When you grow up playing sports with your four brothers, you learn to be tough. At least that’s the way it worked out for Alondra Almeida, a third-year Playworks AmeriCorps Coach who’s known as Coach Lahni.
“It helped me not to give up, not to quit, and it also taught me a lot of patience,” Lahni says. “I learned early on the value of taking turns, that even though I was the only girl, it didn’t mean I got to go first. I earned respect from my brothers playing sports. I learned I could demand respect from anybody, just because of my childhood with boys.”
Lahni went on to become a scholar-athlete. She played soccer in college, and she still plays in club soccer leagues and tournaments. As a Playworks AmeriCorps Coach currently serving at Jefferson Elementary School in Lennox, Lahni uses her experiences to help girls feel confident when they’re playing sports. The first step, she says, is teaching girls some of the basic skills of the game.
“With girls, they don’t want to be embarrassed in front of a crowd if they don’t know how to do something.
So I think having developmental leagues is a perfect opportunity to really push those girls to be more active and put themselves out there. When they do join developmental leagues, I see a higher percentage of interactions on the playground during recess time.”
Lahni coached two co-ed soccer teams in Santa Ana in her two previous years as a Playworks Coach. Last fall, she coached a girls basketball team at Jefferson Elementary. At first, many girls were reluctant to join because they didn’t know how to play. But Lahni was able to recruit a full team, and each week she focused on teaching the girls a different fundamental skill. It worked—now that league play is over, Lahni sees more girls playing basketball at recess.
She remembers one girl in particular who often sat on the sidelines at recess. By the end of the basketball league, things had changed for the 5th grader as she started shooting hoops during recess.
“I saw her confidence coming out. She wasn’t giving up, even though she might be the only girl who was playing with the boys. That helped her be more open to trying other sports at recess time. Seeing her now, it’s a huge difference, from standing off in the corner watching everyone else play to being fully engaged in various activities during recess time.”
It’s this kind of impact on the kids she works with that has led Lahni to serve as a Playworks Coach for three years. It’s a bonus when her job lets her be active and use her lifelong love of sports, but just being around kids is something she finds “empowering.” And bottom line, Lahni says, “At the end of the day, you feel good. You’re helping the community, but you’re also helping yourself grow and learn.”
Interested in Becoming a Playworks AmeriCorps Coach?