There is a cost effective way that we can begin to heal the trauma of children in Central City and other communities afflicted by violence. It is called coaching.
I am Mensa Pounds and I coach soccer and teach fifth grade math in Central City. I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio and moved to New Orleans at 16. I decided to coach and teach not just because I love soccer, but also because I saw it as an opportunity to use my passion for coaching to have a positive influence on the youth in my community. Currently, there are a lack of resources to support and service the youth of greater New Orleans who are experienced high levels of trauma.
Up2Us Sports is a national nonprofit, which expanded into New Orleans in 2012. Their AmeriCorps coaching program recruits, trains and supports adults to coach in our city’s schools, parks and nonprofits. What’s different about Up2Us Sports Coaches is that they are trained to be trauma-informed coaches. I’m not talking head trauma; I’m talking about that other “trauma,” which is at the root of so much of the negative behavior afflicting young people in our community.
The Up2Us Sports training teaches a coach how a child experiences trauma in their community and how the components of sports, such as physical activity, positive peer affiliation, and character development, can foster resiliency to trauma and other negative influences. But the most important part of the training is centered around the responsibility that a youth sports coach has to know the story of every child on the team.
Every child in our city has a story. Unfortunately, like when I grew up, that story often involves encounters with violence, drugs, bullying, and abuse. When these encounters happen frequently, in the home or neighborhood, a child’s brain responds the best way it knows how - self-survival through the fight, flight or freeze response. As coaches, we learn to coach more than just sports, we coach life! That means recognizing these triggers and responding to them so that the child can calm down and knows that they still belong on our team. That also means using the informal time that we have as coaches to learn why a child was triggered and how we can help them to rewrite a story in which they see a positive future.
Coaches are not psychologists. But we do have the most important starting point for helping our kids. We have their trust. I applaud Mayor Cantrell’s efforts to bring unprecedented resources and attention to the issue of trauma among our youth. For these efforts to succeed, we must evaluate every adult who works with our youth and the type of training we require of them!
I am proud to be a trauma-informed sports coach for my kids. I hope our city becomes the model for requiring trauma-informed coaching in all of our youth sports programs.
Mensa served as an Up2Us Sports Coach at KIPP Central City School from 2014-2015, after which he was hired full-time and has worked as a coach and teacher since. His coaching position was made possible by Volunteer Louisiana.