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Why Pope Francis Should Join My Board of Directors

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Paul CaccamoFounder & CEO Up2Us Sports -

Youth sports are in desperate need of reform. Less and less kids are playing sports in America and kids from disadvantaged economic backgrounds are seeing their sports programs cut entirely. This is not just an issue of the decline of one our great pastimes, it is the loss of one of most effective tools for developing essential life skills in young people in this country.

I have spent my life not only calling for reform, but also implementing tools to carry out this reform. I launched Up2Us Sports in 2010 to train coaches on how to use sports to inspire success among youth. This means teaching coaches how they can impact health, violence and academic success using just a golf club or a tennis racket, a hockey stick or a soccer ball. In the poorest neighborhoods in this country, I also hire and train local adults as coaches to use sports to address issues of poverty. After all, kids who play sports are more likely to perform better in school and succeed in the future workplace. A recent evaluation of Up2Us Sports shows that the dollars invested in training coaches potentially saves society millions of dollars in costs associated with treating chronic diseases and/or incarcerating our youth. Both issues are preventable when youth have teams to belong to that inspire exercise and discipline.

Having spent my career in sports-based youth development, the most difficult part of my job is convincing donors that funding sports is not frivolous. It is a solution to violence prevention, health education and academic outcomes. But with a board member like the Pope, my job might just be easier.

If you haven't heard, the Pope recently gave a speech to the Pontifical Council for the Laity calling for reform in youth sports. He said that overemphasis on competitive sports have derailed the potential of sports to help lift children out of poverty. He said that training coaches is key to helping sports achieve its potential for all youth, but particularly those youth in disadvantaged communities. And he urged adults to reform youth sports so that it can be the solution that Up2us Sports envisions it to be. Okay, he didn't say "Up2Us Sports" by name but I'm sure if he knew about us he would have. And I'm sure if he read my recommendations for advancing the sports-based youth development movement, he might have included them in his pontifical lecture as well.

So Pope Francis, please consider this a standing invitation to be my Board Member. I'll schedule our first meeting during your trip to America. I'll have 3,000 trained Up2Us Sports coaches there to greet you to show that the reform you call for is underway.

And, I'll start the meeting with a prayer: that more people heed the cry for reform before more kids lose this invaluable platform to develop into healthy and contributing adults.

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A Recap of the Evening: Up2Us Sports Gala 2015

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Wednesday night we hosted our third annual gala at the IAC Building in New York and raised over $330,000. The red-carpet cocktail event honored little league star pitcher Mo’ne Davis alongside her coach, Steve Bandura.

Over 300 guests joined us for the evening gala to support Up2Us Sports and raise funds to support the training and placement of sports-based youth development coaches across the country. Notable guests such as Gretchen Mol, Nate Berkus, Sandra Bernhard, Carolyn Murphy, Prince Amukamara and Nikita Whitlock walked the red carpet at the gala event alongside Up2Us Sports Founder & CEO, Paul Caccamo and Board Member, Dr. David Colbert of the New York Dermatology Group.

"We are excited to see sports-based youth development continue to grow across the nation and would like to thank everyone who joined us at the gala in support of Up2Us Sports," said Paul Caccamo, Founder & CEO of Up2Us Sports. "The relationship between Coach Steve and Mo'ne exemplifies how impactful a quality coach can be in a young person's life. Kids everywhere deserve quality sports programs and highly dedicated, well-trained coaches, so they can continue to enjoy, and excel, not just in sports, but in life."

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During the gala, we honored little league pitcher Mo’ne Davis of the Anderson Monarchs and the team’s coach, Steve Bandura with the Up2Us Sports Legacy Award. They were recognized for providing a powerful example of what a positive player-coach relationship can do, both on and off the field.  Also honored was veteran coach, Kleiton Almeida, who was recognized as Coach of the Year. Almeida was part of the first cohort of coaches trained through the Up2Us Sports initiative, Operation Coach.

Gala sponsors included ESPN, Bloomin’ Brands Inc., NYDG Foundation, Colbert MD, 21st Century Fox, and the National Basketball Association.

To view photos from the evening, click here.

