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Creating Fit Bodies and Fit Minds

by Paul Caccamo

For too many years we have addressed the equation of “fit body and fit minds” as requiring two separate interventions. For the mind, we’ve looked toward mentoring. For the body, we’ve turned to physical activity and health education. But our AmeriCorps investment proves that a national service member can be the catalyst to fit bodies and fit minds. Our formula has been to train our AmeriCorps members on how to use the power of coaching to build relationships with at-risk youth that inspire their healthy futures.  

A Coach Across America instructor works with two girls on their soccer skills.Up2Us launched Coach Across America through an AmeriCorps grant in 2009. It is a groundbreaking movement that challenges young adults to spend a year of service as coaches in sports-based youth development organizations in the most underserved communities in America.

Our definition of coach goes beyond just the sports aspect. Our coach is a mentor who understands that the life skills taught through sports can propel children to stay in school, exercise regularly, and set positive goals for their future.

As I’ve traveled the nation, I’ve seen the power of AmeriCorps through Coach Across America.  

  • A swimming coach who challenged a teenage male who was tough enough to carry a guy but too scared to jump in the deep end of the pool. She didn’t give up on him where others did. Three years later, this same boy is a swimmer and making plans for college.
  • A dance coach who challenges young girls that their body image should not define their self-worth. Two years later, these girls are performing their dances in public. They are more athletically fit, and no boy can mess with their self-esteem.
  • A rugby coach who walks into one of the most poorly performing schools in his district. A year later, he has a team of rugby players who meet every day after school to play a sport that none of them had ever heard of and to set academic goals that none of them believed possible.

Stories like these demonstrate that a “fit body and a fit mind” are deeply dependent on one another, and recent research is providing the scientific proof. Numerous studies in the last few years show that kids who are physically active develop brain cells more rapidly than kids who are inactive. What’s more, many of these studies have found that these cells develop in the parts of the brain responsible for on-task behavior, self-discipline, and cognitive reasoning.

The translation is simple—a healthy body is critical to a healthy mind.

And our intervention is simple, too. A trained workforce of AmeriCorps members coaching kids can truly lead to the ultimate outcome of this equation: Fit Body = Fit Mind = Children who can reach their fullest potential.

Happy 20th Birthday AmeriCorps! Thanks for continuing to be a catalyst of innovation.

Paul Caccamo is the Executive Director of Up2Us, a national AmeriCorps grantee. March has been designated Healthy Futures month for the AmeriCorps 20th Anniversary celebration. To learn more about the celebration, visit the AmeriCorps 20th Anniversary portal.

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