The Big Picture

Written by Coach Ally, an MSW student at the University of Illinois-Chicago Jane Addams College of Social Work and After School Elementary Coach.

As coaches at Girls in the Game, we all are so lucky to get to have the majority of our days filled with things such as witnessing pure excitement on the girls face when we introduce a new sport, seeing smiles and surprise on our girls’ faces when they realize that the glitter on their hands is supposed to represent germs or, best of all, receiving 17 hugs from participants at the start of programming! I have been so fortunate to witness huge amounts of growth in the confidence of my girls,  some of whom I’ve only been working with for five weeks! At one of my sites, one of our participants is in a wheelchair and has limited mobility in her hands as well. The high of coaching at this site was the day that she and I were working together to figure out a way to toss the volleyball so she could practice setting with her strong hand. We tried many different ways, and after five minutes I tried to put the ball above her head and began dropping the volleyball over her hands. She had perfect form and the sound the ball made when she set it with both of her hands was literally music to our ears. She screamed in excitement and an enormous smile spread across my face. The ultimate reward was seeing many of the other girls celebrate with her as well.

While many of our days are filled with these overt and immediately satisfying experiences, some days as coaches we leave programming feeling a bit drained or overwhelmed. On days like this, I have asked myself questions like, “Am I really helping these girls?” When such thoughts pop into my mind I immediately make a conscious effort to stay motivated and positive. After all, it’s during these tougher days that we really begin to learn things about ourselves and our girls.

In order to stay motivated and positive I continuously remind myself that we have the ability to make the choice to see the big picture, so I start asking myself, “What keeps me going?” My answer is always THE GIRLS. The fact is, we have the power to choose to keep those overtly positive stories at the forefront of our minds so that we have the energy to notice all the small steps of growth the girls and coaches are making. The reality is that our job is not always full of joy, but our job becomes exciting and powerful when we realize its all about our girls. Staying kid-focused, and keeping any negative behaviors separate from the girls who are performing them helps bring me back down to reality. To take full advantage of teachable moments, we as coaches have to model a positive and patient mindset and show the girls that we are hearing them. Knowing that we can choose to notice our girls making little changes, and that we can learn as much from them as they can from us are the most powerful tools in my personal motivation toolbox. Ultimately, when our girls leave programming laughing, tuckered out and chatting to each other about how the movie Mean Girls makes it hard for them to value their inner beauty, we know we are paving the way for our girls to become more confident and healthy young leaders.

-Coach Ally

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Sportswomanship

By Coach Samantha, MSW student at the University of Illinois Jane Addams College of Social Work and Coach in the After School Middle School Program

I had my very first Power Play experience with Girls in the Game on Saturday, November 14th, with some of the After School Middle School program participants and my fellow coaches. Power Plays are field trips for program participants that demonstrate commitment to Girls in the Game by attending nearly every program session (girls can miss one session) leading up to the Power Play. Attending the University of Illinois-Chicago Flames women’s basketball game was an incredible experience for the girls, and an inspiring experience for me. I saw firsthand the impact that Girls in the Game is having on the participants. The middle school participants all learned about basketball this fall, as well as leadership, sportswomanship, and commitment. While on the bus, the girls enlightened all of the coaches by reviewing the information we discussed on women’s basketball. Once inside the pavilion and in our seats, the Athletic Director at UIC told the girls that if they cheered really loud then we could sit in the floor seats. The girls cheered their hearts out, as did the coaches, landing us all in the floor seating area.

Throughout the game, I was so inspired by the girls’ amazing sportswomanship-cheering loudly for the Flames, organizing “the wave” for all of us during timeouts, and also creating a Girls in the Game cheer that included UIC: “Girls in the Game loves UIC!” Moreover, the girls did not “boo” the other team once, even when the UIC band and their musical director were booing. These lovely young ladies in our program illustrated incredible leadership skills as the true role models they are. As a glowing highlight, the participants were able to meet and shake hands with members of the team after the game. Seeing the reactions of the girls was priceless. They met these local celebrities who showcased the meaning of teamwork, leadership, and sportswomanship, as our girls did throughout the trip and continue to do in their programs.

I have seen powerful changes in our participants over the past few weeks, including growth and maturity, and their commitment to living by our Five-Finger Contract.” In a mere 10 weeks, I have been so inspired by these incredible young women, and seeing our program’s impact in action at the Power Play was just the cherry on top of the yogurt parfait (to put it in terms of the Girls in the Game philosophy). I cannot wait to see how the participants inspire others, as they have definitely inspired me.

-Coach Samantha

Coach Jennifer’s Reflections

Coach Jennifer, an MSW student from Chicago State University and coach in our After School Middle School program, shares a recent experience:

Over the last couple of months we all have been working hard to earn the trust of the girls we coach, hoping that they are absorbing the true meaning behind the curriculum that we are teaching them. While coaching this week, I was reminded again as to why I chose to pursue a career in social work and the true meaning behind the mission of Girls in the Game. While waiting for programming to start, one of our young ladies came in before everyone else and, without prompting, began to share with myself and my co-coach a recent trauma that had taken place in her life. This amazing young lady expressed that she had been extremely scared of losing her mother due to gun violence a few weeks ago and explained to us how she had stepped up and was helping to take care of her younger brother while also trying to stay focused on her school work. All these weeks had passed and not once during programming had there been any inclination that this young lady was dealing with an issue of this magnitude. I appreciate that this young lady trusted us enough to confide in us and felt comfortable that we would be there for her like we had previously expressed.
What breaks my heart is that her story is not unique among the young ladies that we coach. Each day I am truly amazed of the resilience that the young ladies display and I appreciate that once they step foot inside Girls in the Game programming, they are able to be themselves, express their feelings, and learn that they are the amazing individuals that we as coaches see them to be.

-Coach Jennifer