As a child, I grew up in an abusive and impoverished home in the Central Valley. The summer before my freshman year of high school, I decided to try water polo. While I could swim, it was at a beginner’s level and I was definitely not fluent. It was really difficult to get started but my coaches and teammates were supportive and fun, so I stuck with it. I attended afternoon and morning practices regularly and it was hard, really hard at first.
But it paid off quickly. During my high school experience on the Fresno High pool deck, I was able to bond with teammates and coaches of both teams (boys and girls), and was able to learn the rewards of consistent, hard work. My self esteem improved as a result, I found my voice, and began the journey to become a confident person. Now that I’m an adult, mother, wife, and coach, I truly appreciate what the deck experience at Fresno High School provided during my teenage years. Those gifts truly changed the trajectory of my life.
Things are different today. We are currently experiencing a huge shift in societal roles for parents and children. It has become much less acceptable to treat people differently based on gender or race. Each child has strengths and opportunities for improvement that we must harness and overcome regardless of these factors. High school is the last stop before adulthood where many of our values are solidified. When a child accomplishes learning how to swim, improving in athletics, and building relationships with teammates regardless of gender or background, these are critical steps towards building a long term foundation for success, and I believe, happiness. Sports should be safe, acceptable, and inclusive, period. The pool deck and team should reflect the community it serves and this is a core value of our program at Echo. This goes beyond gender, race, and economic status to include all personalities, family dynamics, and levels of income. All kids should have the opportunity to play sports year round.
I also believe that sports pave the way for entrepreneurship, learning business fundamentals like teamwork, and ultimately having a successful career to support a family or those close to you. The Central Valley has 3,000+ non-profit organizations, which while helpful to many, doesn’t always send the best message to our children about the importance of being successful in competitive fields. Non-profits are typically funded by grants and government subsidies, which is much different than private sector businesses that must gain advantages based on teamwork, innovation, competition, and speed to market. Echo is not a non-profit business, by design. This enabled us to add innovative programs like adult swim lessons and water aerobics without impacting our other programs intended for kids. My point being is you do not have to be a non-profit organization to do what is right for your community.
Lastly, coaches must provide a positive example, regardless of gender. Players often look up to their coaches, and it’s our responsibility to teach them good habits on the pool deck. I still reflect positively on how the pool deck was “my happy place” growing up and it’s critical for a child’s growth and development in the community. We are in this together.
By: Jenn Lopez