What does the small town of Memel, South Africa have in common with New Orleans? Her name is Beth Henkle (pictured in red) and she has left her mark in both places by using sport to affect change in the lives of underserved youth. After graduating from Bard College with a degree in Anthropology, Beth worked with a small nonprofit called SheWinS. She travelled to Memel to teach soccer as part of an after school program to 150 girls in first through seventh grades. While in South Africa, she realized her passion for using sports to make an impact in the lives of young girls. She wanted to do more and learn more, so she came back to the United States, where she found out about Up2Us Sports and Coach Across America (CAA).
In the fall of 2014, Beth started her CAA term at KIPP Central City School in New Orleans as part of a brand new initiative. Up2Us Sports placed 20 coaches in one school to facilitate a structured recess and after school sports-learning curriculum. The urban school had limited space, which was a unique challenge for the Vermont-raised Coach. Beth shared that, “in terms of managing so many kids at once and making sure [recess] stations were separate, it was hard at times. These are small things that you don’t really think about when you’re from a very rural environment and used to having large amounts of land.” They had limited access to the outdoor courtyard area, and had to use classrooms for coaching. Having 12-15 children dribbling soccer balls in a classroom around desks and chairs wasn’t always ideal, but Beth and her fellow coaches made it work.
Soccer was relatively unknown to kids in Central City, but with Beth’s influence, the KIPP students adapted and learned to love it. This was a key moment of success for her. “Soccer is not as popular here among kids as where I’m from, so it was exciting to see so many kids have their interest sparked in this great game.” Beth is also proud of her work with the young female students at KIPP. She made sure to connect with the girls that were on the periphery at recess - the ones who preferred to be gossiping or not participating or shyly standing alone. At an age where recognizing their emotions is not easy, Beth introduced them to journaling as an outlet for releasing their thoughts and feelings. At times, the girls would confide in Beth on what they wrote, even though it wasn’t required. For them, she had become not just their coach, but a mentor. One girl, Mariah, said journaling “helped her deal with some of the frustrations she was feeling in life and, in turn, is now receiving fewer deductions and staying more focused in class.”
Stories like Mariah’s have made the largest impact for Beth. “I think ultimately, this experience has just solidified what I want to do. In South Africa, I was in a very new program and there wasn’t much research behind it, it wasn’t labeled sports-based youth development (SBYD), even though that’s what we were doing. Coming here, going through [National Coach Training] Institute and realizing this is happening with so many people involved across the country—this is what I’m supposed to be doing.” Discovering that her passion has a name and a movement, with Up2Us Sports leading the way through ground-breaking research and one-of-a kind training, has inspired Beth to pursue a career in the SBYD field.
Now, a few months out from finishing her term at KIPP, Beth is back home in Vermont studying for the GRE with plans of obtaining a Masters in Public Administration (MPA). She is excited at the thought of going back to school and expanding her knowledge, but also sharing the experiences she’s had so far and spreading the message of the power of SBYD.
Beth isn’t too concerned about knowing exactly what comes after two years of school, because she knows she has found the world she was born to be in. It’s easy to hear the passion in her voice as she talks about why she loves coaching: “The thing I find the most satisfying is empowering youth to feel like they can use their voice. When a young girl really feels that she can speak up and be heard, especially in sports, they are standing up a little taller and feeling more confident. When they can say ‘we’re girls and we can do this and this is our thing and we’re strong and we’re awesome’ - helping them find that voice is what I love the most.”