Stanford-Cal rivalry aside, coaches agree on goal for poor kids

Nov. 20, 2009


This weekend, Stanford and Cal will renew their most storied rivalry: The Big Game. Naturally, we disagree on who will bring home The Axe this weekend, and we'll be watching the game from rooting sections at opposite sides of Stanford Stadium.

But we're joining together -- along with many other coaches around the country, including Mike Singletary, Pete Carroll, Joe Torre and Tony La Russa -- to recruit college students to work as volunteer coaches for kids in low-income communities.

We're doing this because we have seen the transformative impact of engaged, caring coaches on the lives of young people. The greatest reward we've enjoyed as coaches has been witnessing the growth of our players into confident, focused and thoughtful young adults. Every good coach has watched a player experience that 'aha' moment when he or she discovers some previously untapped quality within -- selflessness, perhaps, or perseverance or courage.

We believe every child ought to have that experience.

Unfortunately, many children in low-income communities never get the chance. Organized sports in many of their neighborhoods barely exist, particularly for girls. One reason is the lack of coaches.

That's why we and so many other top coaches have signed on to support Team-Up for Youth's Coaching Corps. The program recruits motivated college students who are as passionate about kids as they are about sports. It provides them with training, then places them in after-school programs in low-income communities.

So far, Team-Up For Youth's Coaching Corps has sent 850 coaches into Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose, East Palo Alto and now Los Angeles and San Diego. They have touched the lives of 8,500 children.

These coaches know their job is not about turning kids into the next Lisa Leslie or LeBron James. It's to teach them what middle-class and affluent children learn every day on suburban fields and courts: That success takes hard work, that failure isn't fatal, that attitude counts, that modesty and selflessness are signs of strength.

We know that kids who play sports are more confident and have greater self-esteem. They are less likely to smoke, try drugs or develop obesity-related problems such as diabetes and heart disease. They are more likely to get good grades, have higher educational aspirations and fewer discipline problems in school. This is particularly true for young girls. When girls get involved in sports, they have more positive body images and are half as likely to have unwanted pregnancies.

So while we might be divided this weekend between Cardinal red and Cal blue, we're working together to send great young coaches into our communities so that every child can experience the transformative power of sports -- and find the champion within.

Joanne Boyle is the head women's basketball coach for the California Golden Bears. TARA VANDERVEER is head coach women's basketball at Stanford University. They wrote this article for the Mercury News.

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