It was encouraging to hear student athletes examine their own positions as coaches in a TGP program and what we need to improve in our interaction with youth.
Soccer—or more appropriately football/futbol has been my passion since I was a kid and I have been lucky enough to play competitively as a former student athlete for Concordia University and work on the back end for Manchester United, a world renowned institution. While my placement position this year with The Grassroot Project (TGP) in Washington, D.C. did not revolve around soccer, it did ignite a second passion within me: pursuing Sport for Development programs as a strategy for health equity and youth development. Now, as I conclude my Global Health Corps Fellowship year I look back at some of my favorite experiences from the past 12 months.
One of my favorite experiences this year has been transforming my original position from “Special Programs Manager” to “Program Manager for Student Athlete Development”, this shift more than semantics represented a shift in the organization to put athlete development at the forefront. At its core, student athlete development refers to an array of programming and learning opportunities that will enrich student athletes outreach experiences and improve our program delivery. As Program Manager, I have enjoyed solidifying our Coaching Manual, creating new capacity building workshops and developing more modules to understand the socio-economic context of communities we work with. Even though this year marked the beginning of a more comprehensive and thorough approach to our training, I echo the sentiments of GW operations manager for TGP Erin Boudreau who commented on the “need to spend a lot more time with our student-athlete coaches teaching how to communicate with the participants who live in a completely different culture than many of our coaches.”
Recognizing some of the gaps in our training, I had the unique opportunity to organize The Leadership Academy. Taking place in South Africa, the trip was a means to reconnect with our organization’s history and improve our current programing. Planning this trip was challenging, as it demanded cultivating relationships with international partners for the first time. Nonetheless the resulting partnerships with the University of the Western Cape and local South African Sport for Development NGO’s provided our coaches and staff with stimulating and valuable information, which will be implemented in the following year.
During The Leadership Academy, six student athletes were immersed both theoretically and with local organizations understanding the contribution sport can make to alleviate the HIV epidemic and other social inequalities. I was impressed to see how our coaches developed over the course of two weeks to individuals who understand the nuances of nonprofit work, structural inequalities and their role in supporting the communities we work with beyond a TGP session. It was encouraging to hear student athletes examine their own positions as coaches in a TGP program and what we need to improve in our interaction with youth. As I part from TGP I hope that this path is continued.
While I am sad to leave TGP, I will be in touch and look forward to supporting the organization post-fellowship. I’m excited for our new Program Manager, Imran Nadaph to lead TGP’s Student Athlete Development in 2015-2016. On behalf of the TGP staff, we are grateful to have Imran on our team!
Thank you to the TGP staff, student athletes, partners and especially my co-fellow Melissa Otterbein, Core Programs Manager.