Ambassador Spotlight

Ambassador AJ Ramos Visits Miami Coach Training Institute

Ambassador AJ Ramos Visits Miami Coach Training Institute

Miami Marlins pitcher AJ Ramos paid a visit to the Up2Us Sports Coach Training Institute. He joined coaches during the Creating Culture and Safe Spaces session, where good culture and bad culture are defined and strategies are practiced individually and then in groups.

Ambassador Claressa Shields Makes History with Second Olympic Gold Medal

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On Sunday, Up2Us Sports Ambassador Claressa Shields made history by becoming the first American boxer - male or female - to win back-to-back Olympic gold medals. The Flint, Michigan native beat Netherlands fighter Nouchka Fontijn 3-0 (40-36, 39-37, 39-37) in the middleweight category. A heavy favorite going into Rio, she was given a first round bye before beating Russia’s Yaroslava Yakushina in the quarterfinals and then Kazakhstan’s Dariga Shakimova in the semi-finals.Shields joined Up2Us Sports as an Ambassador in 2014 and has not only been a voice for, but an example of, how a you can succeed when you have an incredible coach in your corner. Learn more about her incredible journey of overcoming the odds and coming out on top by watching T-Rex: Her Fight For Gold, an award-winning documentary of her journey to winning gold in the 2012 London Games. T-Rex is currently showing on PBS’ Independent Lens.

WNBA Sharp-Shooter Sugar Rodgers Joins Up2Us Sports as Ambassador

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Up2Us Sports is excited to announce that Sugar Rodgers, a shooting guard for the New York Liberty, has been named the organization's newest Ambassador. The Georgetown University graduate is currently in her third season with New York and fourth season overall, after being drafted 14th in the 2013 WNBA Draft by the Minnesota Lynx. She had a stellar collegiate career as a four-year starter for the Hoyas, leading them to three trips to the NCAA Tournament. The three-time Honorable Mention All-American finished her career as the school’s all-time leader in scoring (2,518) and three-pointers made (346).

In a piece Rodgers wrote for The Players' Tribune,she opened up about growing up in poverty in Suffolk, Virginia, and talked about how she overcame those obstacles with the help of sports. By serving as an Ambassador with Up2Us Sports, Sugar will connect with youth who are experiencing a similar upbringing and encourage them to persevere and look to sports - and their coaches - for guidance. Her hope is to be seen as an example of how it is possible to overcome the odds and make it out.

Rodgers is off to a red-hot start this season and currently leads the league in 3-point field goals made. She sits second on the Liberty in points per game and minutes per game behind her MVP-candidate teammate, Tina Charles. Earlier this month, Sugar was named to the USA Basketball Women’s Select Team, which will train alongside the USA Women’s National Team before they head to the Rio Olympic Games.

Follow Sugar on Twitter and Instagram.

Miami Marlins Closer AJ Ramos Becomes Up2Us Sports Ambassador

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Up2Us Sports is happy to announce that AJ Ramos, a pitcher for the Miami Marlins, has been named the organization's newest Ambassador. In his first season as an MLB closer in 2015, he pitched for 32 saves, which ranked him ninth in the National League. Originally from Lubbock, Texas, he played collegiately at Texas Tech University and was drafted in the 21st round of the 2009 MLB First Year Player Draft. AJ-Ramos2.blogRamos will connect with youth in the Miami community and share his experiences as a professional baseball player, as well as serve as a voice to promote how powerful coaches can be in the lives of children. “Some of the best mentors of my youth were coaches,” said Marlins Pitcher AJ Ramos.  “Serving as an Up2Us Sports Ambassador means supporting young athletes in Miami with well-trained coaches who can properly develop their life skills,” concluded Ramos.

“Up2Us Sports is a valued Charity Partner of the Miami Marlins,” said Alfredo Mesa, Vice President and Executive Director of the Marlins Foundation. "Coaches who apply the organization’s curriculum for youth development are stronger mentors for young athletes.”

Earlier this year, the Miami Marlins named Up2Us Sports as one of their 2015 Charity Partners. The Marlins have funded Up2Us Sports’ work in the Miami area and provided sports-based youth development (SBYD) training for all baseball coaches in MLB’s Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program. The addition of AJ as an Ambassador will further support the important work Up2Us Sports and the Marlins are doing in Miami Dade County.

Follow AJ on Twitter and Instagram.

