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MSE Foundation Hosts Playworks DC Junior Coach Leadership Conference

by Staff Writer / Washington Capitals

For 150 local students, the Wizards basketball court was recently the site of a special kind of recess.

On April 28 Monumental Sports & Entertainment Foundation and Playworks DC hosted the Junior Coach Leadership Conference at Verizon Center.

A national nonprofit organization, Playworks’ goal is to transform schools by providing physical activity at recess and throughout the day, using play as a tool to teach leadership and conflict resolution skills.


During the conference Junior Coaches (JCs) – fourth- and fifth-grade students from 13 different Playworks schools – split into groups and rotated through game stations focusing on conflict resolution, strategizing, and teamwork and communication and enrichment stations concentrating on self-promotion and leadership qualities.

A Playworks coach and volunteers from Monumental Sports & Entertainment and New Balance led each activity. Coaches and JCs serve on duty at recess, leading games and assisting other children if a problem arises.

Students including 10-year-old Nevaeh, a fifth-grader at Amidon-Bowden Elementary School in Washington, D.C., rotated through centers on the court featuring games like Evolution and Ro Sham Bo Relay to learn about conflict resolution and created a business card in an off-court activity meant to teach the JCs how to promote themselves.

Nevaeh signed up for the program at the beginning of the 2013-14 school year after seeing a friend participate. Since then, she’s been able to develop her leadership skills.

“Junior Coaches has taught me to lead more and is a great experience,” she said. “As a JC I wanted to facilitate and lead games, and when I became a JC I tried to achieve my goals.”

For Nevaeh, the desire to help younger children on the playground with conflicts also sparked her interest in Playworks.

“If I see something going on at the playground I would fix the problem,” she said. “The best part is getting to experience just the thought of helping other students.”

As a result of the program, research shows students return to class from recess with an ability to better focus.

According to Playworks’ annual survey, 89% of respondents in Washington, D.C., reported an increase in the use of conflict resolution strategies by their students, while 93% of staff members reported an increase in the level of cooperation among students. In addition 79% of respondents reported fewer conflicts during class.

“At Playworks we believe in the power of play to bring out the best in every kid,” said Playworks DC program manager Rachel Hustedt. “Playworks ensures the environment at recess is so that everyone is comfortable, and we also work with children to transition this back into the classroom so they are ready to learn.”

Following each activity at the conference, coaches and JCs discussed the leadership skills that they worked on in each game and how to implement the lessons at school. The day concluded with comments by guest speaker Mark Nemish, Capitals strength and conditioning coach, who spoke to the students about the importance of good nutrition and a healthy diet.

“The conference was a great opportunity for the JCs to reflect on their experiences so far and to set goals for the rest of the year,” said Hustedt. “JCs take their goals and excitement back to the school community energized.”

Playworks currently partners with 13 public and charter schools in Washington, D.C., serving 5,500 students each day. MSE Foundation announced a partnership with Playworks DC last June, through which the foundation provided the organization with a $50,000 grant and programming for the 2013-14 school year. This is the second year in a row that MSE Foundation has hosted the Junior Coach Leadership Conference at Verizon Center.

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