July 9, 2013
PITTSBURGH - NCAA student-athletes are role models in their communities, but two members of the University of Pittsburgh's women's swimming and diving team have the opportunity to become leaders on a whole different stage. Sophomore diver Alec Sheaffer and sophomore swimmer Dani des Tombe are both taking part in the "Coach for College" program this summer.
"Coach for College" is a program that places NCAA athletes in Vietnam villages for three weeks with middle school students, teaching sports as well as giving lessons in biology, physics, and English. The program was started in the summer of 2008 by Parker Goyer, a former women's tennis player at Duke University. The pilot program in 2008 took 20 students from Duke and North Carolina to Vietnam to teach 6-9th graders and stress to them the importance of learning and pursuing an education. Though these two schools have a storied and bitter rivalry, they worked together when charged with teaching some of Vietnam's youth, a task that extends far beyond athletic competition.
The program was started exclusively for schools in the ACC. In the summer of 2011, 64 total athletes from all 12 ACC institutions took part in "Coach for College". As of this summer, the program has expanded beyond just the Atlantic Coast Conference, with two Ohio State University athletes representing the Big Ten.
The goals of the "Coach for College" program are two-fold. The first aspect is to encourage young students to pursue higher education, and sport is used to generate excitement about learning. The second part of the program's mission is to encourage student-athletes to pursue opportunities outside of sport and broaden their academic and personal horizons. "If you focus on one thing for so long, you may not know you have other talents. We're trying to show students how their skills can transfer to other arenas of life," Goyer said of the program.
Alec Sheaffer has already returned from her three week stint in Vietnam, in which she taught baseball on the field and health in the classroom. She is a rehab science major, and her experiences through "Coach for College" have instilled in her a new career goal. "I was thinking about doing physical therapy, and I still want to do something similar, but now more related to kids, especially after my experience," she said. "It was an eye-opening experience for sure. It was something out of the ordinary because, as a student-athlete, you don't get many opportunities to do stuff like this because we have such a busy schedule."
The "Coach for College" program puts together two American athletes, two bilingual Vietnamese college students and one older high school student who previously participated in the program, and places them in charge of a group of Vietnamese students. The American student-athletes participate in the camp as coaches in their first year, and one of them can return for a second year as the camp director. Sheaffer had an "awesome" experience and thinks she might return for a second year next summer. "I was really close with my director," she said. "I want to more coaching and other stuff like that, so I am definitely considering becoming a camp director."
Sheaffer's experience earlier this summer paves the way for Dani des Tombe, who has yet to depart for Vietnam. des Tombe is a business major going to teach soccer and health for "Coach for College," and is extremely excited to be a part of the program. "This opportunity teaches you and makes you more aware of what is going on," des Tombe said. "Sometimes we just get so caught up in our daily lives and I feel like this program will help give me some perspective about what I have. It is a really great opportunity for me to learn and build as a person and develop my leadership skills."
The opportunity that both Sheaffer and des Tombe have, and will have gained, is a big deal for many student-athletes who do not have time to study abroad or do substantive community service because of their busy practice and training schedules.
"It is just three weeks long, so it's not too long to be away from your school," des Tombe said. She added, laughing, "I do have exercises that I will be doing down there to maintain my physical shape, so the whole thing is just perfect."