspects that stood out to them.

Mopati, a Williams College graduate who has just returned from South Africa, has immediately begun thinking about how Project Coach teaches teens soft skills (what we call Supercognitives). His reflection emphasizes the role of veteran coaches in our program, the importance of leadership in coaching, and the way we teach teens more than just sports.

"'Turn up! Turn up! Turn up' - that's the one phrase from week one of Project Coach that sticks with me. It is what our Purple Shirt Tyree kept yelling to our Holyoke High School students while playing basketball games with the kids from The Boys and Girls Club - 'turn up.' In the debrief, she asked the the group what they think she meant by 'turn up.' There were many answers offered, and all of the combined sum up the essence of the Project Coach leadership model.

Turn up means: bring energy, be present, be engaged, bring commitment, and lead by example. The kids follow the example that the coaches set; if the coaches are fully participating and having fun, the kids will follow suite. It is about setting an example for the elementary school children, and for your peers. It is about exhibiting the values that of a great coach, and by extension, a great leader. The first thing you need to do on that leadership journey then, is to turn up."

Michael who played college baseball, studied in the Dominican Republic, and volunteered with youth in Hartford, CT reflected on the importance of team at Project Coach. As Graduate Fellows are taking on the overwhelming tasks of completing a Master's Degree, student teaching, and working with Project Coach, having a support network is crucial. Often in youth development, staff are so dedicated to the cause that long hours, frustrating moments, and difficult days make the work hard. Yet, with humor and a focus on the positive our team can persevere through any challenge. Michael reflected...

     "My first week as a part of Project Coach was a crazy one to say the least. Between getting adjusted to the grad class schedule, to being thrown right into the middle of Project Coach, and last but not least the sheer amount of work we have for the combination of the two, it has been one heck of a week. However, no matter how overwhelmed I feel at a given time there has been one constant each day that has been an instant pick me up, and that has been my fellow red shirts (graduate fellows in Project Coach).

     Entering into Project Coach I was a little nervous about the type of people I was going to be working with in an organization associated with a very liberal, all-women's college. Coming from a very conservative, Catholic, athletic background I had my fair share of concerns on how exactly I was going to fit in. Within five minutes of meeting my fellow red shirts on the first day, all my worries were instantly erased. I have been fortunate enough to be put in a group with three other wonderful and down-to-earth people (Mopati, Amber, and Anna) that together we have formed a very tight-knit, fun-loving group. With four different personalities and four good senses of humor, there is never a dull moment between us. Furthermore they have been very supportive and willing to help out as each of us endure this long road together. I cannot wait to see what the year brings for the four of us."

This bonding and creating of a support network will be an excellent asset to our work as a staff. At Project Coach, we explain to staff, teens, and parents that we are not a company owned by one person BUT a family that requires every member to provide ownership, ideas and hours of hard work and sweat in order to achieve our goals. Mopati's and Michael's reflections capture this and show how important each member of PC is to the organization's success.

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