Many times, a coach, parent, or sports personality will use the phrase “It’s more than a game” to describe the lessons that sports teach athletes. While the phrase may seem like a cliché, one local soccer coach believes that his team can give back to younger generations and prove the cliché to be true.
While the 2018 season brought about tough competition and a season full of growth and learning experiences on the field, the Lansing Bobcats girls soccer team were exposed to growth beyond the pitch.
Head Coach Eric Stickel brings to his program a philosophy of developing players for competition and developing young women into model citizens within their lives outside of sports.
In an attempt to instill a sense of civic duty upon his team, Stickel organized a day where his Bobcats squad would attend a kindergarten classroom and read to and alongside the young students. “I did some research and found that the varsity girls team had done a reading program similar to this many years ago,” said Stickel. “I wanted to have our girls continue the beneficial program.”
Stickel, who previously served as the head coach of the Bobcats from 2012 to 2015 before stepping aside for career pursuits, first became familiar with the program from a group of former players. “Some of the girls that were on the team in my first stint with Lansing were the recipients of the varsity girls reading programs in the past.”
Taking the previous success of the program into account, Stickel decided that his current team should be part of something bigger than soccer and give back to the community. “We had two dates that were rained out, and so we finally found a day that worked that was indoors,” said Stickel, jokingly. “The girls on the team wanted to give back to the community.”
The day of reading went off without a hitch, and while the girls on the team had a great time, Stickel knows that the day was about more than just a day of fun interaction. “The premise behind the day was character building for the girls,” said Stickel. “It gives the girls a chance to give back because many of them, if not all of them, went to that elementary school when they were younger.” Beyond the off-field learning for his team, Stickel knows that team bonding away from the field can be used as a bond that helps with the on-field product. “On the field, interacting with the kindergarteners and each other brings the girls closer as a unit,” he said. “We have some girls who aren’t as outgoing as the others, and everyone leaned on each other to help get through the day.” Building a bond between teammates and building a sense of civic duty has been a point of emphasis for Stickel.
When the day of reading and the occasional dance party came to an end, Stickel and his team left the kindergarten class with smiles and memories. “The girls really enjoyed it,” said Stickel. “They came together and made the most of the day.” While the team came away with strong lessons and interactions, the kindergarten class came away with an equal amount of joy. “The teachers really embraced the girls stopping in and the kids loved it as well,” said Stickel. “The girls are already role models for these young kids, but to put a face to names and interact with older students, that’s where this program pays dividends for the kindergarteners.”
While the day of reading was a success, it is not the first event that Stickel has organized for his team to give back to the community. Allowing the girls to be in their soccer element, the Bobcats have also assisted in coaching and refereeing local recreational nights for elementary school students.
The Lansing Bobcats look to put a quality product on the field but understand that there is more to life than the game of soccer. Using their sport as a base to unify for a common cause has helped develop the girls into model citizens.
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