The Power of Teen Leadership

By Coach Julianne, MSW intern from the University of Illinois-Chicago, and coach in the Teen Programs.

I have been working in the Teen Programs since the end of August, but I have only begun interacting with the teens. Most of the workshops, Leader to Leader Interviews, and Teen Saturday Events are in the upcoming months. However, I had an experience at a workshop where I was co-coaching with one other teen that I will never forget.

Back in October, Stephanie (a Teen Programs participant) and I traveled to Volta Elementary for a Teen Reach Workshop. In short, the Teen Reach workshop is offered at two different schools (in this case Hibbard Elementary and Volta) once a year. This is a grant-funded two week workshop given by two organizations separately to boys and girls at the schools.

We struggled to get girls to show up and stay at programming. The average number of girls in attendance was three.  At first, this was frustrating. But I learned that if you touch just one girl, this is something to be grateful for.

One girl who consistently came, we will call her M, was particularly shunned by most other girls. M has some developmental disabilities which is apparent in the way she talks and behaves. She has trouble speaking up because she gets nervous about what she is going to say. Stephanie was the perfect coach and role model for M.

Stephanie helping a participant at a Teen Squad workshop
Stephanie helping a participant at a Teen Squad workshop

Stephanie would always pair up with M while doing healthy relationships curriculum. Even though Stephanie really did not know much of anything about M, she had the most wonderful compliments to give her. Stephanie’s “High Fives” put the biggest smile on M’s face. It was as if she had never been given a compliment before.

At the end of family night (the last night of programming), M was able to speak up in front of all of the parents. I was so proud of her; but more importantly, you could tell that she was proud of herself. I have no doubt that it was because of Stephanie. It is amazing how, in a short period of time, one girl can touch another in such a way that her boost in confidence is evident to others, and to herself.

-Coach Julianne


Girls in the Game, Family Style

Written by Coach Margaret, an MSW student at the University of Illinois-Chicago Jane Addams College of Social Work and Camps and Clinics Coach.

Last month, I had the honor of coaching at an event new to the Camps and Clinics program. In addition to Game Days, Clinics, Triathlon Team, and Summer Camp, the Camps and Clinics team is proud to add a new programming opportunity to the roster: Super Saturdays. A Super Saturday event provides a chance for girls who have previously participated in a Game Day to engage with Girls in the Game once again. In addition to inviting the girls, we encourage them to bring their family and friends. Recently, we held a Super Saturday at the North Lawndale YMCA and invited girls and their families from four different West Side schools, as well as girls who heard about the event through the YMCA. At the Super Saturday girls and their families learned about smart eating, sportswomanship, and the choreography to the “Move Your Body” dance. It was a fun, fast-paced, and active two hours!

Girls and their families learn choreography at the Camps & Clinics Super Saturday

Unlike coaches in the After School programs, I am not able to foster a long-term relationship with many of our participants. I interact with the girls during a forty-five minute rotation, at one Game Day. As a result of my limited interaction with the girls, seeing some of them again at the Super Saturday was very exciting. I was interested to see if our short time with the girls at their school’s Game Day had an impact. Fairly quickly, it was obvious to me that the girls had benefited from our short time together, at least enough to want to bring lots of friends and family.  Olivia attended the Super Saturday, as well as many other girls who I remembered from various Game Days. The air was heavy with anticipation as more and more people arrived—girls and their families were ready to move!

And move they did. To be honest, the two hours are a blur. However, what stands out most in my mind are images of families being active, learning, and having fun together. From a family engagement standpoint, this event was a huge success. Girls were eager to teach their families what they had learned and to learn new things together. One family had three generations present: A newborn in a stroller and a grandmother in a tracksuit were both there because of their girl’s previous positive experience with Girls in the Game. As one parent put it, “I really enjoyed my first experience with the group and was eager to have my child participate again.” Another parent remarked upon the positive afternoon they had: “I just enjoyed myself today. I learned new things and met new people. I had a lot of fun.”

If you’re looking to learn the choreography to Beyonce’s “Move Your Body” dance (and I highly suggest that you do) you could ask the girls who came to the Super Saturday. If you want even more teachers, ask the girls’ family and friends. At Girls in the Game, being active is a family affair!

-Coach Margaret

The “ME” in TEAM: Coaching the Individual

Written by Christine Sei, Girls in the Game volunteer coach in the After School Elementary program.

A few years ago, I was asked to give a speech at an awards ceremony honoring a female coach who I played soccer for in college.  She had achieved a number of impressive accomplishments as head coach, including leading her program to the NCAA tournament for the first time in the school’s history.  As I was gathering my thoughts in preparation for my speech, I began to reflect on what made her such an excellent coach. She was an exceptionally dynamic leader. She really got to know us as individuals and then tailored her coaching style in order to get the best results from each one of us. On the field she was tough as nails. She was direct and no-nonsense, but rarely singled anyone out when they played poorly or didn’t meet the fitness standards. Instead, she worked us harder as a team to show her displeasure. Her philosophy was that the team was only as good as its weakest player.  No one player was ever responsible for a loss or even a great win. “There is no “I” in TEAM.” she’d say sarcastically.

Off the field however, she was a completely different coach. She made an effort to spend some time with each one of us every week, whether it was showing us a new skill, working on our fitness, or just talking about work or school. These were never formal meetings, per se. She’d catch up with us when we were in the gym, on a road trip, or just hanging out on campus. We’d often have personal goals that were just between the two of us. She was constantly pushing us to be better players, teammates, and women.

When I began coaching in the Elementary After School Program this fall, I often thought of this particular coach and what I learned from her. Co-coaching twenty-five girls ranging in age and skill level proved much more challenging then I expected. Would it be possible to get to know all of them on a personal level and then encourage them to work as a team? Most of our participants truly love the program and come every week with a great attitude ready to go. It’s been a pleasure to get to know them and it’s been fun to watch them learn new skills, grow as leaders, and make new friends. I’ve been surprised how rewarding my one-on-one conversations have been with them. I’m still trying to figure out ways to translate these coaching opportunities into solidifying a sense of teamwork within the group. I’ve struggled to reach a few participants who don’t seem to want to engage with the coaches or the group. A recent breakthrough with one little girl who I didn’t think I could reach has encouraged me to keep with it. I have the little note she wrote me in my coaching binder to remind me of my commitment (ring finger!) to our Girls in the Game team and to working to be a better coach. I’m lucky to have had such a great coaching role model and Girls in the Game has provided me an opportunity to pass on what I’ve learned from her. I hope that I can meet the challenges that lay ahead of me as a coach in the After School Program with the same patience, encouragement, and individual support she had shown to my teammates and me. She was definitely right when she said there is no “I” in TEAM, but if you look at it from a coach’s perspective, there is no team without the “ME”.

-Coach Christine