Confidence & Courage: reflections from an Academic Coach

Libby Chafe is a Smith student who has volunteered with Project Coach for several years as an "Academic Coach," or tutor to our high school participants, our "coaches." Here, she reflects on her experience working side by side with Project Coach's teen coaches to develop their skills and her own.

For three semesters I tutored with Project Coach and built a relationship with several teenage coaches. During this time, I was impressed by the supportive spirit of the Project Coach community and the teenage coaches’ maturity and responsibility. Because of these observations and my own transformational experiences in after school programs, I wanted to learn more about how Project Coach impacts teen coaches. I visited Project Coach in Springfield to observe the elementary after-school program, and watched as young teenage coaches encouraged elementary-age students with homework and led them in games. The teen coaches spoke with confidence, engaged with the younger children, and truly stepped into the role of leaders.

Later, I sat down with two Project Coach teenage coaches, Anthony and Nadia, to learn more about their experiences with leadership. I asked them what leadership skills they’ve learned through Project Coach and how those skills help them in school and life.

Confidence, responsibility, positivity, courage, patience—the list of skills that these coaches have learned through Project Coach is extensive. Both coaches emphasized that to be a good coach, you must have confidence and view yourself as a leader. Anthony has learned over time that, “first you’ve got to get [the elementary students] to look up to you.” He explained, “once they give you that trust … everything comes easier. You’re able to get them to huddle up more, they’re able to listen to you … If they’re interested in you and want to have fun with you, they’re going to listen.” Nadia reflected: “they’re not going to really respect you [if] … you’re not secure with who you are. And I feel like that kind of brings out the coach in you.”

Both coaches agreed that developing leadership skills takes time and practice. Nadia stated that many of these leadership skills were always inside of her, but that being a coach to the elementary students gave her a place to practice using these skills. Anthony explained, “when I first started it wasn’t that easy. Once you get used to it, practice it more, then you’ll get better at it. So just keep trying at it.”

The coaches feel that learning leadership skills helps them in school. For Anthony, the sense of responsibility he has developed as a coach helps with managing his schoolwork. Nadia recently switched schools, and she explained that the confidence she learned as a coach has helped in that transition. She said of her time with Project Coach: “I’ve spoken up a lot more in program and in school … I used to have the answers but I wouldn’t say anything, and now I speak up more.”

Working with young people has also been crucial to my own development. Tutoring, babysitting, and working as a camp counselor for many years allowed me to see myself as a leader. With time and practice, I realized the power of my voice. I gained confidence and the drive to work hard. Developing these skills helped me academically in high school and at Smith, and set me on the path to becoming a teacher. As I observed over the years as a tutor, in the gym in Springfield, and in my conversation with Anthony and Nadia, Project Coach has a similar impact on these teen coaches. For the Project Coach coaches and me, leading youth has allowed us to feel confident and become leaders.

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