Claire Perry knows a thing or two about being a great coach. The Philadelphia native grew up in a household of five where she was not only the youngest, but was also expected to keep up. Perry dedicated her life to basketball at an early age, playing on an all-boys team while being coached in the sport by her father. She credits her parents and siblings for the person she is now—a coach, a mother and Mid-Atlantic regional director (Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington DC regions) for Up2Us Sports, a non-profit organization that improves the lives of vulnerable youth by training coaches to inspire children through sport and life. “Let’s create an atmosphere where our kids feel safe to take risks,” Perry told Excelle Sports of Up2Us Sports’ mission. “It’s about having a good time, but also about being competitive.” As a regional director, Perry helps train teachers, parents and former athletes in the Mid-Atlantic area to be coaches who can encourage youth to take risks through sport.
Growing up, Perry never pictured herself on the other side of the sport. Instead, she always wanted to be a basketball player—the one receiving the instruction and getting hyped up, not so much the one pitching the half-time speech. But after she tore her ACL as a junior in high school at Mount Saint Joseph Academy, she was forced to the sideline only to discover a new part of herself.
“I tore it at a time [when] I was thinking, ‘What will I do without basketball?’” Perry said. “But my coaches in high school taught me a lot about the ‘X’s and O’s’ and how to be someone who could be active, not only as a player but also as someone who could observe.”
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Determined to get back on the court and play in college, Perry powered through a four-month recovery and landed herself a roster spot at Cornell University. She was an impressive player for the Big Red, grabbing the program’s free throw and 3-point percent records—records she still holds to this day—but further injuries put a stop to her dreams of playing professionally.
After Perry’s hopes to play overseas ended, she remembered what she had learned during her time on the sidelines when she was injured—not just the X’s and O’s of the game, but how to stay mentally checked into competition. With those tools—and the inspiration of her high school coach—Perry decided to continue her basketball career after college, but this time from the perspective of a coach.
Before Perry joined Up2Us Sports, she completed a two-year fellowship in South Africa with PeacePlayers International, a sports-based youth development organization that uses basketball to help unite children of different religious, ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
“It didn’t matter that I couldn’t speak Zulu,” Perry said. “As soon as I picked up the ball and they could see me make a lay up, it was a common language.”
Her experience in South Africa challenged Perry to find new ways to use sport to open conversations. Through Peace Players International, she was able to get people of all ages and genders playing basketball while also creating a safe zone to speak openly about gender stigma, HIV and education.
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When she discovered an opportunity to work with Up2US Sports, Perry felt as though it couldn’t be a better fit. “Genuinely coaches care about people first,” she said. “We are all here because we care for people and we believe in relationships. Sport is an incredible language that be spoken with everybody.”
As if organizing an entire coaching program for the Mid-Atlantic region wasn’t enough, Perry is also a mother and a coach herself. Her day starts when her son, Leo, wakes her up in bed, then the two go to make make five Nerf hoop shots each before breakfast. Afterward, Perry heads to the regional Up2Us Sports office in downtown Philadelphia, occasionally bringing Leo with her. After work, she goes to her second job as as high school basketball coach at her alma mater, The Mount. “Everything I do as a mom I am doing as a coach,” she said.
Basketball has always been Perry’s calling, from doing early-morning shoot arounds with her siblings to creating a tournament in South Africa for local players. Now, finding ways to use the sport as a language for greater good is the focus. Through Up2Us Sports, Perry has been able to build a region by uniting community-minded, caring individuals who want to create a safe place for the most vulnerable youth.
“I would love to expand our region and build a team to internally support and train more coaches,” she said. “For me, its about continuing to build, lead and train others to [do the same.]”
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