A Pandemic Won’t Stop Coaching Corps Coaches from Helping Their Neighbors

By: Lyle Greene

I recently spoke with the 2020 National Coaching Corps “Coach of the Year,” Mackenzie O’Connell. Mackenzie and I reflected on the past six months since she received the prestigious honor in San Francisco, and all that has transpired since then. She earned the award for her relentless volunteer dedication to coaching youth sports and her determination to impact the lives of her volleyball players.

Mackenzie is a volunteer at heart—it’s in her blood. She feels herself the most when she is out in the community providing support. In her words, “I was born to help others.”

With a global pandemic occurring and shelter-in-place orders in effect, youth sports are on hold. There is no indication of when kids will return to fields and courts. But that hasn’t deterred Mackenzie. In one swift moment, she went from coaching her kids over 10 hours each week in person to not seeing them at all. This was a tough and unexpected transition for her. Although the frequency of in-person practices and games vanished, she realized that Zoom video created an opportunity for Mackenzie to coach her kiddos.

Coach Mackenzie coaching her players through Zoom.

It’s not the same as coaching on the court, but the strong connection Mackenzie has with her players is still obvious.

I asked Mackenzie what she misses most about coaching youth sports before the use of Zoom. She responded, “Everything! I miss their jokes and watching their development. Right before shelter in place started, we were working on a team song.” The song was “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” by Whitney Houston.

With COVID-19 affecting under-resourced communities the most, and not knowing where Coaching Corps families would get their next meal from, the organization decided to activate their resources in new ways to meet the urgent needs of children and families in the communities they support.

Coaching Corps is a small world that naturally focuses on connecting coaches in each community. Mackenzie met Misha Dale, another Coaching Corps coach, at an event in San Diego a few years ago. They both have similar passions for volunteering, helping others, and making a significant impact in their communities through coaching and mentoring.

Misha is a dedicated community member passionate about making social change in her community. Coaching Corps trained and connected Misha to coach basketball at San Diego’s Monarch School, designed to educate and support homeless youth. With COVID-19, Monarch students are facing ever-greater challenges.

Misha Dale served as a Team Captain for Coaching Corps.

Coaching Corps reached out to Mackenzie and Misha to volunteer at a local food bank, to which they immediately said yes.

They sorted, packaged, and distributed food to families dealing with food insecurity. Cars lined up outside the food bank stretching over two miles. Some families waited eight hours to receive their food. Mackenzie, Misha and the rest of the volunteer team served meals to hundreds of families that day.

Misha takes pride in community building and being there for one another, especially now with COVID-19. Misha shared, “We have an obligation to care and look out for each other.”

At Monarch, Misha has learned more about team building than basketball. It’s about the strong relationships she has made with her players. That entails getting to know each player and providing life advice when needed. Whether it’s handing out food, extending a shoulder to cry on, or being good company, Misha is there to inspire kids.

Even though youth sports are on pause, Mackenzie and Misha have not lost sight of their ability to make a difference.

I asked Misha the same question I asked Mackenzie about what she misses most about coaching youth sports. Not surprisingly, she had the same answer Mackenzie did, “Everything!”

To join the Summer #CorpsCommunity and ways you can get involved, visit www.coachingcorps.org

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