I am honored and humbled to receive the Champions of Change award and to be in the prestigious company of so many amazing Americans. Building a country that truly reflects the American dream is going to take a movement, a Corps if you will, of committed and passionate people working in concert to end the health and educational disparities that exist in our country. I volunteer with Coaching Corps because our laser focus is on increasing the physical, emotional and social health for the kids who need it most.
I was fortunate growing up. My family ensured I was exposed to a myriad of opportunities that shaped the content of my character and of my life. This was particularly true when it came to sports. By the time I was four years old, I knew how to swim and was actively playing soccer and baseball. Those early years of sports activities, and the committed and caring coaches I was lucky enough to have, taught me important life skills that I carried with me off of the field and into my life.
I was sixteen years old and was sitting down staring up at my coach, Matt. I was on a soccer team that had a wealth of talent, but was struggling to get a win. I always had a deep admiration for Matt; he was a peer in times of laughter or sadness, and a role model who commanded respect in times of difficulty and adversity. We just finished warming up to play the first place team. Matt asked us to look into ourselves and consider the effort we had put into the team in recent weeks and decide whether we had done enough. I felt confident I had done my part. Then, he asked us to look to the player beside us and, again, determine whether that effort was enough. With the face of my teammate demanding honesty, I now felt that I had fallen short of the mark. He said, “Now imagine the face you are looking at is the face of your future wife or child? Would the effort you invested be enough to support them? As a man, at the end of every day, you will ask yourself: ‘Did I do enough?’ The answer will always affect more than just you. Being able to live and succeed with the knowledge that others are depending on you is what it means to be a man.’”
Matt’s words are always on my mind and I know that sports offer the kids Coaching Corps reaches not only health and fitness, but also an experience that broadens thought far outside the boundaries of the playing field; an education that improves esteem and enhances personal beliefs to ensure the lessons learned will be remembered and shared in the future. Coaches like Matt made me realize that I wanted to serve kids, give back to my community and make the world just a little bit brighter and better for future generations.
The chance to become the friend, support system, and role model my coaches were for me to kids who are economically denied the opportunity to play sports with quality coachesis ultimately why I joined Coaching Corps. We are a growing group of volunteers who bridge the gap between those that have and those that don’t have access to quality youth sports programming. We are passionate college students, serving in after-school programs working with low-income girls and boys. I love being a part of this movement. I love giving back to the community. I love impacting lives and shaping futures.
Three days a week I am lucky enough to head to Palms Middle School to work with 150 girls and boys who are hungry for the game and for living. We spend our afternoons orchestrating drills and practices that get kids out of their seats, into the sun with bodies moving and hearts pumping. It is easily my favorite part of the day. And while I am absolutely teaching them the skills they need to play the game, I am also using every practice to teach lessons like teamwork, discipline and how to push yourself past your own expectations. I am rewarded by watching my players take these lessons home with them into their communities, into their classrooms, and throughout their lives.
When I am coaching my kids, I am reminded of my childhood days; games, tournaments, practices, teammates, laughter, and hard-work. Coaching is about so much more than preparing my players for an upcoming game; coaching is about arming them with the tools they will need to face the ups and downs of life. It’s about the connection that I make with each of my kids. At this critical juncture in their lives, it is so important that they know there is an adult that believes in them, cares about them, supports them, challenges them, and expects them to be the best that they can be. Not just in practice but at every point of their lives.
This is why I'm starting a Coaching Corps chapter at UCLA to find more volunteers like me. I am dedicated to seeing more kids win and I don’t mean win in the traditional sense of the word. For me, and for Coaching Corps, winning means that kids are improving their health and fitness, living up to the potential that exists within them, working well with others, nurturing their bodies and respecting and cherishing their communities and fulfilling not the prophecies others may have for them but going beyond that and beyond their wildest dreams. For every Coaching Corps coach I recruit, the lives of a dozen girls and boys are transformed. Imagine a world where thousands of like-minded people are committed to coaching our kids. The collective impact would mean that all kids, regardless of where they live or what they look like, would grow up living happy, successful, healthy and active lives. That is the kind of world I want to live in. That is the promise of America. It is up to every single one of us to fulfill it.
Cameron Hajialiakbar is the founder and president of the UCLA chapter of Coaching Corps.