Leila H. Creates a Manual for the Desales High School Track Team at America Reads/America Counts in Walla Walla, WA.

Through Whitman’s America Reads/America Counts program, I have been tutoring at DeSales Catholic High School for three years. I have learned invaluable lessons about teaching at the high school level, something I am considering pursuing as a career. Starting on my first day of tutoring, the DeSales community has embraced me with open arms. 

Wanting to further my involvement in the school’s community, last year I began to attend DeSales’ track practices as an assistant coach. I was able to connect to the students through our mutual love of running. I saw the importance of being a role model, for the female athletes in particular. This spring, through the Whitman Internship Grant, I was able to again assist coaching practices. 

I continued to focus on having a positive influence on the female athletes. During one particular practice towards the beginning of this season, one of our new runners lagged unusually behind the others. I knew her from tutoring, and remembered that she was very timid, and hesitant for ask for academic help. Thinking she might be just as unlikely to ask for assistance on the track as in the classroom, I approached her and asked how she was doing. She explained that she was feeling a new pain in her shins. I suspected shin splints and demonstrated a series of exercises and stretches to keep them at bay. In subsequent practices, she frequently approached me to update me about her shins or to ask questions about workouts. When I would tutor in the classroom, she was noticeably more comfortable asking me to work through a problem with her. Through small but committed gestures, I was able to shape track practice into a space where she felt comfortable being vulnerable, and I was lucky to be able to see that off the track, she grew more and more confident. 

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, DeSales has moved to online instruction and varsity sports are cancelled for the remainder of the year. I was unable to say goodbye to the students, teachers, and coaches I had gotten to know so well over my years working at DeSales. 

While conversing with my Whitman Internship Grant supervisor about how I could continue to participate in the Internship Grant and simultaneously contribute to the DeSales Track team, we landed on the idea of creating a manual of sorts for someone in my position in the future. The manual would include guidelines and tips for someone like me: a student from Whitman, CC or Walla Walla U with a Cross Country and Track background, who wants informal coaching experience and to help out with the DeSales Track team. I could write tips about ways to encourage students, how to instill confidence especially in female athletes, and how to be proactive in helping out where you can during practice as an assistant coach. I ran the idea by the other coaches and they supported it. 

I am currently in the process of compiling this “manual”, relying on my experiences as a high school and college athlete, and as a coach. In addition to the original ideas, the manual includes a section titled “Handy ab and core workouts to have in your back pocket”, and another titled “Responding to common track ails like shin splints or side cramps”.  

While I miss attending daily practices and seeing the impact of my presence on the track and in the classroom, the construction of this manual has allowed me to reflect on what makes a good coach and athletic program, and I am grateful for the opportunity to share what I have learned with other aspiring coaches.  

Experiences like Leila’s are made possible by the Whitman Internship Grant, which provides funding for students to participate in unpaid internships at both for-profit and non-profit organizations. To learn how you could secure a Whitman Internship Grant or host a Whitman intern at your organization, click here or contact Assistant Director for Internship Programs Mitzy Rodriguez


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