Corps Insights: Kevin Washington Of The YMCA Discusses The Return To Youth Sports

As part of our ‘Corps Insights’ thought leadership series, Janet Carter, Chief Executive Officer of Coaching Corps, sat down to talk with Kevin Washington, President and CEO of the YMCA of the USA covering five key topics as they relate to the return to youth sports and the need for trained coaches.

What motivates someone to become a volunteer coach?

Kevin has observed that many youth coaches start coaching because they have a child in a sports program and they themselves want to be a part of the program. Volunteers also see it as a way to strengthen their own communities, to make sure children of that community are engaged in an activity that they know is healthy, safe and supports youth development. With six volunteers to every one staff person at the YMCA, understanding this dynamic is a critical component to the organization’s continued success.

The recruitment of coaches sharing racial or ethnic identities

In this segment, both Kevin and Janet agree that while a good coach can come from any ethnic and cultural background, for kids early on in their formative years the impact of a mentor that has an identity connection tends to be greater. Additionally, as someone who is from the same community, coaches have a greater understanding of the cultural and trauma issues that their young athletes may be facing.

Understanding that recruiting Black and Brown coaches is not easy, Janet has provided insight into how Coaching Corps is working with local leaders to design the most impactful sports equity agenda by putting together task forces with local leaders and having them decide what the sports equity agenda is for their own communities.

managing the collective trauma of the pandemic on our youth

Kevin sheds light on how the YMCA, as one of the largest youth-serving organizations in the country, addresses the traumas some young people experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly for those who have dealt with higher levels of economic hardship along with health concerns.

These experiences in particular have helped shape the manner in which the YMCA staff and volunteers have had to be alert to those issues and trying situations as well as the social and emotional need to maintain a caring and empathetic relationship with their kids.

The role that sports and caring coaches played in my life.

Kevin discusses how, as a young kid growing up in South Philadelphia, sports were both a way for him to escape some of the negative influences in his neighborhood as well as an opportunity to forge friendships and connect with positive adult role models, through his coaches.

It was his first coach who he met through the YMCA in grade school who set a young Kevin Washington on his path and ultimately his junior high school coach, Sonny Hill, who taught him among other things that a coach’s role is not just to create a great player but to make you a great human being. 

Why is it so important for coaches to have empathy? 

Janet provides her perspective on the importance of empathy and why it’s vital for everyone. Because in the absence of a culture of empathy, there is an inability to understand each other’s perspectives, maintain connections, and avoid negative outcomes. 

Building on that, Kevin’s point of view is that for a coach, particularly as it relates to the development of young people, the opportunity and skill set to use empathy to help develop young people is key to them becoming the human beings we want them to be.  Coaches have an opportunity not just for skill development but for emotional development as well.  

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