It is this love of others that motivated me to volunteer full time as an After School Program Specialist for Girls in the Game. For the past 5 months I have been participating in a year of service program with Amate House, and it has been some of the toughest, but most rewarding months of my life. Amate House, an organization associated with the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, gives volunteers the opportunity to explore the tenants of faith, service, social justice, community, and stewardship. I decided to volunteer at Girls in the Game because I wanted to put my faith into action by not only by sharing my love of sports with girls, but also by showing them that there was someone who loved and cared about them.
One of my coaching assignments is McGuane Park, where I work with 3rd-5th grade girls. During programming we were doing an activity where the girls had to write on a piece of paper some personal quality that made them special. The papers would get passed around and everyone had to guess who wrote which characteristic. I was surprised when one of my 4th graders wrote “I am not special.” The participant’s father and brother had told her that she was not special and she believed it. This comment sparked a discussion between myself, the other coaches, and the participant. Promoting a positive self esteem is one of my main focuses as a coach. I talked with the girl about some of her gifts and talents. She often shows us her drawings, so I told her that she was a good artist. The other participants agreed and expressed how happy they were to have her as a friend and teammate. I think the participant took these compliments to heart when she finally cracked a smile. One reason why I love working for Girls in the Game is that our programs teach girls how to love themselves and how to affirm others. I know that I will not be able to promote a positive self-esteem for every girl in Chicago, but I know I am making a difference one participant at a time.
Until next time,
Unprepared? Never. Coaching for Girls in the Game at Stagg has taught me to always be over prepared. Stagg School of Excellence is a turnaround school located in the heart of Englewood, one of our Tier 1 communities. Unfortunately, many people when they hear “Englewood” think ‘gang violence,’ and ‘failing schools’. But when I hear ‘Englewood,’ I see the smiling faces of the 20 girls I had the pleasure of coaching this past fall.
Everyday brought its own challenges and successes. Having our program in a classroom was not ideal especially considering that sports are a key component of Girls in the Game. And it certainly did not set the girls up for success. I took this challenge in stride as I prepared for each session.
I learned to plan, plan, and keep planning; completely aware that the plan could fall to pieces in a matter of seconds, depending on the particular group of girls: their energy level and emotional state, and any other extraneous factors, like what happened in school that day. There were so many things I couldn’t control. I chose to focus on what I could control: knowing the curriculum backwards and forwards, getting to know each girl on a personal level, and calling her by name.
Learning to go with the flow and respond to the daily needs of the girls not only ensured my success as a coach, but also set the girls up for success. When they had seen a rat in school that day, we took a moment to collectively acknowledge that they had seen a rat, “On the count of three, everyone say, ‘I saw a rat today,’” acknowledging and validating the girls’ unique experiences. When the school had a coat drive and each girl got a brand new winter coat, and we took the time to admire the pinks and purples, the flowers and butterflies on their new jackets.
We wrapped up our season at Stagg with a very successful family night. When asked why they came, one parent explained, “My daughter likes the program and the life skills it teaches her. She like being around other girls learning positive things.” Another parent commented, “I truly do like that Stagg got this program for the kids. Please keep it.” Positive role models, physical activity, and health and leadership activities: it’s the little things that make a big impact. The girls at Stagg now say proudly, “I am a Girl in the Game.”