Urban Initiatives coaches do more than just the core programs Work to Play, Take the Lead, and Play with Potential. In order to bring more of their knowledge to and build relationships with the kids they work with, some Urban Initiatives coaches take on extra roles as the coaches of interscholastic sports at partner elementary schools. Many schools have trouble finding coaches to work with young athletes who are ready to play, and even more struggle to fund sports, with over $3.5 billion cut from school sports programs between 2009 and 2011. Coaching these sports is a great way to diversify their coaching experience and bring the health and character lessons that they teach in Urban Initiatives programs to more kids, as well as providing a scarce resources to schools.
Coach Kevin at Jahn had some difficulties with eligible players early in his 7/8 grade basketball season. Instead of lobbying teachers to pass players, the team refocused. “We spend a lot of time focusing on accountability and commitment. How they behave and what they accomplish in the classroom determines their participation in the games,” Coach Kevin said.
One of the team’s stars in particular responded well to this approach. “He was ineligible the first 3 games and had to stand on the sidelines and watch. He didn’t get down or quit, instead taking on a role as an assistant coach,” said coach. “It was really hard for him to have to watch the others, but he stayed positive and was able to get his grades up.” This player then played in the last three games, with all three being double digit wins.
“Not having a basketball team last year was a big loss for the boys. We have a lot of good athletes who really needed an activity to keep them engaged through the winter months,” Coach Kevin said.
Like Coach Kevin noted, sports can be a great motivator for doing well in the classroom. Playing sports can also develop skills that kids need to be successful, and not just on the field. At Palmer, Coach Katie saw that players focused more on individual skills that the results for the team.
“My kids have great skills and could do great moves, but they would get caught keeping the ball too much and losing the ball,” said Coach Katie. By encouraging conversations, Coach Katie let players come to the realization that their habits were getting in the way of the team’s success. “Some of the kids who are not as strong with their foot skills ended up being stars because they were there for great passes and distributing the ball back. Everyone started to see each player as an important part of the team and not just focusing on the score, or just getting a goal,” she said.
“In the beginning of the season, many of my players didn’t fully understand the concepts of teamwork and sportsmanship,” Coach Eddie at Otis realized. He started using five strategies, including supporting good off-court decision making and emphasizing team responsibility to get his players to realize the connection between being a good student and being a good basketball player.
By putting committed, trained, and talented coaches in a position to positively affect the lives of young athletes, Urban Initiatives is not only supporting its own core programs, but also enhancing athletic experiences in other programs and sports. These programs don’t just help the kids, either. “My experience coaching this year has been both challenge and a lesson,” Coach Eddie admitted. As we develop young athletes into positive and healthy adults, we as coaches are challenged to re-learn many of those lessons ourselves.