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‘Coaching for Captains’ Program Teaches Leadership Skills

  • Greg Somerville, an assistant coach at the Start Ready high school camp at Monadnock Park in Claremont, N.H., demonstrates an agaility exercise on August 7, 2014. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Greg Somerville, an assistant coach at the Start Ready high school camp at Monadnock Park in Claremont, N.H., demonstrates an agaility exercise on August 7, 2014.
    (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jeremiah Douchee, right, a Dartmouth Sophomore and football player, discusses with high school athletes from Windsor and Stevens as to where they wanted to run that day at Monadnock Park in Claremont, N.H., on August 6, 2014. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Jeremiah Douchee, right, a Dartmouth Sophomore and football player, discusses with high school athletes from Windsor and Stevens as to where they wanted to run that day at Monadnock Park in Claremont, N.H., on August 6, 2014.
    (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Greg Somerville, an assistant coach at the Start Ready high school camp at Monadnock Park in Claremont, N.H., demonstrates an agaility exercise on August 7, 2014. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
  • Jeremiah Douchee, right, a Dartmouth Sophomore and football player, discusses with high school athletes from Windsor and Stevens as to where they wanted to run that day at Monadnock Park in Claremont, N.H., on August 6, 2014. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

Claremont — Kara Toms has a variation on the theme of the old sporting axiom, “no pain, no gain.”

Call it “no brain, no gain.”

This week, Toms brought her Coaching for Captains program to Claremont. This program gave student-athletes from some of the more under-served communities in the Upper Valley the opportunity to share in activities that teach them how to turn their athletic talents into leadership skills that will help not only their teammates, but their classmates, too.

And she found the perfect ambassador for her program in Dartmouth College sophomore football player Jeremiah “JD” Douchee. With a grant in hand, the pair developed the Start Ready program.

“I enjoy the community focus in the program,” said JD, who set up the grant for the program. “It’s family based and that’s the way I was raised.

“The theme was to target young kids in a different way; to teach them about leadership and character,” he said of the program. “It’s about who we want to be and how we can control the conversation.”

That message resonated with the kids in the group. Stevens senior Desneige Roy can’t wait to share with her team.

“Coaches for Captains helped me find out what a leader is,” Roy said. “Last year, I was a captain and this will help me expand my leadership role. Kara has been a great mentor; this week has been so much fun. It’s not learning, it’s just doing.

“It will also help me bring back to my team the things that we need to do.”

JD took that concept a step further. As he counseled the kids in his group — from Windsor, Stevens, Hartford and Lebanon — he stressed how important it was to make good choices. From waking up in time for class to turning down a party invitation after school, JD worked to help the kids develop their own sense of who they are and how they wanted to be recognized through positive goals and relationships. Each day the group did exercises to emphasize those priorities.

One of those role-playing exercises emphasized how important it was to keep an eye on the little things in life for they might very well impact your future.

“We don’t always know where we are going; the different places that may enter our lives,” said JD, native of the South Side of Chicago. “If you would have told me six years ago that I would end up at Dartmouth, I would have said you were crazy.”

Start Ready focused on getting a head start on preseason through strength and conditioning, speed and agility, while also adding a leadership component.

Out on a sun-splashed Monadnock Park field, JD has the group working hard even before starting specific drills. Called a dynamic warm-up, the work helps the young athletes put their bodies in the proper position to get the most out of each drill. It teaches technique while forcing the body to remain under control — sometimes two mutually exclusive concepts.

The first morning, the warm-up took about an hour as the 25 student-athletes struggled with their form and the new concepts. By mid week, the time was down to 15 minutes and the kids were showing hardly any of the earlier ill effects — especially soreness. And, as Toms pointed out, no one bailed on the group — all 25 finished what they started.

“It was difficult for them at first, but by Day 4 they had it down. I was amazed by how hard they were working,” JD said.

“They may have been sore, but they pushed right past it to do even more,” he laughed. “One day we finished the shuttle run and they still wanted to run across town!”

Along with Greg Somerville, an assistant track coach at Woodstock, JD — a 6-foot-4, 235-pound Dartmouth defensive end — runs the high school athletes through the paces using quiet commands and gentle reminders. The three leaders constantly monitor the work, keeping up a stream of positive chatter and instructional advice as the kids run through the paces.

There are athletes of all ages — freshman through senior — and all sports — skiers, football players, soccer, field hockey, basketball, softball and ice hockey.

Windsor freshman Jacob Curtis was urged to come to camp by his soccer coach, Andy Tufts.

“It’s been fun,” Curtis said. “I’ve learned a lot — the proper form and the proper technique. I’m sure I will be able to use it when I get back.

“Plus, the leadership talks have helped me learn about myself. I think I can be a good leader if people trust me.”

Somerville gives Windsor field hockey standout Haley Wood a tip on proper technique during a drill for groin stretching — not just verbally, but getting right down in position to show the proper technique. And the kids appreciated the coaching and direction.

“It’s good to get off the couch and have someone push you,” said Stevens sophomore Logan Bateman, a quarterback and safety on the Cardinals’ football team. “It helps put down the foundation before double sessions next week.”

Bateman especially enjoyed working in the box drill where he did exercises that mimicked his play at safety — starting, stopping and sprinting. “It was a lot of help,” he said. “Sometimes it’s hard to work on your own. I know I’m going to be better, faster and stronger.”

Even with the end of the program, JD was looking forward to continuing with Toms and the Coaching for Captains program during the school year — and beyond.

“I love doing community based things. No matter what I do, I will always have that opportunity in my life,” he said.

JD was thrilled with the kids’ dedication and improvement on the athletic front all week, but was more proud of how the group came together in such a short time. It was that message of inclusion that was central to his discussions.

Throughout the four-day camp, JD emphasized to the group words to live by — a phrase that resonated so strongly in his life, something he believes struck a chord with his group, as well: “Leaders provide vision, direction and motivation to a group toward a chosen goal.”

“We all come from different places, different high schools, different backgrounds, but we were still able to see the group come together as a family,” he said. “We just have to learn how to open up to other people, to meet with others who are not necessarily people we might have originally chosen as friends.

“It’s an important lesson to learn on a team as well as in life.”

Don Mahler can be reached at dmahler@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.