When Rosary Academy graduate Louise Kooiman (’17) heard about “Coach for College” – a program where athletes from United States universities spend three weeks coaching sports and teaching in rural Vietnam – she was all in. That doesn’t surprise her high school volleyball coach Filip Tomicic, who still recalls Kooiman as one of the best leaders they ever had in the volleyball program.
In June of this year, Kooiman spent three weeks of her summer vacation from the University of South Carolina coaching volleyball and teaching math in Hau Giang Provence, Vietnam, a rural area in the Mekong Delta south of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Teaming up with Vietnamese college students who also translated, Kooiman and her colleagues from universities across the U.S. coached Vietnamese middle school students.
According to its website, Coach for College is an international service-learning program that brings together U.S. student-athletes and Vietnamese university students. Together they teach academics, sports and life skills at summer camps to disadvantaged children in rural Vietnam. Founded in 2008, the program includes U.S. college athletes from 40 universities participating in 26 sports. Vietnamese college students hail from 30 universities in Vietnam. The program is currently only in Vietnam, but plans to expand to other countries.
Kooiman coached beach volleyball, something she has excelled at since high school where she was Rosary’s volleyball team captain. She continues to be a part of the University of South Carolina beach volleyball team, which, in her freshman year, placed sixth in the national beach volleyball competition.
The eighth and ninth graders she met in Southeast Asia had little experience with the sport. “We worked with them on both the technique and the rules of the game,” recalls Kooiman. Some of them had played informally before, but there are no volleyball leagues in Vietnam, so we were really teaching the basics. “They all loved the game, even though learning could be frustrating at times. All in all, they had a blast,” Kooiman said. She hopes that the camp will encourage the sport to grow and that eventually leagues will develop.
Every Friday the various teams met for a friendly tournament for competition experience, but it was all for fun. In addition to coaching, Kooiman also taught mathematics as the student coaches are required to teach an academic course as well as a sport.
A big part of Coach for College is encouraging middle-school teens to continue their academics. This is a time when many of them drop out, so the program is geared to establish strong role models from not only the foreign students but also the Vietnamese college students to encourage the youth to pursue education and athletics. The children gain motivation to stay in school, knowledge and tools to succeed in both the classroom and life, as well as a strong, new confidence in their individual value and personal potential.
The thirteen- and fourteen-year-olds come from schools throughout the region, giving them an opportunity to form bonds with their peers.
Coach for College was founded by student athletes at Duke University and the University of North Carolina to give athletes the opportunity to share their athletic and academic skills in a powerful program that enriches all the participants’ lives. While study abroad programs are a common part of the college experience, there are very few programs that provide college athletes to share their athletic skill as a cross-cultural experience.
Soccer, volleyball, field hockey, diving and tennis are the most popular sports but the program includes a wide variety of sports, including Nordic skiing.
Kooiman, a Fullerton resident, says that Rosary prepared her by giving her the confidence to speak up, collaborate with others and the courage to work out of her comfort zone. Coach Filip would second that opinion. “Louise is a leader on many levels, she was captain of the volleyball team – but she has a much bigger purpose for her life. She goes above and beyond in everything she takes on and I know she will continue to lead with great energy and heart.”
Kooiman is about to enter her junior year at the University of South Carolina, majoring in mid-level education with an emphasis on math and science. She chose to travel 2,400 miles from home to the Palmetto state for her college years, “because I was looking to experience something new and the university gave me that opportunity along with so much more. I felt at home with the campus, my team, coaches, and a school that is filled with pride.”