 

Up2Us Training in Memphis: Using SBYD as a vehicle for success

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In the hit NBC series Friday Night Lights, Coach Taylor was the quintessential coach-mentor: strict and moral, but fair and dedicated, a strong and level-headed mentor figure for his kids, many of whom lacked guidelines. Parents have probably longed for someone like Coach Taylor, someone who wasn’t just a coach, but a teacher, mentor and leader.

The Memphis Grizzlies Foundation partnership with Up2Us, the leading organization promoting and training coaches in sports-based youth development (SBYD), is advancing sports as a tool to address the critical social issues facing our youth. SBYD focuses on using sports as a solution to youth and community problems by providing coaches with the necessary training and support to coach kids not only in sports skill building, but also in character skill building. Coaches learn how to congratulate successes while encouraging constant growth, create safe spaces that teach emotional and physical safety, and foster the social support of a team.

Starting this year, all GrizzFIT coaches will be required to complete SBYD training through Up2Us. The coach’s role is to leverage sports to build strong and meaningful relationships with young people, helping to prepare them for success in college, career and life, and the training will further their commitment and development to mentor effectively. GrizzFIT promotes the benefits of a healthy lifestyle by encouraging people to make nutritious food choices, to exercise regularly and to have fun doing it. Within the GrizzFIT platform lies the TEAM UP Youth Sports Partnership, a coalition of community organizations that use sport as a catalyst for youth development. Fully embodying the coach’s changing role, partnership organizations Memphis Athletic Ministries (MAM), Streets Ministries and Grizzlies Prep are a part of a dedicated force committed to making SBYD training mandatory for coaches.

“They (Up2Us) treat character and leadership and resilience and all the different components that go into life and personality as much a skill as they do the sport,” said Joel Katz, manager of the TEAM UP Youth Sports Partnership. “Winning is important, and the training will not say it isn’t, because it is. But it’s understanding how to win, it’s understanding what it takes to win, it’s getting kids to believe in the process.”

Katz sees the required training as a way to redefine the coach’s typical role, and his enthusiasm for the possibilities is infectious. GrizzFIT is deep in many communities, and the training is seen as a way to bridge youth sports and mentoring. Many times, recreational coaches are volunteers and don’t have any formal training or professional development. The SBYD training helps demonstrate how coaches can also be mentors, utilizing the special relationship between coaches and kids to reach past sports skills and into life skills. In a program like GrizzFIT, where many participants may not have access to positive role models, the training helps coaches fill a void.

Coaches often come out of training with a new energy and appreciation of coaching. By learning new coaching techniques that can be directly applied to their teams, they become more confident in their own abilities, a confidence that is then directed to the kids. Sports can be a catalyst for driving leadership development, and with SBYD training, coaches will understand how to draw out, expand and ultimately create future community leaders.

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This piece was originally published on the Memphis Grizzlies Foundation blog on 1/29/15 under the title, The Coach's Changing Role: Using sports-based youth development as a vehicle for success.

What Youth Sports Can Do For the Mentoring Movement

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Did you know, sports could triple the number of mentors in this country? That’s because coaches are the largest untapped source of mentoring in the nation. For one reason, many coaches still see themselves as just that, “coaches” and not as “mentors”. They view their primary goal as teaching their players athletic skills and strategies for winning their game; however, the better coaches embrace their role as mentors. They incorporate techniques for building positive team cultures, strong relationships among players, and life skills counseling into their practices and games. It’s time that we demand this “mentoring" from all coaches. The results will not only be more successful athletes but better students as well.

Literature is increasingly pointing to the lack of character development education among youth as a contributing factor to school dropout rates, youth violence and other negative social behaviors. Coaches are in a unique position to fill the gap in character education. This is because coaches are uniquely able to engender trust among youth, even those youth who have learned not to readily trust adults and authority figures. Coach-mentors can use this trust to provide young people guidance and advice, tackling the difficult decisions of adolescence. Coach-mentors can make their practices an alternative “space", outside of the school and the home, where young people feel more confident testing themselves mentally and physically without fear of judgment or failure. Coach-mentors help their teams develop values like leadership, teamwork, discipline, stick-to-itiveness, and resiliency. These values directly translate to success in the classroom and the community.