Doubles Tennis Champion Pam Shriver Joins Up2Us Sports as Ambassador

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Up2Us Sports is happy to announce that doubles tennis champion and Olympic gold medalist, Pam Shriver, has joined the organization as an Ambassador. Shriver - who captured 21 singles titles and 112 doubles titles in her illustrious career - will connect with youth participating in sports by sharing experiences from her athletic career and helping to relay the message that coaches trained in sports-based youth development make a difference in the lives of young people. "Creating Change Through Sports" Up2Us Sends 150 Coaches To Mentor 15,000 Youth In Underserved Communities“For two years I have been aware of what Up2Us Sports is about. By training sports coaches to work with at-risk urban youth through their Coach Across America program, they are creating a powerful force of trained coaches who are helping these kids find trusting mentors that can help them make safe, healthy choices. It's important that coaches know how to teach multiple sports, but even more vital that the coach-mentors understand child/human development so that they can help navigate the many minefields that are too prevalent in poor, urban neighborhoods,” said Shriver. “I’m thrilled to continue working with this incredibly impactful organization.”

Since 2013, Pam has been involved in outreach we’ve done in the Los Angeles area. She attended our 2013 Los Angeles Coach Training Institute, hosted a tennis clinic in 2014 for kids from South Central Los Angeles and, just last month, sat on a panel with various Los Angeles stakeholders to discuss the power of coaches to decrease youth violence.

Follow Pam on her website, Facebook and Twitter.

How My Swim Coaches Helped Me Become an Olympian

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Kim VandenbergUp2Us Sports Ambassador 2008 Olympic Swimming Bronze Medalist

One of the reasons I loved swimming as a child was simply because I loved the swim coaches on my first summer team. During one particular afternoon practice, I vividly remember my first coach Sean had us all singing lyrics from a Jimmy Cliff song: “you can get it if you really want, but you must try, try and try, try and try, you’ll succeed at last” during a kicking set when it was chilly outside and most of us were in a bad mood since the water was so cold. He also sang “you’re my sunshine on a cloudy day“ to us when we didn’t want to get in the water. He was always smiling, optimistic, and playful. As an eight year old, everything was new, challenging, and exciting and I viewed my swim team as an extended family. My first coaches gave me a pure love for the sport of swimming, which opened up many doors.

Leaving my summer team to train on a year-round team was a hard decision to make at age 12. I loved my summer team and I knew I would miss the atmosphere of warm summer days spent wearing my speedo all day, hanging with my friends and goofing around with the coaching staff. But it was time for the next step and for new challenges. The transition was difficult, as we would train in the mornings before school and again after school during the winter months in an outdoor pool. It was the complete opposite of swimming in the hot afternoons in July. Swimming was no longer fun for me and I was constantly tired and always cold with wet hair. My new coaches were also difficult to adjust to, as they demanded more of me. I remember constantly getting into trouble. I was a young difficult teenager; rebellious and emotional. I would have long talks with my coach Ron about how I wanted to have a social life and how I felt like I was missing out. He was always talking to me about the bigger picture and my future, which I was unable to see at the time. I would talk back to him, challenge him, and fight with him often, yet it was through his high expectations that I grew as a young athlete. He gave me a set of lessons to build my future on; attention to detail, discipline, setting bigger goals, and developing an appreciation for my family and the strong community that we lived in. He also developed my stroke technique and my confidence in racing, which provided a solid foundation for the next level of competition that I would experience at UCLA.

I moved down to Los Angeles to study and train at UCLA, which inevitably came with a higher level of expectation. I was intimidated by the workload and was fearful I wouldn’t survive all four years training at that level while also managing my schoolwork and travel demands. Again, I was lucky to have two coaches to help guide me during those years of doubt and struggle. My coaches Greg and Cyndi gave me the faith that I needed to push past my comfort levels. After one particularly hard week, I remember calling my coach Greg crying because I was so overwhelmed with the demands of Division-1 swimming, schoolwork, and all the social distractions that came with university life. His ability to calmly listen, understand, and support me during this transition was one reason I kept going—even though I was doubting myself and my abilities. I remember he would say, “find a way” when I would be swimming slow. He set the bar higher than I set for myself and eventually, I rose up to it.

