For PeacePlayers Brooklyn’s Coach Matt, mentorship has meant so much more than just showing up. Despite only just settling into his role as a Program Manager, he’s already made some huge waves in the lives of his participants, especially the young black men that he’s become a mentor, and a brother to. For Coach Matt, mentoring means really seeing these young men, and tailoring his approach to make himself just the kind of mentor they need.“I wanted to get our youth comfortable with being youth leaders, using their voice and becoming confident and not only in themselves, but in what they can do for the community, for others.”
Introducing career readiness programming in a formal capacity in 2022 meant not only providing youth the opportunity to get work experience, but also to live into PeacePlayers’ core values and to go deeper. The team in Brooklyn was keen on ensuring that the youth coaches in this position would be able to understand the weight of their shift from participant to employee.
While it was Coach Matt’s first experience training, he knew he had to keep things dynamic to best benefit the young people he was working with.
Giving young people the space to try things on seems to be consistent in Matt’s approach as not only a coach but as a mentor as well.
This approach really paid off for Matt and the relationships he was able to build
with the youth coaches. Two participants in particular seemed to gravitate towards his coaching style, as did he to their curiosity: Javonn and Sharron.
“From the very first time meeting Javonn, I quickly saw just how much potential he has, like how unafraid to speak he is. He’s, you know, confident. He’s the one that will volunteer to speak or volunteer to go first. So that always made a strong impression on me.”
“Sharron and me really, really clicked, and I think I’ve been more of a mentor for him in a personal way more than maybe just a professional [way]. Over the summer, a few times, Javonn and Sharon, they would come in for private runs with me, like my weekly runs that I would go to and play. So that was a great time for us to, you know, to just kind of hang out and play ball together where it wasn’t the typical dynamic of me being Coach Matt, and them being my kids. We were teammates.
“They also got an opportunity to meet some of my close friends and some of my
past athletes that I’ve coached. And like these are some kids that have been where they want to go, like some that have played college ball already. So they were able to speak to them and, you know, shed some light on their journey and experiences.
“One of the nights [Sharron] came to one of the runs – and like they always select like a player of the night. And so [Sharron] saw that I had got player of the night a couple of times. He was like, ‘Yo, like, I’m going to get player of the night tonight’. I’m like, I hear you, make it happen. And when he came, we ended up getting player of the night together.
Matt’s expression of mentorship doesn’t simply stop with Javonn and Sharron, however. When he met Omarion, he was adamant about learning more about Omarion’s interests and determining how he could use his resources to position this particular young person for success. “He made a strong impression on me because Omarion was always quick to volunteer…definitely a model participant, you know, like he’s definitely the kid you want around all the other kids. And I remember once I realized that Omarion was one of our alum and kind of transitioning out of the Leadership Development Program, I had a conversation with him and I was just asking like, ‘What’s next?”
And that’s when the lightbulb went off. Before this point, Omarion wasn’t sure what he wanted next in life. But what he was sure of was his interest in fitness – something he and Matt shared an affinity for. That’s all it took for Matt to connect Omarion with his very close friend, Bryant, who is a personal trainer, and also deeply motivated by mentorship. He knew it would be an easy connection. But first, Matt had to be sure that Omarion was moving with intention and was really serious about the opportunity. So when Omarion demonstrated follow-through, Matt made the connection. He invited Omarion to come out and shadow him at the gym. At the time, Bryant was actually in the final stages of opening his own gym. Talk about perfect timing. Omarion had the opportunity to sit in with Bryant and his business partners, and witness firsthand the nitty gritty of getting a business off the ground. Now, Omarion is working daily in the gym, and is on track to become a personal trainer.
Matt truly sees the young people he’s mentoring – sees who they are, what they want, what they’re afraid of. And from seeing and being seen, the jump to building trust, building a relationship is a small one. And one day, when these young men are grown and leaders in their own right, they’ll tell people that once upon a time, there was a coach named Matt who believed in them, who pushed them to find out who they are and what they want, who helped them become the people they are today.