Coach Guru: A Role Model for Quitting Drugs
I may have lost some readers after that last blog post, even though I know that all of you are just as fascinated by monitoring and evaluation as I am…To make the whole idea a little more real, I wanted to share with you a Most Significant Story (MSS) I wrote up after talking with one of our coaches named Guru (pictured above). As I mentioned, a MSS allows us to capture the impact of GRS programs through stories. This qualitative form of evaluation complements the pre/post questionnaires we administer to measure changes in knowledge and behavior among participants.
Coach Guru didn’t meet Thabo* until the third Generation Skillz practice session at Namedi High School in Diepkloof. Thabo had skipped the first two sessions, thinking that Grassroot Soccer (GRS) was just another group of motivational speakers that his school often hosted. According to Guru, Thabo was an 11th grader with a “killer-attitude who cared about nothing. He didn’t care about our program…I don’t know what got him to attend.”
During Practice 3, Thabo and the other participants took part in “Risk Field,” an activity that highlights the risky behavior that increases one’s chances of becoming infected with HIV/AIDS. Thabo found out that drug and alcohol abuse were on the list of risks. After class, Thabo approached Guru one-on-one. Feeling that Guru looked like “someone who would understand his problems,” Thabo revealed his addition to drugs. He wanted to know more about Grassroot Soccer and what he had missed during the first two sessions. As Guru explained, “He asked me if I could help him quit using all these drugs because he realized that kind of life was not for him.”
Coach Guru encouraged Thabo to attend more practices to gain more information. Thabo became a dedicated participant, asking thoughtful questions that no other person in class felt comfortable addressing. When Guru and his teaching partner (GRS Coach Caro) would run sessions at Thabo’s school each week, they would stay for the entire school day. Thabo began to approach Guru during school breaks, asking questions about his life and his decision to become a GRS Skillz coach.
During one conversation, Guru told Thabo his “Coach’s Story,” an explanation of how his life had been affected by HIV. Guru’s older sister took care of him throughout his childhood, buying him soccer boots, jeans—everything he needed. But over time Guru found out that his sister was receiving money from sugar daddies. When his sister died of AIDS, Guru began using drugs with those around him to cope with the pain. In college, he came to recognize the dangers of his drug habit and tried to quit. With support from a teacher, he gave up drugs completely, representing a milestone in his life. After graduating, Guru started playing soccer on a local team and gained work experience with several companies. In early 2010, Guru found out about Grassroot Soccer and was immediately interested in becoming a Skillz coach. Guru explained, “I re-wound my cassette and said, ‘HIV affected me in my life so how about I make a difference in someone else’s life?’” Thabo was struck by Guru’s story, finding it to be very similar to his own. He told Guru that he also intended to quit drugs.
Thabo spoke regularly with Guru after sessions. When Practice 8 had finished, Guru recalls Thabo saying, “Coach, what you guys are doing is great. I understand why you are here and you are not getting paid…You’re doing it from the bottom of your hearts” [GRS coaches are not fully compensated, receiving receive small stipends for their work]. Thabo asked if Guru could help him find a soccer team, so Guru organized a 5-a-side match during his next visit to Namedi. From his observations, Guru could see that Thabo was a very skilled player. He tried making suggestions for other soccer opportunities Thabo could pursue. At the end of the final Generation Skillz practice, Thabo again approached Guru. He repeated his strong support for GRS’ work and explained the specific steps he was taking to minimize his drug use. As Guru says, “He was trying by all means to quit those drugs.”
Thabo continued to feel comfortable contacting Guru even after the Generation Skillz curriculum had completed. One weekend, Thabo asked Guru to join him at the Nike Training Center to watch several soccer games. After the games, Guru invited Thabo to his home for some cold drinks. Coach Guru feels proud of his role in Thabo’s efforts to stop taking drugs and become more involved in activities and at school. Thinking back, Guru said, “[Thabo] actually said he wanted to be a Skillz coach when he finishes school…for a year at least. I think our program changed him a lot.”
*Pseudonym used to maintain confidentiality