Up2Us’s Coach Across America (CAA) program believes that introducing sports to kids before 4th grade can help stop poverty. Two of the program’s executive directors are former soccer coaches, and wanted to bring the sport to at-risk kids in inner city Chicago–hoping its uniqueness would be a draw. As one of CAA’s coaches, Travis Moore-Murray was the perfect man for the job. Like the kids he coaches, Travis grew up in a poor Chicago neighborhood, and never played soccer in school. In fact, he never played any sports, and by high school, was on his way to becoming a statistic in the bleak cycle of poverty. His junior year, he decided to give football a try, and suddenly, everything changed. Travis’s love for the game brought a new respect for “showing up” (his catchphrase) and meeting the academic requirements for playing on his school’s team–and gave him the skills to motivate and work with his fellow teammates.
Travis has dedicated his life to giving back to a new generation of kids by coaching through CAA. He’s a perfect spokesperson for the spirit of National Sports America Kids Month (June), and took time out of his busy schedule to give us some heartfelt perspective about coaching, kids, and sports.
How do you define a good team player?
First of all, it has to be about understanding your strengths and your role on the team–what you have to offer, and how you can help each other. Not every team member is going to be able to strike the ball the hardest. Also, maintain respect for your team, and your opponents. Appreciate them, because we’re all out there together. I have some great kids that can coach as well as I do because they’re out there encouraging the other kids, being level headed. Kids who understand that you’ve got to have fun.
What makes a good coach?
Different coaches bring their own personalities to the game. I like to have fun, be silly. I put myself in the game, and I come up with weird or goofy celebrations when someone scores. Even if they’re on the opposite team! Also, you have to have an investment in the kids, understand their issues, their family life. And especially with coaching youth, it’s extremely important to have a relationship with the parents. Reach out and let them know what their child is doing, that their child is important to the team. Parents should be involved.
What’s your biggest challenge as a coach?
One of my biggest challenges is peer pressure. Because soccer is new to many of these kids, it’s not considered “cool” to play. I’ll find some of my players heading home instead of going to practice, and they’ll tell me that their older brothers or friends told them not to play. Usually, I try to reach out to those older kids and invite them to come play, coach, or just watch, and then they see how cool soccer really is. Some of them are staying up late to watch international soccer games on TV—so I have to tell them to get their sleep!
Another challenge is with parents—I have some who are really competitive and focused on skill. But we don’t separate kids based on talent—we take everyone who wants to play. Because I’m coaching 4th grade and under, I just want them to be active, running around, having fun. With soccer, almost all kids develop as they play. For us, we score when a kid has fun. And research shows if you don’t grab a kid’s interest for afterschool activities before 5th grade, they’re less likely to do them going forward. I feel like this is our only shot—so it has to be good.
Have a favorite success story to share?
Hmm, that’s hard—they change every other week! My favorite one right now: there’s one kid–he was definitely the heaviest kid on my team–whenever I tried to get him to warm up, do cardio, laps, it was always a huge struggle. He’s a really smart kid, and he’d always try to talk his way out of doing anything strenuous—like why he shouldn’t have to run because he has asthma–just trying to get him committed was a constant battle. Over the course the season, he’s become my most committed player. Now he brags about running extra laps, about how he’s making his mom buy healthier food. He just won our award for Most Improved Player, and when we made the announcement, I kind of got choked up. Afterward, he came up and gave me a hug, and I told him how proud I was. Later, his teacher told me since this kid started playing soccer his grades had gone up, he was more focused. That just made me feel so good–like I really made an impact.
Inspired by Travis’s story? You can help him continue to make his impact by giving to his CAA fundraising campaign. 100% of your gift will go directly to CAA to fund support for more coaches; in return, you’ll get a story about the coach you help. Give here!