On a recent rainy afternoon, students at Samuel J. Green Charter School got their first taste of an unfamiliar sport, rugby, and a dose of one tried-and-true youth development tool, coaching. Nick Conte, a youth coach with the New Orleans Rugby Foundation, showed the students how to run with a rugby ball and evade tacklers during an introductory session at their Uptown school. But for students who continue with this and other sports programs supported by a new initiative called Coach Across America, the lessons delivered by their coaches extend far beyond the sports field.

On the same afternoon, international sports heroes and local youth development leaders gathered at Green Charter School to introduce Coach Across America, which is placing 26 coaches in 11 New Orleans after-school programs, from basketball and tennis to football and rugby, for children in neighborhoods around town.
“Unless we give our kids a coach, we are not doing right by them. Every kid needs a coach in their lives,” says Paul Caccamo, founder of Coach Across America. “This is the most important message: You can’t address health, you can’t address violence, you can’t address education – unless you give kids a chance to join a team and learn the values of teamwork and confidence and determination and making the right decisions every day.”

Coach Across America recruits and trains recent college grads to become coaches. The program works to counter budget cuts nationwide that have reduced after-school sports programs, which are widely credited with helping keep youth on track and out of trouble. This year, New Orleans was chosen as one of five cities to expand the program, which is supported by the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation. Mercedes-Benz USA in turn helps fund Laureus, making the program possible.  

Among the sports stars gathered by Laureus to introduce the program were Olympic medal-winning track star Edwin Moses, championship windsurfer Robby Naish, former top-ranked tennis pro Monica Seles and running back Marcus Allen, a two-time Super Bowl MVP.
“We see sports as an agent of social change,” Moses told students. “We’re not saying we’re going to make everyone a superstar. We’re saying that sports creates a legacy of motivation, of caring, of diligence and hard work. We think that’s the impact of sports.”