Working Through the Gritty

By Sabrina Schaefer

In her family of coaches and athletes, Asha Hinton was raised with drive and dedication to help her on and off the courts. Her parents always taught her that nothing is impossible, that you “can’t allow people to limit you.” But despite growing up with one of LA’s most notable high school sports coaches, her stepdad Dwan Hurt, Asha didn’t know how much her upbringing and personal sports experiences could benefit other young players until she started her own career on the court.

Coming in at just 5’3”, Asha didn’t fit the images she’d seen of volleyball players—let alone outside hitters. At least, that’s what critics and even some coaches had reinforced for her over the years.

Luckily, Asha found the support of strong coaches who echoed what her parents had always taught her about believing in her own abilities and passions, and before she reached high school, Asha was proving all the nay-sayers wrong.

“If you’re with the right people who really see you and tell you you’re capable of doing anything, then you’ll do it,” Asha says of her club volleyball coaches who allowed her to thrive as an outside hitter.

That’s the spirit she brought with her to court when she started coaching a team of her own at A Place Called Home in East L.A.. “I told my kids ‘I’m an outside hitter’ and they’re like ‘You?!?” Asha recalls of her early days coaching, “As long as that can be motivating for them, that’s all good,” she laughed.

As Asha continued her career as a Coaching Corps Team Captain at CSU Dominguez Hills, her journey taught her new things to bring back to her players, like coming out of her comfort zone and taking on more leadership; “That’s part of the sport, but that’s really just part of moving and succeeding in life in general.”

Even though her time as a Team Captain ended when she graduated in 2019, Asha keeps coming back to A Place Called Home to coach the “littles,” balancing her volunteer hours with a career as a physical therapist assistant and certified personal trainer.

“Being able to see the kids and help them and see them grow, it just amazes me. Honestly now I get why people do it for so long,” she says, remembering her late stepdad who coached for nearly thirty years, “He wasn’t just a coach, he was a mentor, he was a father-figure for so many kids.”

And now after returning to coach season after season, Asha has established her own legacy of coach and mentor to dozens of kids in East LA’s underserved neighborhoods and is eagerly awaiting the day she can get back on the court with them.

If you want to share your own unique Coaching Corps experience, contact Steven Parker, Lead Coach Development Manager,

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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.
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