But this transition from “coach” to “mentor” will not happen naturally. It will take training to achieve the fullest potential of the estimated 2-3 million coaches in this country.   Up2Us Sports is beginning a national effort to provide this training and certify coaches in sports-based youth development (SBYD).

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SBYD is the merging of athletics and mentoring into an intentional methodology for fostering positive child development. As parents wake up to the examples of poor coaching and the negative impact it has on their sons and daughters, parents should demand SBYD training be integrated into all coach licensing. Schools should require that athletic directors and coaches be SBYD certified so that their coaching reinforces their overall drive for educational excellence.

One day, all coaches should be able to say, “I am a coach, and I am a mentor”. That will be the day several million more adults have joined the mentoring movement to ensure that all American youth have safe and successful pathways to adulthood.

Paul Caccamo Founder & CEO Up2Us Sports

 

 

 

Up2Us on National Mentoring Month

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In 1938, more than 200 Harvard students (all men at the time) joined a research study that lasted for the next 75 years. The point of the project was to analyze how the things in our lives—work, family, friends, money, possessions—influence how happy and successful we think we are. Scientists from the university followed these men throughout their lives, checking back in with them every few years to see what they were doing, how successful and happy they felt, and what the causes of this happiness and success were (or weren’t). At the end of the project, lead researcher George Valliant was asked what he learned from the study’s decades-worth of data. It seemed, initially, that his answer might be some sort of complex scientific formula that could guide our pursuit of success and happiness moving forward. Instead, Dr. Valliant said that his research could be boiled down into a very simple phrase: “Happiness is love. Full stop.” When people were surrounded by positive relationships with others and a lot of love, they tended to feel successful and happy, regardless of how other things were going in their lives.

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I think of Dr. Valliant’s work often as I travel around the country working with our Up2Us coaches. When I share his results with them, they tend to smile knowingly. The idea that love can move us forward and help make great things happen is the reason why our coaches get up every day and go to work. They are positive adults building strong, lasting relationships with young people—connections that may be constructed initially on the power of sport and physical activity, but inevitably expand to include so much more.

The start of the New Year brings many exciting things, not the least of which is National Mentoring Month, which we celebrate alongside our colleagues in the youth-serving world every January. This year, as I was reading new data from MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, I learned that 1 in 3 young people will move into their adult years without ever having a positive connection with a mentor—that is millions of young people without a teacher, coach, or other adult to help them work through the success and challenges of growing up.

As we head into 2015, we at Up2Us have a long list of things we’d like to achieve this year. At the top of that list, though, is continuing to close the mentoring gap in this country. All young people should have access to a positive, well-trained adult who cares about them and believes that they are worthy of deep, unconditional love. Dr. Valliant knew it, our Up2Us coaches know it—and they, alongside millions of other adult mentors worldwide, live it every day.

Full stop.

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Caitlin Barrett Associate Director, Coach Training & Excellence Up2Us

Take That!

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It’s time to end bullying in sports. It’s been more than a month since Sayreville, NJ, caught our national attention as yet another example of bullying in youth sports.   Unfortunately, Sayreville is not alone.  Bullying in sports programs goes undetected in our schools, parks and playgrounds across this nation. Yet, bullying in youth sports is preventable.

Three basic steps to prevention:

  1. Train Coaches
  2. Establish and Enforce Team Codes of Conduct
  3. Inspire Student Athletes to See Sportsmanship as Leadership

Training coaches is by far the most important step.  A trained coach sets the example through their language and through the way they intentionally build positive relationships among their players.   A trained coach creates team traditions such as cheers and songs that emphasize cohesion and unity.   A trained coach knows how to  use practices and game days to develop leadership skills in all players which leads to greater teamwork and mutual respect.   And a trained coach knows exactly what to do if he/she observes or suspects that bullying is taking place.

Up2Us teamed up with The Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation to develop trainings for youth sports coaches to prevent bullying.   You can access more information on these trainings at info@up2us.org or check out our coaching tips on how to make your team bully-free.

