Coach-Mentor Victoria’s Story
For the past two years, I have worked with Soccer for Success as a coach-mentor. During that time, I’ve seen the program evolve to a truly transformative and engaging endeavor that is changing lives.
My work involves coaching 15 energetic and loving, 3rd- to 5th-grade girls of all differing soccer levels. I’ve played the sport since I was five and was raised with the mindset that “girls can do anything boys can do.” This is how I think about coaching during practice with these kids after school every day.
Many of the girls initially come to Soccer for Success hesitant and with the mentality that soccer is a “boy’s thing.” Through the games and teambuilding activities that are woven into the Soccer for Success curriculum, I have seen firsthand how these attitudes dissolve and confident competitors begin to emerge. My players’ confidence, though, barely scratches the surface of what really is an incredible transformation for many of these children.
Race is a very complicated issue in America, and this country’s playgrounds are not immune to this reality. I’ve witnessed tense conflicts among students during recess. Cliques form based on race, and slurs have even been hurled at these very young ages, even leading to physical fights. This is heartbreaking to see in elementary-age children. Soccer for Success has been a wonderful opportunity to unite these students who are often separated in their schools.
One day a player showed up for practice but realized that she felt very alone.
“I feel really uncomfortable. I’m the only black girl here,” she told me.
We entered into a rich discussion about culture and identity, and I asked her about some of her family’s traditions. I explained to her that this would be an opportunity for her not only to meet some new students and become friends, but also to learn about other cultures.
The impact of that exchange became clear a few practices later, when I had the players form teams based on their birthdays. Friends had to go into unfamiliar territory. The player who had felt such discomfort was there before me, comforting a friend who didn’t like these new teams.
“It’s OK,” she told her. “Just think of it as a way to get to know another culture.”
My heart melted. This program is about much more than coaching a sport, and this exchange illustrated one way this is true.
Soccer for Success is an incredible program.
I love hearing so many students excited for the soccer season to start. I love that interest continues to grow. I love how invested parents have become, to the point of two moms making soccer t-shirts for all 45 of our players. I love that players who are supposed to walk home after practice wait around until the last player has been picked up. Why? Because they want to stay with their coach-mentor and friends as long as possible. They cherish every minute. I love that teachers have told me how classroom behavior has been transformed because students have the incentive of soccer.
Finally, I love that at the end of an eight-hour workday when I am exhausted, drained and have been tested relentlessly, these two hours bring me back to life and remind me why I do what I do.