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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

DC SCORES coach's journal, Part I: The first day of programming

Zachary Gomes moved to Washington, DC, two months ago from Albany, NY, to begin working at DC SCORES as a Coach Across America AmeriCorps volunteer. Zach has a passion for working with youth, and as part of his work with DC SCORES is coaching poetry and girls soccer at Lincoln Middle School. Throughout the season, Zach will share his experience as one of DC SCORES’ 190 coaches who run the program at our 47 schools. Zach will provide insight on the impact of DC SCORES -- through the eyes of a coach.


Written by Zachary Gomes
Soccer Coordinator

This fall, I am the writing coach and girls soccer coach at Lincoln Middle School in Columbia Heights. I live very close to the school, and before I began working at DC SCORES I spent most of my afternoons playing pick-up soccer in the neighborhood.

On the first day I visited Lincoln, I arrived at the soccer field wearing a DC SCORES shirt and shorts. Kids and adults walked up to me instantly, telling me they were a part of DC SCORES, how much they loved the organization and how they couldn’t wait for the season to begin. The fact I was associated with DC SCORES made integrating into my new surroundings a thousand and forty-seven times easier. It was truly amazing.

Programming at Lincoln started on Sept. 15. The way the middle school season works, on Monday and Wednesday we have writing and then walk to the soccer field for practice; Fridays are reserved for Game Day.

Coach Zach at his firstLincoln  soccer practice
I prepared for the opening day of programming by writing an introductory lesson. My plan was to 1. I will introduce myself, and the kids will love me. 2. I will play some icebreaker and teambuilding games -- coaches are provided with a plethora of resources and examples during training -- and have everyone laughing and loving my awesome teaching style. 3. I will introduce them to their writing journals and explain how important they are to the class. 4. They will begin to decorate their notebooks, making them unique, their own. 5. If we have more time, we will do a group writing exercise and, of course, if needed, I would whip out some of the games I keep in my back pocket. 6. We will walk the four blocks to Tubman Elementary School, where Lincoln has its soccer practices. 7. We will do some running, stretching, passing, shooting, sweating, smiling and have a generally awesome first practice.

What actually happened?

I got to Lincoln early and was brought to the cafeteria. Soon, 42 very excited children filled the large room and I was bombarded with questions and comments.

“Are you our coach!?” “Who are you?” “You’re not Charity!” (last year’s coach). “Why are you wearing those shoes??” “Do you like soccer?” “Do you speak Spanish?” “Are we gonna get uniforms? And where is our snack??”

My plan did not go according to design, but that’s okay as improvisation is also fun. At one point during writing, I turned the cafeteria into a maze and blindfolded some of the students with my sweatshirt. The blindfolded students had to listen to the directions of their team to try to find a chair I had placed on the other side of the room. This game was a hit.

Soccer practice was great. The girls were incredibly excited to be on the field, and it was immediately clear that I had some natural-born leaders on my team. After running a lap around the field, the girls formed a circle and Katie -- an eighth-grader who has been in DC SCORES for three years -- walked into the middle and began leading a team stretch. I had not asked for Katie to take the lead, but I certainly did not complain when she did

Overall, the first day was a success. There were problems, but that was to be expected. The most important thing as a coach, I kept coming back to, is to constantly remind yourself why you have gotten into this position in the first place; why you are out on a field playing soccer with kids. Why self-expression and empowerment is so important.

For me, it’s because I love it. I love being part of something bigger than myself, being part of a team, having my work provide a space where youth can express themselves and feel comfortable. There is lots of work to be done, and our team culture is still being built in the writing classroom and on the field. I anticipate good times and trying times to be part of our future at Lincoln Middle School, and I am excited to share with you the triumphs and challenges that are yet to come as a DC SCORES coach.

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