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My head coach Cyndi was my source of strength that propelled me to competing at the Olympic Games. I had doubted my abilities for years, thinking I wasn’t good enough to race at that elite level. I was only 18 when I began swimming with her and was more than a handful for the first few years. She demanded the best out of us, and if I wasn’t giving 100% in workout, she would kick me out of the pool. Cyndi allowed me to make mistakes, but there were definitely consequences for my occasionally reckless behavior. There were times when I missed morning workouts because I was out  late with my friends, and once I was suspended for a week. She helped me take ownership for my actions and she taught me not to compare myself to others, which was something I had always done. She encouraged me to set personal and athletic goals, to work with UCLA’s sports psychologist and nutritionist. Cyndi gave me the opportunity to explore elements of training that I had never thought of.  She believed in my potential and nourished my self-confidence with her ability to see me as more than just a talented athlete. She was there for me outside of the pool when I was having difficulty with my parent’s divorce and breakups with boyfriends. I trusted her like family and was able to open up to her about problems in my life that would inevitably affect my performance in the water. Her strength of character gave me the courage to eventually qualify for the Olympic team and compete at the highest level of swimming.

Each of my former coaches has deeply impacted my life. There is no doubt in my mind that without all the lessons my coaches instilled in me throughout the years, I would have never become an Olympian. The power that coaches posses to positively impact and empower the lives of others is unmatched and is a such a rare gift. I was beyond blessed to have had a handful of coaches who gave me the courage and confidence to pursue my dreams and to appreciate all the opportunity in sports. Although he was never my personal coach, every UCLA Bruin learned from the great John Wooden and one of his quotes still inspires me to this day: “success is never final, failure is never fatal, it’s courage that counts.”

Ambassador Claressa Shields Shares Documentary with Flint Youth

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Claressa-BlogUp2Us Sports ambassador, Claressa Shields returned to her home town of Flint, Michigan to inspire youth with T-Rex, the award-winning documentary about her road to becoming the first woman to win an olympic gold medal in boxing in the 2012 olympics. In the documentary, the filmmakers show how Claressa was able to overcome her difficult upbringing through her love of boxing and the help of her coach.  Claressa met with 130 youth after the screening to answer questions and sign autographs.  In addition to the youth screening with member organization Crim Fitness, a public screening was held in the evening with over 300 attendees, including the Mayor of Flint.

People Said Boxing Was For Men, But That Didn't Stop Me

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  Claressa Shields Up2Us Sports Ambassador

As the month of March comes to a close, I’ve been reflecting on National Women’s History Month. There are many inspirational women in this world, and as a female athlete, I’m glad I can inspire others to learn, grow and become the best they can be. When I became the first American female to win an Olympic gold medal in boxing at the 2012 London Olympic Games, I achieved a dream that I had been working toward for many years.

On my path to the Olympics I met many strong women who greatly impacted my life. Learning about their journeys showed me that with hard work and dedication, my goals were achievable. Now as a member of the USA boxing team, I know that I can advocate for women encountering barriers that may hold them back. No matter your background or previous experiences, females have the power to inspire and impact each other.

When I first started boxing at the age of 11, I was the only girl in the gym. Some judged me, others made comments here and there, but I always considered myself one of the best. When people said “boxing is a man’s sport,” it didn’t bother me because I was confident in myself and my passion for boxing. To me it didn’t matter that I was a girl; in my eyes, God chose me to show others that boxing isn’t a sport just for men.

There were times when I wanted to hang out with friends or do fun things, but I made sacrifices because I knew I wanted to be better. My real friends stuck by my side, and I realized that people who made me feel bad for being different weren’t the people I wanted in my life. For girls trying to pursue their dreams, it’s important to stay motivated, no matter the environment or criticism. I always tell myself to ignore what others say and to keep moving forward, because it is up to each of us to place a higher standard for ourselves and live up to it.

I used to have anger problems, but with the help of my coach I learned how to carry myself, speak to others, and channel my anger through boxing. My coach trained me step-by-step and I wouldn’t have learned had I not been willing to listen.

He was critical to my development and provided the support and inspiration needed during my hardest moments; without my coach I may have gone down another path. Seeing his dedication motivated me to get involved with Up2Us Sports, a nonprofit dedicated to training coaches nationwide in Sports-Based Youth Development (SBYD). Knowing firsthand the power of a coach, I feel that every child deserves a quality sports coach.

Through sports, youth are able to develop goal-oriented, high-impact attributes such as resiliency and grit. Even if they don’t win the game or beat the opponent, they are still motivated to do better the next time around. My dedication and years of training not only led me to the gold medal but also taught me that women shouldn’t fear obstacles standing in the way of their goals. As I focus on training for the Rio Olympics, I hope that sports will become a platform of equal opportunity for women and girls. If a man can do it, why can’t a woman?

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Original article published on EmpowHER.com by Up2Us Sports Ambassador Claressa Shields

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