Helping People

Coaches teach kids life lessons

Eighth grader Samiyah Stanley tries to prevent seventh grader Junique Huggins from passing her during a fierce game of "extreme kickball."
Eighth grader Samiyah Stanley tries to prevent seventh grader Junique Huggins from passing her during a fierce game of "extreme kickball."

With pro teams in each of the four major sports, the popularity of high school sports and the sunny weather, amateur and youth sports programs are huge in South Florida.

Many of these programs develop through the school system, parks and service organizations. Now a new group is banking on training coaches to work with children from low-income and underserved communities.

Up2Us Sports hopes to become a household name and spread the word about a technique it calls sports-based youth development, which pairs sports training with life skills and mental-health development.

The program began in 2010 and has since expanded with the Coach Across America program, which trains coaches to work with students from less-privileged backgrounds. The organization is headquartered in New York City and has hubs in New Orleans, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, and has been active in South Florida for about two years.

Founder Paul Caccamo has worked in the nonprofit world for more than two decades and said that Up2Us’s goal is to take sports and find a creative way to address children’s issues. He considers the experiences some children face in poor and crime-filled neighborhoods to be a form of trauma.

“There’s a trauma divide in this country, and it’s really a consequence of the economic divide,” Caccamo said. “And we know that sports is one of the greatest tools for engaging kids.”

The organization has developed partnerships with 1,300 organizations across the country and has received support from the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, Mercedez-Benz, Nike and the Corporation for National and Community Service. Up2Us Sports works with about 50 organizations in South Florida, from Homestead to Miami Gardens. They plan to expand to Tampa with help from the Humana Foundation.

German DuBois, the regional manager for Miami, said the support and donations have been valuable. The organization has about 35 coaches operating in the area.

“There’s too many kids that have such a need, and South Florida has such an incredible youth sports culture,” DuBois said.

Up2Us Sports has already partnered with the Miami Marlins and Miami Heat on coach training initiatives and works with groups like the Boys and Girls Club and Big Brother Big Sisters. Locally, they also work with organizations like the Overtown Youth Center.

Every child has a story, and you can never get tired of hearing what they face and how coaches have changed that.

German DuBois, Up2Us Sports regional director for Miami

On a recent weekday, hundreds of kids packed into the center to do homework, learn computer coding skills and play. The kids played “extreme kickball”—a mix of kickball and dodgeball—as coaches supervised. Even when frustrated kids complained about being called out, coaches remained calm and kept the children engaged.

Caccamo said that’s the main goal of the training, to help coaches deal with kids and whatever baggage they may bring onto the field or the court.

“A kid will be violent in one of our programs, a kid will run away, but the focus for us is how does a coach change that dynamic?” Caccamo said. “If they do fight, the coach knows how to calm them down.”

And hiring local coaches goes a long way in helping them understand the children, Caccamo said. The Coach Across America component of Up2Us places an emphasis on hiring coaches that grew up in the same neighborhoods as the kids.

“We said let’s build this with young people who need jobs, know sports and know their communities,” Caccamo said.

That’s already happened at the Overtown Youth Center, where coaches like Anthony Owens, a Miami-Dade College student who oversees the computer lab and teaches coding classes, have been given their first opportunity to work with children.

“I’m teaching them a valuable skill they can use in the real world, and hopefully they’ll want to pursue a career in technology,” Owens said.

Caccamo hopes that hiring local coaches can be part of the model nationwide and that sports-based youth development will become the norm from church softball teams to Pop Warner football.

The company also hopes to continue partnering with sports franchises and organizations to help develop not just the next sports star, but the next successful entrepreneur.

“If we took a fraction of the dollars profited in sports and put it toward character development and partnered up with organizations like Up2Us Sports, just imagine the impact we could have,” DuBois said.

Getting involved

Up2Us Sports:,