At Up2Us, we see sports as a critical tool for developing life skills in our youth.   We view coaches as the most transformative adults for inspiring young people to achieve their personal success on and off the field.   Bullying is neither a life skill or a badge of success.   For National Bullying Awareness Week, I challenge every youth sports coach in the nation to join Up2Us and The Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation in ending bullying on our courts, in our fields, playgrounds, and locker rooms.

 

Paul Caccamo

CEO and Founder

 

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Connecting Inspiring Vets With the Right Jobs

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On Veterans Day, we should think deeply about what we are doing (or are not doing) as a nation to support veterans at home. According to the Army Times, unemployment for post-9/11 returning vets is 9.2 percent. This is considerably higher than the nation’s unemployment rate of 5.8 percent. More alarming, the Department of Labor states that for vets under the age of 25, the unemployment rate is 25 percent. It’s fair to say that we as a nation have been unprepared to meet the needs of the roughly 3 million young Americans who have completed their military service and returned home.

So what can we do about it? I had an idea, and it’s working. Let’s create jobs that engage veterans as leaders and problem solvers for the challenges facing youth in America. After all, veterans possess a unique set of skills from leadership, discipline and team building, to a sense of purpose and mission.

Why not employ those skills in urban parks, schools, playgrounds and nonprofits to inspire kids who need these adult role models to guide them away from violence and other negative behaviors? This year, Up2Us announced a new initiative to do just that, Operation Coach.

Operation Coach engages returning veterans as paid youth sports coaches in underserved communities throughout Miami. Through a partnership with the Miami Heat, Laureus USA and Mercedes-Benz USA, Up2Us hired, trained and placed eight veterans to work with almost 750 at-risk youth. Not only did the youth gravitate to the presence of these war heroes in their parks and playgrounds, but the veterans found that being a coach helped them more easily transition into domestic life.

Here are a couple of their stories:

Former Marine Sgt. Alvaro J. Ayala, currently teaches and coaches martial arts classes at an Up2Us member organization called Outside The Ring Champion. Alvaro grew up in Nicaragua and moved to Miami at the age of 12. After high school, he enrolled at Harding University, where he played soccer for a year before enlisting in the Marine Corps. Alvaro became a Sergeant Marine Embassy security guard and served in many parts of the world during his 51/2 years of military service. Upon his honorable discharge, Alvaro returned to Miami to continue his education and is currently enrolled in Florida International University while serving in Operation Coach.

“I didn’t want to be anything else,” said Alvaro. “I realized that being a coach is what makes me happy. That I really enjoy it regardless of how much money I’m being paid, so I decided to go for it as a career.”

Alvaro’s desire to make a difference in the lives of kids has provided him with a renewed sense of purpose and motivation to succeed.

Another success story is Kleiton V. Almeida, a former Petty Officer Third Class in the Navy. Kleiton currently works at an Up2Us member organization that is a public school that services six homeless shelters in Miami. He was born and raised in Brazil. During this time, he fell in love with sports and, in particular, soccer. When Kleiton moved to Miami as a teen, his passion for soccer continued and his desire to give back was born. He went on to enlist in the Navy.

He was an accomplished boatswain mate earning a Navy and Marine Corps achievement medal for his contributions as a master helmsman.

He served honorably and was deployed to the Persian Gulf during operation Iraqi Freedom.

Upon his discharge, Kleiton faced challenges transitioning into mainstream society, but he continued his studies in physical education as he promised his mother he would do before serving in the military. In May, he graduated with a physical education degree from FIU. His unique blend of compassion and discipline has earned him praise from the Eneida M. Hartner Elementary School principal and staff where he serves in Operation Coach, and his kids love him!

“I came at them with discipline,” said Kleiton. “But at the same time, I came at them with the attitude of: I’m here for you and I’m here to help you, so if you need anything you can come and talk to me. You can come see me and I will do my best to help you.”

These are just two stories that illustrate the way in which returning veterans can use their unique skills and knowledge to improve the lives of the nation’s youth, and the communities in which they live.

This Veterans Day, let’s remember those who have served our country abroad and honor their service by creating meaningful employment opportunities for them back home.

