Coach: RISE program gave players different perspectives

Girls basketball Coach Will Pierce works with student-athletes from Jalen Rose Leadership Academy on March 29, 2017, at the RISE Leadership Program winter season culmination event at The Palace of Auburn Hills.

July 10, 2017

By Bryan Matecun

DETROIT – Coach Will Pierce said the RISE Leadership Program brought his girls basketball team closer together, even giving them an on-court advantage.

“Being the type of kid who grew up in a diverse community, our kids in the city don’t often get to experience what I did,” Pierce said. “I thought the RISE program would be a good way to expose them to what the real world would be like.

“The area they live in is predominately African-American. The east side of Detroit is where a lot of the kids come from on the team. Our school is 99% African-American, as well. A lot of our kids come from single-parent homes. They haven’t been privileged to do a lot of the things that I did growing up like traveling and seeing the world. They haven’t seen the diverse side of Detroit.”

Pierce, who has coached the team at Jalen Rose Leadership Academy for two years, said the greatest impact he has seen is the improved relationship between he and his players and the players with each other.

“A lot of my girls don’t have father figures, and I didn’t have much experience working with young ladies,” Pierce said. “When playing sports, you’re predominately talking about the sport you’re playing. At study table, you usually talk about school. You don’t dive deep into personal lives, even with friends. When we sat down and talked about the history of race and sports, identity and using sports as a vehicle, I was able to listen to their perspective on the world they live in.”

Pierce was impressed at how quickly the players bonded and opened up to one another. He said this closeness led to more open communication from players with each other, coaches and teachers.

“It helped us create a family atmosphere,” he said. “After two years of the program, they’re so close-knit and close to me. They call me for anything outside of basketball.”

Having something to collaborate over outside of basketball also helped the team achieve on-court success.

“I truly believe the reason we won the district championship this year is because of the RISE program,” Pierce said. “We were more relaxed and able to be ourselves, and it showed in our team chemistry.”

Pierce said the most valuable activity in the program was a video and subsequent discussion about tennis player Serena Williams and softball player Sierra Romero. The Jalen Rose players were able to relate to Williams and Romero, who both have overcome adversity to become elite athletes in their respective sports.

“The players became more confident,” Pierce said. “They look up to Serena and Sierra. When they see examples of minority women achieving athletic success, it makes them believe that they can be successful, too.”

And Pierce learned a lot, as well.

“My perspective on my players is totally different,” he said. “I had to really understand each girl individually and how they operate, what makes them happy and sad, how to speak and motivate them and which tone of voice to use.”

Off the court, Pierce has been able to use the lessons from the RISE program in his personal life.

“It has encouraged me to make new friends from different races,” he said. “When I meet people from different races, I think back to the RISE curriculum and try to get to know them before judging their character. I think my girls learned the same thing.”

After taking about 40 student-athletes through the RISE program over the past two years, Pierce is a strong advocate of the program.

“I truly believe this is one of the best programs to be a part of,” he said. “The curriculum is great preparation for the real world, and it did a great job of bringing our team closer together.”

Bryan Matecun is a summer 2017 intern for communications and marketing in RISE’s Midwest office in Detroit.