This article was updated September 29, 2022 with an article original published by the LA Rams.
The Los Angeles Rams partnered with the University of Virginia (UVA) School of Education and Human Development to launch a 5-month Positive Youth Development (PYD) Training Series for more than 30 Watts Rams coaches and Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers in the Rams' locker room at SoFi Stadium.
"When we took over the Watts Bears and renamed them the Watts Rams, we always envisioned a program bigger than just youth football," said Executive Vice President of Community Impact and Engagement Molly Higgins. "Today is a continuation of the evolution of the program. We are allowing our Watts Rams coaches to continue to develop professionally and tapping into the expertise of UVA to help them grow as mentors, teachers, and coaches."
The PYD program will act as a valuable guide for Watts Rams coaches, who also serve as LAPD officers, and includes the best approaches and practices for supporting the Watts Rams athletes' growth and development as thriving youth as well as athletes. Throughout the workshop series led by Youth-Nex: The University of Virginia Center to Promote Effective Youth Development, Watts Ram coaches will focus on the principles of positive youth development, identify the strengths and challenges of the Watts Rams athletes, use engagement and behavioral strategies to promote positive youth development and implement strength-based strategies to challenge experiences associated with systemic oppression.
"This is way deeper than just football," said Watts Rams General Manager Marc Maye. "Football is just the hook that brings the kids together. It helps to create the umbrella of fun, that we all have the same synergy for. The wrap around services that we can provide through this program are for the social and emotional wellbeing of the child. Getting the officers to learn what mentorship is and looks like and gives them the tools to be proper mentors. Whether that is meeting the kids where they are academically or figuring out where their struggles and trauma come from, we want to provide those services and resources to them and then have some fun."
This series will include five workshops throughout the 2022-23 season. Following each workshop, participants will leave with actionable ideas and approaches to apply to their interactions with youth, both on and off the field. Additionally, participants will have access to a groundbreaking simulation program to develop their mentoring skills in a virtual environment.
"Youth programming is important for us because it keeps us engaged in the community and provides an opportunity to change the trajectory of a young person's life which is huge for me as a police officer, plus the ripple effect of change is powerful," said LAPD Lt. James Michael Bland. "Without our partners that provide the avenue to do so, this would be difficult to accomplish. This gives us the ability to not only protect Los Angeles but also engage with Los Angeles. It is programs like this that help us gain trust and create relationships in our communities."
Rams General Manager Les Snead serves as a board member on the UVA School of Education and Human Development Foundation Board, a dynamic group of professionals who have committed themselves as fundraisers and ambassadors of the school, promoting EHD's work among their networks. Snead worked with Higgins, Maye, and the University of Virginia to create a program that will enhance LAPD's youth development training.
"We always talk about how our Watts Rams are supported by our entire organization and this is a tangible example of that," said Higgins. "Les saw an opportunity to utilize the thought-leaders at UVA to provide this growth opportunity for our coaches to better equip them to be the best possible role models and mentors for our kids. The coaches have been incredibly receptive and appreciative of the resources and support from Les and UVA."
"Football represents winning," said Maye. "When the young people can come in and win with the officers, coaches and volunteers, outside of football, it makes the winning even more special when they are playing football."
Entering the 2019 season, the Rams formalized their support of the Watts Rams (formerly known as the Watts Bears) and the LAPD's efforts to bridge community and police relations through the game of football. As part of the partnership, the Rams fund all components of the Watts Rams program, including uniforms and equipment. Each year, the Rams provide engagement opportunities with current players, alumni, coaches, scouts, football operations and front office staff to help expand their knowledge and ignite their passions beyond the playing field.
For more information about the Rams' community outreach efforts, visit www.therams.com/community.