Student coaches gain confidence as they bring sports, life skills to younger kids

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“One, two, three - eyes on me!”

Hearing a chant they’re familiar with from their classroom teachers, a group of second- and third-graders immediately quiets down and directs their attention to the person in charge.

That person, 15-year-old J’Dyn Hook, commands the group with confidence and kindness.

It’s a Tuesday afternoon, and after both Hook and the elementary students have finished their regular school day, they meet in the cafeteria at Fawcett Elementary to have a snack and check in with each other before starting soccer practice.

Hook, a sophomore at IDEA (Tacoma’s School of Industrial Design, Engineering and Art), serves as their student coach for an eight-week session, practicing with them twice a week after school and coaching games on Saturdays.

The kids jump with excitement when Hook walks in, happily telling her how much they missed her over the summer. This is the second year she’s served as Fawcett’s coach.

“Last year, I fell in love with coaching and being a role model for these little kids,” she said. “I still remember my first coaches, who were super positive and patient. I wanted to make that impact on these kids.”

Tacoma Public Schools’ student coaching program provides a host of benefits, starting with supervised after-school activities for elementary students at their own school through the Beyond the Bell program. For families, Beyond the Bell provides a safe, convenient location where kids can participate in healthy activities on a sliding payment scale.

At the same time, Hook and other student coaches get the opportunity to earn credit toward graduation, earn money or volunteer hours, and grow their leadership abilities. All are critical to Hook, who plans to attend the United States Air Force Academy with a goal of becoming a fighter pilot.

“I want to seize every opportunity I have during my high school years,” she said.

As a coach, Hook is proving herself to be a capable leader, managing the logistics of attendance and after-school pick up, communication with parents about schedules for weekend soccer games, and, of course, the care of her charges – about 15 wiggly, energetic kids.

A lot goes into that care, from increasing their athletic skill to supporting their social-emotional well-being. Before the 50 student coaches even met a student this fall, they were trained by Metro Parks Tacoma in behavior management, schedule management, and social-emotional learning - the process of developing self-awareness, self-management, and interpersonal skills vital for life success.

Coaches work a social-emotional component into every session, with a check-in before practice starts and time afterward for meaningful conversations. They talk about topics like what it means to be a good teammate, how to support teammates having a bad day, or how to have fun after you make a mistake on the field.

Hook recognizes the value of talks like that, and makes sure to work them into their daily routine.

“When a child feels safe and happy, they are more likely to learn and be excited for their sport,” she said. “Those talks we have also help me understand how to coach them. It gives me a blueprint to their personalities and helps me understand their boundaries.”

Value of coaching
The student coaching program is intentionally built to benefit both the older and younger students.

“This role for student coaches is powerful because they learn responsibility and empathy,” said Benton Lefton, recreation coordinator of youth sports for Metro Parks Tacoma. “They really serve an important job as mentors to the younger kids, giving them something to aspire to. Our hope is that is the high school coaches give a good experience to the elementary kids, and that in turn, the younger students will want to do the same when they’re older.”

The school year includes four activity sessions, with time for soccer, basketball, flag football, volleyball and baseball. Student coaches are paired with an adult coach or another intern for their first season. In the second season, they can coach on their own, or serve as a mentor to other coaches. Depending on their age and experience, students earn either a Jobs 253 stipend funded by the City of Tacoma, or an hourly wage paid by Metro Parks Tacoma, along with school credit.

After coaching all of last year, Stadium High School junior Gabriel Waller now serves as a coach mentor four days a week at Northeast Tacoma and Browns Point elementary schools. His experience has led him to re-evaluate his plans for his future.

“Going into this, I didn’t really think of teaching as a future job, but it’s more of a possibility for me now,” he said. “This coaching experience has just matured me as a person. It’s good to know how to work with kids. I see that a career in education is an option for me now.”

He’s not alone in the self-reflection and recognition of the change that coaching can bring. Hook started coaching hoping to make a big impact on her young students, but the impact it’s had on her is no less remarkable.

“I used to be scared to take control, but now I know I can do that. I can be a leader in my class,” she said. “Coaching has helped me understand how to amplify my voice in school, personal life and with my friends. I can have many different lives at once. I can be a professional. I can be a student. I can have my fun side. All of those things are me. I can be whoever I want.”

students playing on playground
students playing soccer
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students playing
students playing
students playing
students playing

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