Twenty-one-year-old Mark Mulligan has been in love with hockey his entire life. The son of a Canadian, Mulligan felt the game in his blood.
He dreamed of playing professionally until one day, Mulligan fell backwards going for a check, landing on his head and breaking his back.
Though many would hang up their skates after a gruesome injury, not even a broken back could keep Mulligan off the ice.
With his playing career over, Mulligan found his next challenge: coaching.
During his tenure coaching his old high school hockey team, Mulligan discovered a new opportunity with Up2Us Sports and leapt at the opportunity to teach others the game he loves.
Up2Us Sports provides coaches an opportunity to mentor underserved children through sports. To date the initiative has reached more than 400,000 children across the country.
Monumental Sports & Entertainment Foundation, the charitable arm of the Washington Capitals, Wizards, Valor, Mystics and Baltimore Brigade, presented Up2Us Sports a $20,000 grant for the second-consecutive season in 2016-17 to continue to give children an opportunity to learn through sports. This grant is allowing Mulligan the opportunity to serve as one of two coaches at Fort Dupont Ice Arena in Southeast D.C.
Prior to his service at Fort Dupont, Up2Us Sports flew their coaches out to Chicago for their National Coach Training Institute. Coaches learned different techniques on how to teach children from all different backgrounds and how to be the best coaches they could be.
"It was like a big seminar," he said. "We learned how to interact with kids and how to make things fun."
One point that was emphasized was that participants want to be the coach kids remember for the right reasons. Mulligan took in all he could in Chicago and put his training to use immediately.
"During my first hockey class since training, this kid was skating and the puck was taken from him and someone knocked him down," he said. "He started crying, said he quit and skated over to the bench."
Mulligan knew there was one question that could get the five-year-old back on the ice.
"I asked him what his favorite color was."
One of the techniques coaches are taught is to distract upset kids with questions not related to what they were upset about.
"It got his mind off of what he was upset about," Mulligan said. "He told me he liked blue and then gave me an in-depth story about why he loves the color blue. By the end of it, he was ready to get back out there."
Up2Us Sports coaches know that the program is about more than teaching children how to play sports and Mulligan takes that responsibility to heart.
"It's about developing the person just as much as it is about developing their skills in hockey," Mulligan said. "The point of Up2Us Sports is to use sports to grow people."
Mulligan currently teaches basic and advance learn to skate classes as well as a hockey class for kids ranging from nine to 18-years-old.
Though he wants to build up his skills mentoring students, Mulligan always keeps his classes about having fun.
"Everything I have to do has to be fun," he said. "I remember growing up that if it was not fun, I was not engaged in it."
Mulligan implements skills he is teaching into games to keep his skaters interested. He not only wants to be the coach kids can learn from but also the most fun coach they have ever learned from.
For Mulligan, Up2Us Sports not only gave him the opportunity to help others but also helped him determine a career path. Mulligan knew he wanted to work in sports, but he did not know what direction he wanted to go in until he started coaching with Up2Us Sports.
"Up2Us Sports made me realize I wanted to be a coach," he said. "The organization means a lot to me because they helped me confirm what I want to."
Mulligan says the grant Monumental Sports and Entertainment provided Up2Us Sports helped them impact the community significantly.
"To help promote our program, that helps a lot," he said. "We do not have the wealth otherwise so that grant is huge for us."