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On International Day of the Girl, Nike and its Partners are Helping to Make Leadership a Daily Practice

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The America SCORES New York Coaching for Change Academy gives young girls like Karla (far left) the opportunity to coach and mentor kids in their communities. The curriculum is taught virtually, so members of the inaugural cohort like Makeba (far right) are able to learn firsthand the nuances of leadership in a digital space.

In 2020, the International Day of the Girl celebrates young girls seeing themselves as generational changemakers. If they view themselves as leaders who are able to improve their communities, they feel holistically empowered to lead in all areas of their lives.

In sports, coaches are often the change-making leaders behind a team’s success. But if young girls are the next generation of coaches, they need to learn how to be leaders now. Leadership development is as deliberate as training is for an athlete. Whether through a league partnership like Game Growers in the U.S., an athlete-led vision like the AntetokounBros Academy in Greece or in forums like the Gurls Talk x Made To Play Fund across EMEA, Nike believes that effective leaders don’t simply wing it. They’re taught to have a plan.

In helping young girls believe in themselves as changemakers, Nike's Made to Play commitment works alongside its partners to educate leaders about what girls need, and, at the same time, what’s needed universally for a better, more equitable world.  

“International Day of the Girl is a moment to highlight what girls around the world need and deserve,” says Jorge Casimiro, Chief Social and Community Impact Officer, NIKE, Inc. “Girls face unique and ongoing barriers to play, but they’re reimagining what sport can be for themselves.”

“International Day of the Girl is a moment to highlight what girls around the world need and deserve. Girls face unique and ongoing barriers to play, but they’re reimagining what sport can be for themselves.”

Jorge Casimiro, Chief Social and Community Impact Officer, NIKE, Inc.

That’s partly why the leader development program with America SCORES New York (ASNY) — a 20-year-old organization for youth in under-resourced communities that combines soccer, writing and service learning — came at a perfect time this year.

In August, as COVID-19 shaped what modern work and play would look like, ASNY employed a cohort of 20 young adults, 10 of them young girls, through the Coaching for Change Academy. The year-long, virtual program is designed to teach New York City high school students about leadership and mentorship to help fill in the coaching gaps that their communities need, especially once pandemic restrictions are lifted across the city. The young girls selected embody a commitment to bring a positive impact to their communities.

“We asked ourselves, how can we create a safe environment for girls to grow a relationship with sport that they return to as coaches? We knew one answer to this was creating a leadership platform for them,” says Zahkiya Brown, the high school director for ASNY. “Once young women and girls step into this intersection between leadership and sport, it no longer becomes a ‘girls’ thing or a ‘boys’ thing. It becomes a ‘we’ thing.”

More ways Nike drives gender equity through its partnerships:

•    Through a partnership with Laureus Foundation Sport for Good Italy, Nike emphasizes equal representation in girls and female coaches in programs funded in Milan.
•    PLAY International’s PlayLab in France reinvented games to include new rules, like the rotation of the role of captain between boys and girls, to give girls an opportunity to make their voices heard.
•    Mini Mermaid Running Club UK, a recipient of Nike London’s Community Impact Fund, offers running groups and mindfulness training to give girls the confidence to become future leaders.
•    Nike and We Coach, along with additional support from Youth Sport Trust, created the Made to Play Coaching Girls Guide to equip all coaches with tools to remove barriers to sport that are specific to girls.

The leadership curriculum from ASNY is rooted in the organization’s three pillars: play, poetry and service. Kids meet three times a week to play on neighborhood soccer teams (ASNY currently works in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Harlem, Inwood and Washington Heights). They participate in weekly writing workshops to develop literacy skills and practice self-expression, and they regularly complete team service projects in their communities, like park beautification.

Additional to the Coaching for Change Academy, says Brown, is giving girls the education to be confident as leaders, equipping them practically, emotionally and relationally. Some of the training sessions are introspective. Brown asks the kids to consider: What are my most important personal values? What are my gifts? What kind of stressors are common for the kids in my community? Other lessons are straight pedagogy. Recently, the cohort was taught how to create a lesson plan. Next, the young leaders will be paired with a mentor coach and will start facilitating virtual poetry workshops, putting what they’ve learned into practice.

ASNY prioritizes the legitimacy of the training. Another priority is to get young girls to see leadership as an everyday habit.

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Here's Karla, on leadership:
“Honestly, I never thought of myself as a coach. When I attended a leader training session earlier this year, we learned basically how to communicate with young kids. Me being an older sister, I realized, I pretty much communicate with my brothers all the time. I need to teach them new things, so I have to know how to be a better role model. Now, I get to learn how to be a role model to other kids in my community.”

When Karla, a 16-year-old coach from the Bronx, arrived for her first session in the Coaching for Change Academy, the idea of being a changemaker seemed too big. She learned over time how coaching doesn’t happen only on the sidelines of a televised game. It happens in small, daily moments.

This intangible benchmark for ASNY — helping girls see coaching not as a vocation, but as a trained mindset — is one step toward a wonderfully tangible result: a girl’s confident voice, boldly leading her community in a healthier direction. A young girl’s relationship to sport will change over time. But her voice is her constant, and her right.

“It’s not just when these girls are on a soccer pitch when they have the right to speak about themselves positively, and speak up for what they believe in,” says Brown. “They are coaches for life.”

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