As my service term with AmeriCorps and Up2Us Sports comes to a close, I can only recall how invigorating and inspiring the Coaches Training in California was. Uncertain of what to expect and unsure if I could meet the expectations of a SBYD Coach, I couldn’t have anticipated how influential this training would be on my career as a coach and my personal growth. Being surrounded by individuals who share the same passion for youth development, community organization and volunteer service created an environment of allegiance amongst the coaches and trainers. Not only did we share interests, we shared similar challenges, issues, and concerns regarding poor public education, community violence, and a lack of social and emotional support.
Throughout the training, we focused on topics that school systems neglect such as, trauma, informal time, effective relationship building, self-care, and more. To be more specific, the youth in the community I serve are burdened by extreme cases of domestic and gun related violence. The possibility of being the one concrete adult role model is high and it has certainly caused a change in how I lead my life as an example for others. And with knowing that, I committed my time to directly serving the youth in North Lawndale.
One lesson I value is understanding the importance of informal time and creating a space where students feel accepted and safe. I can recall brief moments with my coach at practice or during games, but I can’t think of his favorite color to save my life. So, now as a coach I plan informal time before and after practice, which gives our team the chance to discuss the highs and lows of their day, birthday plans, learn my favorite color and to ultimately build lasting friendships and a positive team culture.
Not too many challenges arose during my service term, yet I anticipated them. Fortunately, I started to build relationships with students prior and I was a familiar face within the school. Immediately after Coach Institute, I began reviewing and tweaking my coaching techniques with the hope that the students would be receptive to a few new strategies, and they were! The most difficult moments were when students would transfer out of the school were no longer able to be apart of the team. This was especially difficult with the students I’d developed relationships with.
Overall, my service year with Up2Us Sports has been one filled with personal triumph, professional development and has been a catalyst for my future work in youth development, community organizing and mental health research.
Stephan served as an Up2Us Sports Coach at Chicago Scores, a nonprofit organization that inspires urban youth to lead healthy lives, be engaged students, and have the confidence and character to make a difference in the word. His coaching position was made possible by Serve Illinois.
This piece was originally written for the Chicago SCORES blog and can be found here.