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The Young Trailblazers

Much like for many other youth-serving organizations, the COVID-19 pandemic brought new challenges to members of the America SCORES Bay Area (ASBA) team. But it also provided an opportunity for leadership, which is where youth coaches VV, Elodie, and Daniela came in.

Over the summer, the trio ran a successful online summer program for younger participants. “When we started coaching in the summer, we didn’t know what we were getting into. We just wanted to help out and keep the kids engaged because we knew it was hard to have summer during the pandemic,” says VV. “We had experienced this immense joy, and almost gratefulness, to the kids because they were getting us through the pandemic too.”

At the end of the summer, VV and her fellow coaches realized that, despite the time commitment, they didn’t want to stop coaching. So, with the leadership of SCORES Middle School Program Director Roberto Gil, the group set on to recruit more youth coaches to help run the fall season through a newly established youth coaching program. “Initially, the hard part was deciding how much we wanted to put into the program,” recalls VV. “We are high school students, so it’s not like we have all the time in the world, but we all agreed that this program is something that we really care about, so we were willing to put in the time to organize it.”

The first step was to recruit more youth coaches. The group reached out to club soccer teammates as well as other students looking to fulfill their community service hours. “Because it’s such a great experience for all of us, it was super easy to talk about the program,” VV remembers. “The process of getting youth trainers wasn’t as difficult as we thought it would be.”

New coaches must be energetic and charismatic. “When coaching younger players, that’s as – or even more important than – soccer experience,” says Elodie.

For Roberto, the next stage in the process was key in determining who was committed to the coaching program. “There’s a sign-up sheet, a Google form,” he explains. “That’s the first filter that we have. For those that do it, we know they’re serious about it. After that, they must attend the first workshop. They have to be responding, engaged in the communication process.”

Attending the workshops not only demonstrates commitment, but also presents a unique professional development opportunity for the youth coaches. “The workshops are mainly to teach the youth trainers about professionalism and proper communication skills as well as how to be a good mentor,” explains VV. “More specifically, when we’re actually on the field and meeting in person, Roberto shows us a lot of socially distant drills and how to keep the kids engaged.”

Youth Coach Academy Leaders Elodie, VV, and Daniela joined by SCORES Program Director Roberto Gil

For VV, the mentorship piece has been an integral part of her journey as a coach because soccer played such an important role in her development both as an athlete and as a person. “When I was younger, I had a lot of trouble speaking, specifically because I grew up speaking Spanish first and then I went to English school,” she says. “But as soon as I step on the pitch, everyone says I become a different person.”

Now, VV is paying it forward as a coach for an all-girls team. “Growing up, I had all male coaches and I didn’t really ever profoundly connect with them, so to have that coach that asks ‘how are you doing?’ and somebody that you can depend on, that’s who I try to be for my girls.”

For Elodie, success means that she keeps her kids on task while also making sure they are enjoying themselves. “That balance is super important,” she says, “particularly with a high-energy group of 5th graders.”

Coach Elodie with her team, the Werewolves

Outside of lessons on how to be a mentor and run a practice session, youth coaches who go through the program are also mentees. “One of the things that we want to do is help them create short-term and long-term goals,” says Roberto. “Some kids know their long-term goals, but they don’t know how to achieve them. I met this coach who wants to be a policewoman but has no idea how to get there. The first step, I tell her, is she needs to finish high school. For some of these kids, school is not on their radar, college is not on their radar. This program is trying to channel them toward that.”

The youth coaches who consistently demonstrate their commitment will also complete online coaching certifications while they gain real life experience serving as assistant coaches during practice sessions, whether they be virtual or in person. This makes them eligible to become a stipend coach versus just a volunteer coach, and, ultimately, become qualified to run their own sessions.

For Roberto, this piece is key in retaining youth coaches because it provides a natural pathway for gaining professional experience. “Some of these kids, their parents are asking them to work, to get a job, and that’s pulling them away from the game,” says Roberto. “If you get your coaching credential, then that will be your job which is related to something you love, and that is soccer.”

“In addition to being a pathway for SCORES alumni,” explains Colin Schmidt, Executive Director of ASBA, “the youth coaches academy is part of strategy that will allow us to grow the number of teams and younger children who are able to participate in SCORES and Soccer for Success programs.” He adds, “we are training a new corps of enthusiastic coach-mentors who want to give back and expand the opportunities available to children in their communities. The more qualified passionate coach-mentors we have, the more impact we can make.”

This season, 16 youth coaches – six of whom were Soccer for Success participants just a few years prior – are involved in this season’s coaching program. Roberto credits the youth leadership of VV, Elodie, and Daniela for creating an inclusive environment that encourages others to want to join and participate. “It’s a big deal for me that I can tell a parent to join this club, that we have a vision, we that we have a methodology, and then they see the teenagers running it, which is really impressive.”

“There’s going to be a lot of progress within this group that is going to send positive messages to other youth who are going to be like ‘I want to be part of this coaching academy.’”