Janet Carter admits she isn’t a sports person. But she understands the power of sports.
The PreventObesity.net Leader spent 25 years working to end domestic violence, including 15 years as vice president of the Family Violence Prevention Fund. During that time, Carter and her colleagues successfully reached women with their message, she recalls, but had a harder time getting men to listen.
In response, the organization conducted a poll to find out where men learn their values, and found many are shaped in their youth by messages from their coach. That led to the formation of the program “Coaching Boys into Men,” which gives coaches tools to help prevent violence in their community.
Carter found herself drawn to the idea of coaching. Rather than take up a sport herself, in 2008 she became executive director of the organization Coaching Corps, a group that uses sports to help children in underserved communities.
“We don’t care to figure out who is going to be the next Andrew Luck,” Carter says, referencing the National Football League’s top draft pick. “We think that sports teaches… life lessons.”
Coaching Corps is based in Northern California and has established chapters at several colleges and universities. There, the organization recruits and trains college students to serve as coaches for after-school programs in underserved neighborhoods. The coaches provide physical activity for children while also teaching them the importance of things such as hard work and being part of a team.
Since Coaching Corps’ launch, more than 2,000 college students have coached 19,000 students. Most corps chapters are in California, but the organization is aiming to spread its work across the country. Within six years, Coaching Corps hopes to reach 500,000 kids.
“The reason we have such an ambitious plan is that we’re finding there’s a viral nature to Coaching Corps, because the students love it,” Carter says. “We’re really seeing the beginning of [a] movement.”
There’s a real need for that movement to spread. While 65 percent of middle- or high-income children participate in after-school sports, only 30 percent of low-income kids do, Carter says.
Coaching Corps believes college students are ideal to help close that gap, as they are young enough to reach the kids and are motivated to make a difference. Although only required to serve for a semester, more than 60 percent come back to the program simply “because they like it so much,” Carter says.
Coaches mentor the kids in a variety of sports, depending on the needs of the community where they live. Some coaches teach mainstream sports such as basketball or soccer, for example, while others wind up offering things such as dragon boat racing. “We have everything. We’re eclectic and non-dominational when it comes to the types of sports,” Carter jokes.
Aside from getting the children active, it’s clear the college students make an impact on the kids they serve. Most of the children view their youthful coaches as role models, Carter says.
“Often, they have never thought of college as an option for them. Our coaches often take the kids to the campus and show them around and introduce them to the student athletes,” Carter says. “Our students ask the cutest questions: How did you get to college? What do you wear?”