When you’re with kids for an entire season, and you see them get better, you improve their experience, that was really special for me.
Favorite athlete: Tom Brady (Quarterback for the New England Patriots)
Favorite sport to play: Hockey
Favorite sport to coach: Soccer
It’s clear right away that Alessandro Schooley, Sandro to his friends, has always been passionate about playing sports and grateful for the opportunity to do so. Sandro is from Hartford, Connecticut and as he puts it he, “was very lucky growing up.” Today, Sandro is a junior at Boston College studying economics with a history minor, and that perspective has stuck with him. Growing up, says Sandro, “I played sports with people who weren’t as lucky [as I was]… I knew people who didn’t have the chance to play all year. It was really important for me to have that experience, and at Boston College [through Coaching Corps], it was an opportunity for me to help adjust that problem.”
The problem Sandro is referring to is one that exists in all regions where Coaching Corps programs operate. Some parts of the Boston area have a wealth of resources, while others are underserved. The result of this divide is that some youth have plenty of access to sports and some have none. In Sandro’s words, “we call that the sports gap.”
Sandro got involved with Coaching Corps in his freshman year after attending an information meeting where he was immediately struck by the message. “The seniors I met when I was a freshman,” he said, “were special because they reached out and they were deeply interested in the Coaching Corps mission.” Right off the bat, not only did the work itself resonate, but the people involved, the Coaching Corps volunteers from his region and those surrounding it, inspired Sandro to become a member.
Coaching Corps’ core program, the one to which Sandro was recruited, is the quality training and placement of coaches in afterschool programs in under-resourced communities. The program begins with the recruitment of a team of coaches who undergo comprehensive in-person or online training using a unique curriculum grounded in the principles of youth development. Coaches are then placed within existing afterschool programs in underserved communities. The model has been tweaked and improved upon over the years to ensure that the youth served in these communities are getting the most out of their sports opportunities.
In the words of Coaching Corps Board Chair Walter J. Haas, “what resonates to people […] is that our work helps strengthen existing programs […] we are essentially providing a trained work force of volunteer coaches to support organizations that already exist.” By doing so, Coaching Corps can immediately tap into a community, through the eyes of partners who already deeply understand its needs, and work together to improve the physical and socio-emotional health of youth by creating equitable access to high-quality, organized sports with well-trained, caring coaches.
After completing his coach training, Sandro began coaching at the Boys and Girls club on Allston Street in Boston, which turned out to be a particularly rewarding and meaningful experience. “We were there to coach basketball,” he recalled, “five or six of us [Coaching Corps coaches], we walked into this gym the first day and it was just a free for all.” The kids were excited and full of energy. Unfamiliar with the coaching style of Sandro and his volunteer colleagues, it took some time to develop a rhythm and a rapport. For 16 weeks, practices were held on Friday nights and games occurred on Saturday mornings. The resulting transformation was remarkable. “By the end of the season,” Sandro said, “we had playoff brackets, jerseys for the kids to wear and a little draft.” Additionally, and most importantly, the kids had improved not only their athletic skills, but also their abilities and desires to communicate and work together.
“When you’re with kids for an entire season, and you see them get better, you improve their experience, that was really special for me,” Sandro said.
The tangible transformations in terms of attitude and skill improvement over the course of a season provide measurable evidence of the success of the Coaching Corps model. However, the youth aren’t the only ones who benefit. While he’s not sure exactly what he wants to do after graduation, Sandro is certain of one thing, “I definitely want to stay involved in volunteering going forward,” an inclination he attributes largely to his experience with Coaching Corps. Until then, Sandro is working as a Coaching Corps Team Captain, which means that in addition to coaching, he’s now in charge of recruiting new members.
Much like those who inspired him as a freshman, there is no doubt that Sandro’s enthusiasm for, and dedication to working with youth in his community will encourage a new crop of coaches who, like him, are inherently committed to lifting up youth from underserved communities and eliminating the sports gap.