Caitlin Barrett – Up2Us Sports Director of Training

Caitlin Barret from Up2Us Sports

Caitlin Barrett, Director of Training at Up2Us Sports, came to Storrs to speak on a panel for our Intro to Sport Based Youth Development course. Caitlin has been with Up2Us Sports since 2010, and has watched the organization grow and evolve to address the needs of youth serving sport programs across the nation. We took the opportunity to hear about her work with Up2Us Sports, their approach trauma sensitive coach development, and her experience with AmeriCorps.

“We got our non profit status in 2010, so we are about 7 years old at this point. It started as an opportunity to bring together folks that were doing work that was related to both sport and youth development. Our founder/CEO Paul Caccamo and our CPO Megan Bartlett went on a national listening tour to figure out what people and programs wanted, what they needed. On that tour they heard (1) we need more coaches, (2) they need to be better trained, because only about 10% of youth sport coaches get any sort of training in this country, and (3) there needs to be more opportunities for networking and best practice sharing. Our existence at Up2Us Sports is based on our being helpful to people who are actually serving kids. We have remained clear and committed to the three main themes that we heard, those gaps guide our work to this day. We place coaches through our national service programs, we train coaches, both in our national service program and at external organizations. and we provide a variety of opportunities on the regional and national levels for organizations who are doing this work to interact with each other.”

“We work entirely in underserved communities where young people and families usually have to undergo more than their fair share of trauma and toxic stress. Up2Us Sports has been pushing the envelope when it comes to trauma sensitive coach training, stemming from the understanding that young people are bringing all of their experiences, just as we all do, to programs on a daily basis. Our brains change when we experience things that are really scary and horrible. Day-to-day poverty, exposure to violence, micro-aggressions around racism and homophobia, all of those things have the potential to change the way our brains work. When a young person brings that to a program, their behavior is going to be impacted. At the same time, sport has every single thing going for it that would make it a healing environment. It has this caring adult, which is hugely important; it has a peer support network from the team, which is also core to healing; and it has this bodywork. Sport has this element of body movement which we know is so powerful for healing. For that same reason things like theater and yoga have gotten pushed to the forefront when it comes to holistic healing.”

“When I tell coaches ‘sport can be healing’ I often get ‘nope, not a thing’ in response. I understand that initial reaction: sport is loud, people are yelling at you, it is high stakes. But there are so many ways to reframe those potential challenges. We can look at sport as a practiced high stakes environment. We are creating a controlled environment where the feedback loop is actually very short, if you make a bad pass it’s not the be all, end all, right. But if you make a wrong decision in your life it could be the difference between staying on the right path and, like the stories some of our coaches share, going to jail or being dead. We are helping coaches see themselves as the first line in a mental health care system, in a healing system. Not every kid needs therapy and clinical care; a lot of kids need a program, they need a really strong program with a well trained coach and great teammates.”

“The AmeriCorps City Year program was both the hardest thing I have ever done and the greatest thing I’ve ever done. I feel like I saw the world for the first time, or at least a new version of the world. With AmeriCorps, I got to do a lot of different things as I worked with and for people who were not like me. That experience allowed me to identify things that I really loved and then develop the skills I needed over time with great mentoring and management. But I think the most important aspect was just going to work everyday in a place that wasn't like where I grew up and with people that taught me so many things every single day.”

“At Up2Us Sports, we are operating in a world where sport has the power to be a change agent. I think a lot of people are starting to ask how sport brings people together in a time and a world where sometimes it seems like people are pulling apart. So many of us got into this work through a social justice frame. You can't spend time in communities that have been systematically denied so many opportunities without developing a social justice lens. I think that sport provides so many different outlets and benefits. Even if it is just community. People like sports. People gather for basketball games, they gather to watch soccer in the park, they gather to watch sport on TV. We try to make sure that those opportunities are accessible for young people outside of what they might see on TV. We are thinking about truly under represented populations. Kids who bring physical and intellectual disabilities to the table, girls, period, full stop, young people who are growing up without monetary resources. There are a lot of barriers, we are committed  to breaking down these barriers in partnership with organizations in these communities.”