Believe In Sport, Invest In People
I like to call myself a believer, but I wasn’t always one. Growing up in a low-income, single-parent household, it didn’t matter that I had good grades and stayed out of trouble; going to college was always much more of a dream than a reality. My coaches never seemed to see the world the way I did. They always seemed to have this odd fascination with “Life” and used every available opportunity to talk about it. It didn’t matter if a player’s grades had dropped, someone had missed practice or just simply messed up in a drill, the lesson following always seemed to leave the realm of what it took to be a great basketball player. You see, my coaches knew my community. They understood my slang; they knew where to get the best haircut in town and what things negatively affect the lives of youth on the daily basis. They were from my world. A world in which hope is hard to come by and struggle was even harder to escape. They knew who I was, where I was from, but believed sports had the ability to change this kid’s life forever. This kid being me, of course.
Now, months after graduating from Bard College I am traveling the world searching for innovative ways in which sports could be used to combat a range of social issues. Through the first 3 months of my trip one theme has stood out above the rest and made me question the sports evangelistic views I once held. Through my first three months I have become more of a believer in the power of people than in sport itself. My trip to Dolakha, Nepal with Coaches Across Continents only further solidified this shift in perception.
After an exhausting 8-hour bus ride, up the side of a mountain, a group of 12 coaches speaking four languages and representing 3 different organizations (Jungle Crows Foundation, Child Reach Nepal and Coaches Across Continents) sat around a table and attempted to hash out the details of what the first session would look like. I sat and listened to these conversations mostly interested in hearing about the “Self-Directed Learning” curriculum of CAC. Even though I got to see the curriculum put into action every day during the sessions, the dinner table debriefs shed the most light on what “self-direction” truly meant. While the conversation was usually started by Mark and Ashlyn from CAC, the coaches and young leaders from Child Reach Nepal and the Jungle Crows Foundation were pushed to lead the direction of the discussion. The coaches evaluated their own communities, highlighted the salient issues, and both adapted old and created new games that would be used as a vehicle to get youth to think critically about their communities. It was at this table that the coaches welcomed criticism just as much as they did an extra C-momo. While the pictures from the week may highlight how much fun the school-children in Dolakha had during the sessions with CRN, JCF, the moments that weren’t caught on camera were the most important. It was in these moments that CAC could work with its partners to ensure that the smiles you see in the recap picture are sustained for years to come.
At this point in my Watson journey, it was amazing to have the opportunity to tag along with an organization that believes in sports, but invest in the power of people. It’s amazing because even though I may have been the same person I am today without the game basketball; I know I would not be in the position I am today without my coaches – coaches who could see a reality beyond my immediate circumstance, and coaches who knew how to help me see it for myself. Most importantly, coaches that were personally invested in my community and weren’t going to disappear anytime soon.