 

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This piece was also published in the Miami Herald and The Hill.
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Pam Shriver hosts Tennis Clinic for Los Angeles Youth

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On September 29, nearly 100 students from South Los Angeles attended an Up2Us tennis clinic hosted by tennis great and ESPN broadcaster, Pam Shriver.  Shriver was joined by a group of Coach Across America coaches who had just completed an Up2Us Coach Training Institute where they learned techniques for using sports to mentor at-risk youth. blog.front

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[Watch] Up2Us Celebrates AmeriCorps 20th Anniversary

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On September 12, the Up2Us team helped AmeriCorps celebrate its 20th Anniversary all over the country.  Over 50 NYC Coach Across America coaches and VISTA members recited the AmeriCorps pledge in Times Square to commemorate the first pledge taken 20 years ago.  DC coaches attended the national AmeriCorps 20th celebration on the White House lawn with President Obama and President Clinton speaking on the importance of national service.  Up2Us also attended state celebration events in Illinois, Florida and Louisiana. AmeriCorps has been invaluable in the Up2Us history, as in 2009 it provided Up2Us one of the first grants to begin hiring its first Coach Across America coaches. Since then, Up2Us has grown and placed over 1700 Coach Across America coaches to use sports to transform the lives of America's youth.  These trained coaches can lead to significant increases in physical activity that reduces the risk of obesity.  Coach Across America coaches have helped youth in the worst performing schools to refocus their energy into educational pathways that lead to college and successful careers.

In addition to supporting coaches, AmeriCorps has also supported over 100 Up2Us AmeriCorps VISTAs.  VISTAs work as a part of the Up2Us team to build capacity in grassroots organizations that use sports-based youth development to improve the local community.  These volunteers help to increase the effectiveness of sports organizations all over the country.

Up2Us is proud to be a part of the first 20 years of national service.  Happy birthday, AmeriCorps!

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Coach Across America coaches from the DC area attended the AmeriCorps 20th Anniversary ceremony at the White House!

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The Up2Us NOLA team attends the Louisiana state event for the AmeriCorps 20th Anniversary.

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Coach Across America coaches and AmeriCorps VISTA members celebrate in NYC.

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A Special Birthday Wish…

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All of us celebrate government when it makes smart investments that result in the betterment of all of our lives.  Great examples of this have been the Internet, our GPS systems, micro-chips, and even the vaccines that keep us healthy. In the same vein, I say we celebrate AmeriCorps.

Just think about it. Talented adults are teaching in thousands of schools because of AmeriCorps.  Millions of children are receiving health and nutrition education because of AmeriCorps.  Millions of seniors receive emotional support because of AmeriCorps.  Disaster sites like New Orleans are rebuilt again because of AmeriCorps.  And now, sports is being revived in inner cities because of AmeriCorps.

This week, we celebrate the 20th anniversary of AmeriCorps: one of our federal government's major success stories.   We need to recognize that AmeriCorps has often provided the seed money to “great ideas” that we have since taken for granted as they have become the fabric of our American lives.

My own program, Up2Us, was based on a simple idea: a coach can be the most transformative adult in a child’s life, especially children who are in underserved communities and lack adult role models. AmeriCorps provided me the opportunity to hire and train my first coaches in 2009.  Since then, thanks to public-private partnerships, I’ve hired more than 1,700 coaches who have committed themselves to serving more than 133,650 at-risk youth in more than 60 different sports.  This simple idea has had powerful results: our trained coaches can reduce violence by up to 40% in urban communities.  Our trained coaches can lead to significant increases in physical activity that reduces the risk of obesity.  And, our trained coaches have helped youth in the worst performing schools to refocus their energy into educational pathways that lead to college and successful careers.  And now, thanks to AmeriCorps, my program is ready to take the innovative training we have developed for our coaches and make it available to the estimated 6.5 million volunteer coaches who want to be more effective at teaching life skills to their teams.

Up2Us is just one example of the power of AmeriCorps has to light a spark that impacts a nation.

Happy 20th Anniversary, AmeriCorps.  When I Google “national service" on the the internet, I will smile broadly at how many of the 52 million results were made possible by you!   And, I’ll smile also knowing that Google was made possible by our federal government, too.

 

Paul Caccamo

Executive Director and Founder, Up2Us

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