I woke up the Monday morning of L.A.C.E.S. Soccer Camp week, hesitant about what to expect. As I drove to the Fields at RFK Stadium, nerves emerged and I felt unprepared, despite the countless hours of preparation I had done leading up to this day. The nerves subsided a little when I arrived and began to set up the equipment. Finally, coaches and volunteers trickled in and we awaited the arrival of the campers. Soon after, a big yellow school bus arrived and 43 excited kids spilled out of the front doors. As soon as I saw their smiling faces, I relaxed and decided to trust the process and adapt to challenges that would soon arrive.
As this summer’s Youth Refugee Program Intern, my internship journey focused largely on soccer camp. Preparation for camp included many different steps that began in June. My first task was to reach out to local grocery stores and ask for donations. I had never done a task like this before, but to my surprise, it was more straightforward than what I was expecting. While some stores required a phone call or in person visit, most of them only required me to fill out a form with L.A.C.E.S. information and also asked how much I was requesting for my donation. I was able to obtain a $100 gift card that would go towards providing water bottles for the kids at camp.
My next step for camp was registration. This was one of my favorite parts. I had the opportunity to travel to the Refugee families houses and meet them for the first time. The first visit to the apartment complex began with a donation drive of soccer jerseys, shoes, and balls. I then went to each family’s individual apartment and had the opportunity to talk to parents and siblings and share information about camp. While visiting the families, I heard amazing stories and experienced the abundant amount of generosity they had to give. I went back for a second visit a week later to obtain any left-over registration forms and to remind the families of the start of camp.
Next, we held a coach and volunteer orientation the Thursday before the beginning of camp. Leading up to orientation, I crafted and updated the coaches guide and camp schedule. During orientation, we talked to all of the coaches and volunteers and explained how camp was going to work. This provided me the opportunity to put names to faces of the coaches and get an idea of the personalities we were going to be working with.
My Week at Camp!
Each and every day of camp looked a little different and after each day, I was able to plan and adapt for the next day. Monday taught me a lot. It was a long and difficult day. I went home after the day and jumped on a conference call to debrief and plan for Tuesday. I learned a lot from Monday which helped the rest of the week go more smoothly. My favorite day of camp was probably Friday. Unlike the rest of the week, where we followed a schedule with drills for the majority of the day and a scrimmage at the end, Friday was a full tournament day. We ran two different tournaments, one with the older kids and one with the younger kids. The tournament with the older kids consisted of three teams and was a three versus three round robin. The tournament with the younger group was a five versus five bracket tournament consisting of four teams. While the other four days of camp consisted of a girls only team, we decided to merge the girls with the boys and distribute them evenly amongst the bracket tournament. I loved seeing the empowerment of the girls when they played with the boys. Their excitement and determination excelled as they played as vigorously as the boys did.
While camp was filled with many highlights, there were also many challenges. One day we were missing around four coaches for various reasons, and we had to quickly come up with a solution on Wednesday night. We ended up finding three generous volunteers to help coach and also moved around some of our other coaches. The challenge ended up being one of the smoothest days of camp and that would not have been possible if it weren’t for the amazing coaches and their ability to adapt to change. I also learned how to resolve conflict among the kids and quickly switch plans depending on how the kids were acting.
There is no denying that camp was exhausting. However, I still had an incredible experience. I saw all of my hard work go into action and I was able to learn new leadership and management skills and develop new relationships with the kids. On the last day of camp, one of the kids came up to me with a sharpie and asked me to sign his t-shirt. That small act, as cheesy as it sounds, made me feel as though my hard work paid off and that I had made an impact on these kids. After reflecting on the week, I learned that no matter how tired I am and no matter how annoyed I get, I will still make room to help others and make sure everything goes smoothly.