Chicago Coaches Help Young Athletes Navigate Waters

When it comes to the impact a coach can have on a player’s development, perhaps legendary UCLA Men’s Basketball Coach John Wooden said it best, “A good coach can change a game, a great coach can change a life.” As November draws to a close, so too does Up2Us Sports’ year-end campaign #ThanksCoach, a campaign that aims to raise awareness of the importance of coaching as well as vital funds for programming. Launched on November 4 - National Coach Appreciation Day - the #ThanksCoach campaign has placed a spotlight on the importance of sports-based youth development and will positively impact the great work Up2Us Sports does moving forward. As part of this campaign, I got the chance to speak to Chicago Training Center (CTC) Executive Director Ashley Mayer as well as with coaches Curtis Miranda and Chey Correa, a pair of former CTC participants who now serve as Up2Us Coaches for the program.

  CTC Executive Director Ashley Mayer

CTC Executive Director Ashley Mayer

As a collegiate rower at Vanderbilt, Ashley Mayer found a sport that she was truly passionate about and that would provide the foundation for her new career path. Though she had previously done some nonprofit fundraising, it wasn’t until she relocated to Chicago with her husband that Mayer found a position that would allow her to combine her love of rowing with her desire to impact the lives of young athletes. While rowing may not necessarily be the first sport that comes to mind when thinking of popular youth athletics in Chicago, CTC is changing that narrative. Despite rowing being an alternative sport with limited access due to the expenses associated with it, CTC has made tremendous strides in raising the sport’s profile and changing lives.

CTC currently consists of a high school rowing team and a middle school rowing team with rosters of 35 and 12 participants, respectively, that practice 3-4 times per week. In addition to practices and competitions, the program provides participants with mentors, college prep, nutrition assistance, job prep, and job shadowing. Along with these benefits, participants also learn invaluable life skills that will allow them to thrive as young adults. That skill building that sets kids up for future success is what Mayer finds most rewarding about her work. Mayer shared how lessons she learned from her mother as a coach during her childhood have influenced how she does business. Mayer recalls how her mother was always supportive no matter what and always preached the virtues of sportsmanship. After speaking to a couple of CTC coaches, it is obvious this approach has played a large part in the camaraderie and culture at the center of CTC’s success.

One of the unique things about CTC is that they reserve their coaching positions for former participants of the program. CTC currently has three coaches that are part of the Up2Us Sports network. For Curtis Miranda, one of the most appealing aspects of his job is getting to make kids laugh and push them toward achieving their goals. When Miranda began his journey as a rower, he remembered being nervous, but drawn to the team atmosphere. He stuck with it and became a better leader, stronger decision maker, and became more outgoing. Miranda believes that his experience as a participant in the program first made him more capable of relating to the kids and has allowed him to better connect with them. Fellow coach Chey Correa echoed some of these same sentiments.

  Up2Us Coach Chey Correa

Up2Us Coach Chey Correa

Correa, another former participant with CTC, feels that her shared similar experience with current participants has strengthened her connection with them. “I wasn’t very athletic when I was growing up, but rowing gave me an opportunity to matter,” said Correa. She enjoyed the challenge and the immediate gratification of performance metrics displayed on practice machines. As she progressed, she became more self-confident, became less timid, and gained a sense of stability in her life. One of her main objectives as a coach has been to help her rowers overcome their fear of failure and understand how it can be an incredible learning tool. Not only does Correa relish the opportunity to provide support on the field of play, but also off of it. “Being available and supportive on tough days can really go a long way in building relationships,” said Correa.

Both Correa and Miranda attribute aspects of their coaching style to Joe Byrd, a coach that resonated with both of them as young rowers. “Coach Joe showed me how to fix boats and approach adversity in life,” said Miranda. Correa’s recollection was similar as she spoke of how Byrd really took the time to give constructive criticism and spend the time necessary to breakthrough whenever she was faced with a particularly difficult task. The positive atmosphere that CTC has created in partnership with Up2Us Sports has provided a transformative opportunity for young athletes throughout the Chicago area and will continue to do so for years to come with the support of generous donors.

Please consider supporting this campaign with a contribution: give.classy.org/ThanksCoach


Coach Chey and Coach Curtis are both currently serving as Up2Us Coaches thanks to the generous support of AmeriCorps and Serve Illinois.