North Lawndale Coaches Help Youth Candidly Address Concerns About COVID-19 Vaccination, Dispel Myths and Rumors

Pilot Program Makes Impact Through Trusting Coach-Youth Relationships

COVID-19vaccination rates in Chicago remain frustratingly low in communities of color (like North Lawndale) and among younger age groups. Large numbers of people of color still are not getting vaccinated because of various concerns, including an historical distrust of medical institutions and government.

In response, Coaches Against COVID (CAC), a pilot vaccine awareness program in North Lawndale, successfully addressed those concerns and hesitations by leveraging the trust youth sports organizations embody, and the trust youth have in coaches. CAC was conceived by the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation USA; funded by the Chicagoland Vaccine Partnership; and brought to life through a collaboration of six organizations: Laureus USA, North Lawndale Athletic and Recreation Association, Play like a Champion, UCAN, Endless Energy Sports and Boxing Out Negativity. Each of the partner organizations has contributed through their own areas of expertise, and this collaborative spirit has been essential in the success of the project.  

CAC, which began last December, was a difference-maker through a partnership with the North Lawndale-based Boxing Out Negativity program to facilitate community circle conversations to allow participants to speak openly in a safe space. The young people, ages 10-24, are some of the hardest-to-reach youth; some are out of school, juvenile justice system-involved, and/or gang-involved or gang-impacted. As such, they are not typically engaged via traditional outreach channels like schools and community programs. 

CAC also trained coaches from the North Lawndale-based Jr. Go League created by Endless Energy Sports to become vaccine ambassadors who had non-judgmental conversations about the vaccine with players, families and community members.

“Given the promising start to the pilot, Laureus USA has since raised an additional $75,000 to deepen CAC’s vaccine awareness work in North Lawndale with UCAN and the NLARA, as well as expand to Roseland and Pullman through a partnership with Peace Players International. This funding will support the direct payments to organizations, coaches, and youth who lead vaccine awareness efforts”.
– Ben Schornack, Chicago program officer for Laureus USA

CAC leveraged the collective belief that sport and coaches are under-utilized tools in reaching young people and engaging in difficult and, often divisive, topics. With new funding streams available to spread information about the vaccine, this program was designed to ensure that available dollars went towards directly compensating members of the targeted community to lead the efforts – in this case, the coaches.

The program’s goals were to explore young people’s attitudes toward and experiences with the vaccine; increase vaccine knowledge and improve vaccine-related attitudes among coaches; and link youth and families to accurate vaccine information, and if appropriate, vaccine services.

CAC trained 11 coaches who received 11 hours each of training; 55 youth participated in the Jr. Go League; and 36 youth ages 10-24 participated in the circle conversations. The coaches demonstrated increased knowledge and improved attitudes about the COVID-19 vaccine. To wit:

• 40% increase in knowledge about most people experiencing mild side effects from the vaccine 40% increase in coaches believing that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks
• 40% increase in coaches’ confidence in answering questions about the vaccine
• 33% increase in knowledge about vaccines preventing serious disease and death
• 25% increase in coaches’ self-efficacy to address people’s attitudes about the vaccine
• 11% increase in overall knowledge about the vaccine

Each of the 11 coaches are now certified Vaccine Ambassadors and can leverage a Coaches Against COVID playbook for future conversations with their teams. Given their role as trusted adults, coaches play a key role in sharing accurate information about the vaccine and supporting vaccine uptake: 87% of youth stated that they view their coach as a trusted adult who they can go to for advice. Coaches led more than 50 conversations with players, families, and other community members about the COVID-19 vaccine during the pilot. 

Among the CAC supporters was Eleanor Taylor, a registered nurse in research and quality assurance at the VA Hines Medical Center and a “daughter” of the WestSide. Taylor led the training of the coaches and leveraged her community experience to share scientific information in an authentic and digestible way.

“The goal was to empower and educate the coaches so they could have conversations with parents. We wanted them to become resources and ambassadors,” said Taylor, who has been a nurse for 40 years. “I ensured they had information that they could rely on and share with others. Before Coaches Against COVID, I was talking to anyone who would listen. I was finding so much resistance, especially among our young people. I was pleased to share my real-life experiences, keep people updated and break down the virus in terms they can relate to.”

Preliminary findings provide encouraging evidence that youth sports organizations and coaches can play a key role in spreading awareness about the COVID-19 vaccine.Given the sensitivities that youth and other community members have around the COVID-19 vaccine, the pilot’s success can be attributed to the trust and relationships built by coaches and community-based organizations. Each collaborating organization served a different role (e.g., Endless Energy andBoxing Out Negativity led the implementation; and Laureus USA, UCAN and NLARA provided financial, operational and logistical support).

Reach out to learn more about upcoming community events and long-term volunteer engagements.

“Together, we are able to change lives.”
Debra Brown
Debra Brown
Cofounder, The Investment Basketball Program
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