My name is Laura Louden, and I serve through the sports-based youth development (SBYD) based program Coach Across America, which harnesses the transformative power of sport as a platform for youth development and social change. My host site is America SCORES Chicago, a nonprofit delivering soccer, creative writing, and service learning after-school programming in ten Chicago public schools. This will be my second year with AmeriCorps and SCORES and I am wonderfully excited and blessed to have the opportunity to serve a second term. Sport has always been a love of mine, but it wasn’t until I discovered rugby union in university that I fully benefited from it. My pride in identifying as a rugby player and athlete, along with the physical and emotional commitment and rigor of playing on a serious Division-1 college club team, was truly a transformative experience; it ultimately shaped my personal and professional goals as I went through undergrad. Rugby was the connecting point of self-love between my mind and physical being, as I discovered the power and grace of a body that was often seen as too big in the eyes of society. In the same time period, I began working in the local public schools as a literacy tutor, and was perturbed as I discovered how many of my students struggled with reading and writing.
My love of rugby and youth literacy grew, and I slowly found the world of sports-based youth development. After completing a successful summer internship with America SCORES Chicago in the summer of 2014, I knew SBYD was something I wanted to pursue professionally after graduation. When SCORES reached out to me about a program called Coach Across America, my heart sang with opportunity. I began as a coach in the fall of 2015 and entered a service year full of self-actualization.
The best part of my service is the daily interaction I have with my students. During the school year, I am a recess coach for five to six classes, all ranging in grade and personality. Recess is a time where I can interact with students in a fun, encouraging, and safe space. My kids are hilarious and intelligent and usually leave me in the dust during soccer and tag. They are all their own little people, and I love watching them grow as the school year progresses. Earning the trust of my kids, building positive relationships, and working in a new community so much bigger than my small hometown found me navigating complex sociocultural and personal realities every day.
In the spring of 2016, I began coaching the 3rd–5th grade girls’ soccer and writing team at my recess site. I had a group of giggling, goofy, wonderful ladies. We were all pretty much new to soccer, and the score at the end of our weekly games meant nothing at all to me. The girls were growing so much in self-confidence and team cohesion off the field that the goals they were reaching went far beyond those scored in a net. I had one student go from hardly talking to being the first one to raise her hand to share her work by the end of the season, speaking loudly and confidently of her ideas. One led the team with unwavering work ethic and kindness. One let her ideas soar in writing practice and practiced her talents as a leader and learner. These are small examples I was able to witness during practice.
Our culminating project was our spring service-learning project, which focused on littering in the community. We did our research, posted informational posters around the school, and even did our own small litter clean-up during practice time. We journaled and reflected about what our community meant to us, and we solidified that we could have a positive impact in the community. The girls’ and boys’ teams together re-painted tagged garden benches, garnering positive comments from the neighbors and school staff. On our end-of-season celebration day, we held our team flag with pride, and explained our project confidently in front of a large group of people!
I am excited to carry on my work for a second term. It’s not every day you can be blessed with the title of coach.
Coach Laura is a Coach Across America coach, who is funded by AmeriCorps through the Serve Illinois Commission. She began her second service term on August 31, 2016 and will complete it on July 31, 2017.