Spotlight: Coach Sandro

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. Sandro grew up experiencing the positive impact of playing sports, and now as a student at Boston College he wants to pass that impact on. As a kid, 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.”

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, or as Sandro calls it a “sports gap.” The problem Sandro is referring to is one that Coaching Corps is trying to solve by providing quality training and placement of coaches in afterschool programs in under-resourced communities.

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, andit 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 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 continuing to work with Coaching Corps. “The seniors I met when I was a freshmen were special because they reached out and were deeply interested in the Coaching Corps mission” says Sandro, who will extend that enthusiasm as a Coaching Corps Team Captain, which means in addition to coaching he will be recruiting new members.

Much like those who inspired him as a freshman, there is no doubt that Sandro’s enthusiasm and dedication to working with youth in his community will encourage a new crop of coaches dedicated to eliminating the “sports gap.”

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Going Above and Beyond the Call of Duty

Benita Vargas-Brown, Volleyball Coach at Hampstead Hill Academy

Benita Vargas-Brown grew up in one of the poorest parts of Baltimore. She always wanted to make a difference in the city, which is why she became a social worker. That same passion eventually led her to coach and mentor kids in sports. Learn more about Benita’s journey in her own words.
How did you become a Coaching Corps coach?
I didn’t go looking for coaching, it found me. I was really stressed with my job and my final semester in undergrad, so my husband said, “You’re really not helping yourself. Why don’t you leave your job, take the semester off, and figure out what you want to do next?” So, I went to a volunteering fair, and that’s when I got to know Coaching Corps. It was destiny: They were looking for a volleyball coach, and I am qualified to coach volleyball. They said they needed a coach for Hampstead Hill Academy, which is literally just a walk away from our home. So, it was really perfect.
Can you tell us more about the challenges that the kids you coach face at school and at home?
When people hear Baltimore, crime and violence are among the usual challenges that come to mind, so it was extra important to keep the kids off the streets. I’ve had to drive some of the girls home so they don’t have to take the bus when it’s dark.
There have also been some differences among the girls. The school is located at Patterson Park, where on one side you have the million-dollar houses, and on the other you have boarded-up houses. So you wind up having kids coming from privileged and underprivileged situations. This created some interesting dynamics within the team that led to some difficult conversations, but we got through it eventually. That’s one of the benefits of team sports. We got this whole learning experience that wound up really positive at the end.
You mentioned something about “interesting team dynamics.” Can you share more about that?
This is actually one of the things I’m proudest [of] about my team. The girls take it upon themselves to address differences within the group. At one point, it became very clear during our practice that something wasn’t right. We were on this championship drive but there was obvious tension within the team. The girls came to me and gathered as a group to talk things through. The fact that they came up with that strategy on their own is really amazing. For me, it meant that we’re doing something right. After that talk, we got back together as a team. I’m so glad we did it because I know for a fact we wouldn’t have won the championship without sorting things out. Everybody makes mistakes. At the end of the day, what’s important is to be there and have each other’s backs.
What changes or improvements did you see in the girls as a result of being on the team?
The most obvious one would be the sense of maturity. To be in a position where you have a responsibility over something, to be able to practice and play, there are expectations. If you didn’t come to practice on Wednesday, you’re not going to play on Thursday: that’s the consequence for skipping practice.  Eventually it wasn’t the consequence that really drove them. It was their commitment.
All my [Coaching Corps] girls who tried out for high school sports made their teams. There are two highly-rated schools in Baltimore, Baltimore Polytechnic institute and Baltimore City College. To get into those schools is every parent’s and kid’s dream. They have great education and high graduation rates, and they don’t tolerate gang-related violence, which creates a safer environment for the kids. Fifteen of the girls from the team got in and played for Poly while 13 went to City. That makes me really happy.
Wow! If there’s one way to describe success and promoting equity, that would be it. With all these experiences, what advice would you give aspiring coaches and mentors for kids?
Show up. You have to be there. You have to be consistent. You can’t cancel on these kids. Over the course of my time, if I know something’s going to come up in my schedule, I plan for an assistant coach to take over. Kids know if you care. You can figure out everything else, there are Youtube videos for that. You just have to show up because these kids expect you to be there for them.
Afterschool Partners

Orlando

Boys & Girls Club of Central Florida

City of Orlando Athletics

Afterschool Program Partners

Other

JT Dorsey Foundation

Afterschool Program Partners

San Diego

Gompers Preparatory Academy

High Tech High

La Maestra Foundation – Center for Youth Advancement at Generations

The Monarch School

Pro Kids | The First Tee of San Diego

Soccer Kids America

YMCA of San Diego County

Afterschool Program Partners

Los Angeles

A Place Called Home

AFFIRMATIVE ATHLETICS

After School All Stars: Los Angeles

Boys & Girls Club of Venice

Boys & Girls Clubs of Carson

Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Los Angeles

Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Monica

Boys and Girls Clubs of the LA Harbor

Brotherhood Crusade

City of Huntington Park Department of Parks

East Los Angeles Rising Youth Club

Equitas Academy

Girls on the Run of Los Angeles

Girls Play Los Angeles

ICES Education

IMPACTO

L.A.C.E.R. Afterschool Programs

Long Beach Parks, Recreation and Marine

Los Angeles Rec and Parks

Major League Baseball Youth Academy

Norwalk La Mirada Unified

P.F. Bresee Foundation

Sloane Stephens Foundation

Street Soccer USA: Los Angeles

Team Prime Time

Variety Boys & Girls Club

Watts Rams

YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles

Afterschool Program Partners

ATLANTA

Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta: Samuel L. Jones Boys & Girls Club
Afterschool Program Partners

Boston

All Dorchester Sports and Leadership

Boston Centers for Youth & Families

Boston SCORES

Cambridge Community Center

East End House

Oak Square YMCA

Sole Train: Boston Runs Together