By Paul Caccamo
It’s a challenge to raise kids in the West Village, which is why we need to take a much closer look at some of the adults with the greatest influence on them. One group, in particular, is their coaches.
I’ve lived in the West Village for 20 years and have focused my career on the field of youth development. What I’ve learned is that kids often listen to their coaches more than their teachers, and sometimes, even their parents. And that may or may not be a good thing. Any parent with a kid in competitive soccer or baseball in this City has seen the impact of good and bad coaching. Bad coaches can make kids feel so much pressure that they begin to lose confidence in themselves—and that can transfer from the playing field to the classroom. I knew that if I could create a new model for coaching, emphasizing values like teamwork, leadership, and inclusion, I might just prove that sports are not only worthwhile but critical to inspiring the health and well-being of urban youth.
In 2010, I launched Up2Us Sports. With public and private funding, I hired young adults to spend a year as coaches in schools, parks, and nonprofits in low-income urban communities. In order to become a coach, they had to first complete extensive training on using sports to inspire positive youth development.
Research has shown that sports participation can lead children to better decision-making on and off the field, like saying no to drugs and/or staying focused on academics. Additional research has linked the benefits of sports (e.g., physical activity, positive peer experiences, adult role models) with a greater ability to deal with stress and trauma, both of which disproportionately affect urban youth. These outcomes are not endemic to sports, but are the product of intentional coaching. Training coaches to organize and customize the sports experience to keep every child engaged and to constantly foster these values is the hallmark of my program’s success.
Since launching the program, I have hired and trained more than 2,100 coaches from New York City to Los Angeles. I have also been able to recruit an equal number of female and male coaches, which is badly needed if we are to extend the benefits of sports equally to girls. Lastly, during the past two years, I discovered that returning veterans make incredible coaches for youth. Their years in the military have taught them the same values of leadership and discipline that are critical to success on a sports team.
The value of all this to West Villagers may be obvious but I’ll restate it as a question: What kind of training is your kid’s coach getting? It’s worth asking before you give that coach the responsibility of being one of the most important adult figures in your child’s life.
I welcome WestView readers to learn more about our coach-training program by visiting Up2UsSports.org and contacting me at firstname.lastname@example.org.