The director of an Up2Us program once told me the story of her childhood. She grew up in a housing project where her mother had her when she was a teenager, and her grandmother had her mother when she was a teenager. She was told never to expect to leave the housing project or the cycle of poverty that she was born into because it “just didn’t happen.” But throughout her childhood, she ran track and played sports—and her coach had different dreams for her. Her coach told her to imagine college, to imagine success, and to imagine a life beyond the projects. With her coach’s ongoing support, she set goals for herself as an athlete and a student. She used the skills she learned from being part of the team to become successful in college, in her career and in life… Can sports end poverty? Yes they can. And I think the model for doing so goes something like this: we train coaches to inspire young people in areas of extreme urban and rural poverty. These coaches coach after school, but they also meet with children during the school day to “check in on them” and help them set weekly goals for themselves. These goals include everything from life skills, educational goals, employment skills, to simply believing in themselves. The coaches also create expectations for the teams so that the kids can learn from each other on and off the field. This includes teammates holding each other accountable for being on time, working together, resolving conflict, focusing on common goals, encouraging each other’s success, overcoming failure, and continuously setting higher expectations. Sounds awfully like employees at Microsoft or Apple.
Through this model, sports can provide children the skills they can use in future careers in businesses, nonprofits and government agencies. I get to see sports do this everyday. Not just through the more than 500 Up2Us member organizations that conduct sports-based youth development programming in every state in this country, but through the coaches in the Up2Us Coach Across America program. Coach Across America is an AmeriCorps program that challenges adults to spend a year in service inspiring low-income youth through sports. AmeriCorps is a federal program that was started to end poverty in this nation. Coach Across America is the sports solution that accomplishes this goal.
…and as for that program director who grew up in the housing project: twenty years later, she’s right back where she started from. But this time she’s not there as a resident but as a coach. She leaves her day job every afternoon just to be there for her team of girls. Her message to each of them is a powerful one:
“I did it and so can you.”
Paul Caccamo Executive Director