Friday, November 28, 2014
DC SCORES coach's journal, Part V: Serious about the Slam!
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
Our last game was a must-win. The girls played Raymond Middle School, a team that was only a point ahead in the standings. A win would put us through to the playoffs, anything else and our fall competitive soccer season would come to an end.
I explained to the girls what the game meant and emphasized that win or lose, our goal was to play together as a team and to exemplify good sportsmanship throughout the contest. ... I also really wanted to win.
The pace of the game was quick and frantic. In my own excitement, I had made the girls desperate for the win. I had forgotten for a moment that DC SCORES is about so much more than playing for a championship
Four teams make the DC SCORES playoffs. The championship game is under the lights. The players get their names announced and stand in line while the national anthem plays. I wanted this experience so badly for my team.
I can clearly remember from my playing days the thrill of a game under the lights in the cold, inhaling the crisp air, your breath popping out in little clouds. My focus on making the championship had caused me to lose sight of the bigger picture.
In addition to working with Lincoln, I am the DC SCORES staff lead at seven other schools. In this role, I provide support for coaches at the schools. One such school is Raymond. About a month before the game, I had attended a Raymond poetry session and got to know some of the girls we were facing off against in the game.
One of them yelled my name in the middle of the game, “Hey Zach! I remember you from poetry!” She had a huge smile on her face. I remembered her, too. She had sat next to me and spoke about how poetry classes inspired her to dream big dreams for her future.
Everything changed for me immediately. She brought me back to the big picture. She reminded me that this game was important because it allowed all the girls on the field to live in the moment. It allowed them to experience competition, teamwork, and friendship, winning and losing. It helped them find confidence and embrace hard work. Most of all, it allowed them to have fun.
At halftime, I sat the girls down and reminded them that there would be another season in the spring and that we would continue to practice throughout the winter. I reminded them of the spring Jamboree! tournament, and that there was a lot more soccer to be played. I reminded them to just go out on the field and to try their best and have a good time.
In the middle of the second half, Jossellyn A., an eighth-grader on my team, received a pass across the middle. The ball was bouncing toward her and she picked it out of the air with her foot, striking it solidly toward the net. The ball whizzed toward the right upper 90 of the net.
It missed by a centimeter and grazed the outside of the post. Still, an amazing volley!
The girls had a few more chances to score but we weren’t able to get one in. We tied Raymond. And it wasn’t bad at all. The girls had played hard. I told them I was proud of them and made sure everyone knew to be ready for a practice next week. More soccer was to come and the Poetry Slam! was only a week away!
I have found it difficult to make a lot of the kids realize the Poetry Slam! is actually a real thing. The fact that it only happens once keeps the reality of the performance out of their minds.
But after the last two poetry classes, they are beginning to understand. We have been working on enunciation, stage presence, tempo, memorization and volume.
Keeping it fun is the key. For most of them, it will be their first time under the bright lights on a stage. Even though they don’t know it yet, they will be nervous. For my team, it is easiest to equate the Poetry Slam! to a soccer game.
I ask them questions like, “What is your body posture when you walk out on the soccer field?” They respond, “I feel proud.” “I run fast.” “I keep my head up.”
I ask, “Is it important to work together on the field?” They respond, “Yes, of course. When we work together, we win.”
I ask them, “Why is it important to look organized during warm-ups?” They respond, “Because we don’t wanna look like clowns.”
It all translates to the Poetry Slam!. Entering and exiting the stage together; standing tall with your hands out of your pockets and your eyes looking forward; supporting your teammates and encouraging them to give it their best shot.
Madeline G. is an eighth-grader at Lincoln who has been in DC SCORES for three years. Since the first day of poetry in September, she has shown a remarkable knack for writing touching and deep poems out of thin air. Her language and ideas are those of a 13-year-old going on 30. She will perform a solo poem as part of our performance. I can’t wait to see her shine on the stage.
We have limited practice time left and we will have to utilize every second of it in order to make the Dec. 3 Slam! in our auditorium a success. I have full faith in the team and I can’t wait to see them up on that stage.