Duke University Graduate Parker Goyer Dreams Big, Delivers
All great journeys start with a dream – Osborn Earl “Ozzie” Smith.
It is likely that at every high school or college graduation ceremony, at some point in time, at least one of the speakers will insist that the secret to a life of fulfillment is to remain true to one’s dreams.
Yet, at the same time, it is also likely that a look towards the audience would reveal at least one adult with a cynical eye dismissing such blatant optimism in a most scornful manner.
Fortunately, however, there are still some students who not only listen to the speaker’s message of hope, they take it upon themselves to test the theory.
The Desire to Make a Difference
When asked about her involvement in Division I athletics at a high-profile school, Parker Goyer could point to many key lessons from the world of sports: persistence, work ethic, setting goals, and overcoming setbacks. She also could point to the year-round commitment necessary to compete at such a high level and the subsequent time constraints that participation had on her ability to utilize these important skills while being of service to others.
But the year-round commitment to school and to athletics left Goyer little opportunity to travel abroad or to partake in community service. For the 2007 graduate of Duke University, the latter was a big issue.
Inspired by the likes of Wendy Kopp, the founder and CEO of Teach for America and Greg Mortenson, a one-time mountain climber who has dedicated his life to building schools in remote parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, Goyer chafed at the lack of opportunities student-athletes had to be of service to others.
Recognizing that there had to be other collegians with similar sentiments, Goyer came up with a bold plan, one that would allow student-athletes to utilize their skills and talents to help serve young people in countries less-developed than her own.
Coach for College
Now in her first year at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Goyer conceived of the “Coach for College” program while visiting Vietnam and Belize the summer following her graduation. While visiting those countries, Goyer saw first hand an underdeveloped educational system and countless young people who simply did not have a cadre of role models to help lead them.
The former Duke tennis player saw an opportunity, a true win-win in the proverbial sense. If she could create a program that would allow American student athletes to put their athletic lessons to work in real life settings, the youngsters in some of the world’s poorer countries would not only have access to some key role models, those youngsters would have the chance to learn some valuable skills as well.
“A major guiding principle of the Coach for College program is that student-athletes have great traits they develop through sports,” explains Goyer. “But they don’t always apply these traits which they perfect on the playing field in other settings.”
“I wanted American student-athletes to realize that, by virtue of being highly-skilled sports players in some of the best higher education institutions in the world, they have tremendous power to make a difference.”
Program Launched in Summer of 2008
With a goal of utilizing sports to teach key life lessons, Goyer envisioned a group of college athletes giving up some of their summer time to help the youngsters in underdeveloped countries learn “critical thinking skills” and promote “excitement about academics.” While the need for funds was significant and the task of raising half-a-million dollars a daunting one, the 23-year-old never doubted the worthiness of her concept.
“A lot of people were skeptical at first and thought that I was too young, that this was too big of an idea, and didn’t know if I could pull it off,” reveals Goyer. “I think I was able to succeed by setting concrete goals, identifying key supporters early on, and using their advice and support to make steady progress towards my goals, one step at a time.”
Adding to her belief in the program concept itself, the idea of teaching life lessons through the world of sports, Goyer found herself drawing on the lessons she had taken from being a competitive athlete.
“Setting up the Coach for College program reinforced the value of sports in transmitting key life skills. I found myself drawing upon some of the same skills – persistence, work ethic, setting goals, overcoming setbacks, etc. — that I had used to make progress as a tennis player.”
Putting her organizational, goal-setting and perseverance skills to the test, Goyer secured more than $480,000 to fund the first two years of her concept. The monies came from two Atlantic Coast Conference rival colleges, Duke and the University of North Carolina, as well as the National Collegiate Athletics Association, the U.S. State Department, and a number of other individual and corporate donors.
With funding secured, this past summer student-athletes from both Duke and UNC made their way to rural Vietnam for the first ever “Coach for College” sessions. In addition, bilingual students from Can Tho University also led the training that involved the games of badminton, basketball, soccer, tennis, and volleyball.
A key component of the program included the building of a five-in-one sports court, with lines for the sports that would be taught in the program. Constructed on the grounds of the middle school, local workers built it using money from the funds Goyer had raised. The permanent construction meant that the Vietnamese children could continue, during their school year, to play the sports they had been introduced to by the Coach for College program that summer.
Working alongside their Vietnamese counterparts, the American student-athletes conducted two three-week units featuring a number of sports clinics and classroom lessons to 200 children ages 11-15. The group also managed to blend in Vietnamese high school students who benefited from the program but in turn served as next step role models for the younger children.
The basic lessons taught within the sports clinics were reinforced by academic offerings that featured the application of sports to Health/Biology, Physics, English, Leadership, and Education/Psychology. The program, free to interested children, provided a wealth of prizes/gifts based upon outcomes in team-based sports and academic competitions as well as each student’s completion of the various academic modules.
The Translatable Goals of Athletics
Wise beyond her years, Goyer created a program that offered lessons for both groups, the American students who accompanied her and the youngsters in Vietnam that participated in the clinics. Both groups saw first hand that teamwork, sacrifice, hard work, and determination often form the basis for success in many other settings.
“The overarching idea is that skills like perseverance, determination, setting and achieving goals, and overcoming setbacks, all of which can be learned through sports, are the keys to success in education as well,” notes Goyer. But as for the lessons for her fellow athletes, the Coach for College founder was unequivocal as to what came first for her.
“Personally, my primary goal is to help the middle school youth, and I intended the benefits to the coaches, both the American student-athletes and Vietnamese college students, to come as a natural by-product of their participation in the program.”
Still, Goyer attempted to work on the highest plane imaginable. More than simply providing Vietnamese youngsters with a cadre of role models, Goyer sought to inspire these 11-15-year-olds to consider higher education. To further that notion, the Coach for College concluded every daily camp session with a 30 minute class on the topic.
Following One’s Dream
Perhaps most importantly, the goal-setting Duke graduate has established other possible plateaus for her concept. Her vision is to see the program “partner with professional athletes” as well as “sports-related companies such as Nike.”
In addition, Goyer is set to invite other “universities which are athletic rivals to sponsor Coach for College programs at new sites.” The plan includes “utilizing the existing conference structure present in intercollegiate athletics” with the idea that each conference could perhaps sponsor a program in one particular region of the globe.
Once upon a time, Division I student-athletes may have had little to no chance to travel abroad or engage in meaningful service to others. But thanks to one young woman with a vision and a thorough understanding of the lessons that athletics can offer, student-athletes with a service mind set now have a concrete model to follow.
Editor’s Note: On Saturday, November 22nd, Parker Goyer was one of 32 Americans selected for a Rhodes Scholarship. Valued at $50,000 per year of study, the scholarship will enable the Coach for College (CfC) founder to study comparative international education at Oxford. Her hope is to learn more about the different education systems, academic curricula, and personnel of different countries to determine which ones will provide the best fit for the CfC program moving forward.