By Jake Hunter
Energy and enthusiasm exude from the Beat the Streets athletes that I have come to know over the last four years. Some I’ve worked with once or twice, others over the course of several seasons. Beat the Streets Philadelphia (BTSP) is a youth development nonprofit that strives to “Positively Alters Life’s Trajectory” for at-risk youth. The organization fosters holistic development, utilizing the sport of wrestling and academic mentoring as vehicles to teach student athletes lessons and values – such as Grit, Compassion, Service, Team – that apply to all areas of life.
BTSP was started by alumni and former wrestlers from the University of Pennsylvania. They recognized that wrestling was a crucial part of their formative college years and that wrestling can be used as a vehicle for positive youth development. These wrestlers took note of the lack of youth-centric programs in the city and started BTS Philadelphia in 2009.
My first exposure with BTS athletes started on the mat as a coach. The backgrounds of the athletes were as diverse as the city of Philadelphia itself. The two most striking characteristics of the athletes from BTS is their perseverance and grit. With the growth of wrestling in Philadelphia over the last decade, many of these athletes were the first in their family to compete in the sport. Rather than parents bringing them to practice, many of the wrestlers found their own way, with support from BTS. Before they left at the end of practice, one of the older members often handed out tokens for public transportation for younger members to head home. With evening practices ending around 8:00, it was easy to see the commitment the athletes made to the sport and the teams they were part of.
It didn’t take long for the wrestlers’ gratitude for those around them to become apparent. We always had a “breakdown” at the end of practice. We concluded by putting our right hands in together, while resting our left hands on a teammate. The right hand demonstrated our team mentality, and the left hand symbolized gratitude and the importance of others in our own improvement. This wasn’t the end of their thankfulness though. Following the “breakdown,” the wrestlers came up, every one of them, to shake my hand and thank me for coaching. This was something I hadn’t done as an athlete, nor seen as a coach. Was it an anomaly? I saw soon that it wasn’t. It happens every practice.
“Mindset helps us learn to do the right things during the worst moments.” -Dennis Belleh, BTSP student athlete
My work with BTS continued as I joined the faculty of The Philadelphia School. The school hosted a BTS community wrestling club that served a diverse range of students from across the city. In my years of coaching, whether athletes are fighting for state titles or just trying to find a club to be part of, I have always focused on how each participant can improve as an athlete and individual. In this way, the athletes at BTS were similar to any group of young people I had encountered. The difference though was the odds many were working to overcome. The discipline and focus required to grow as a wrestler are impactful for all – but can be life-changing for some. These mental skills are improved by participating in the sport, but when focused on in an organized and systematic way, they can teach each individual life and career skills that will serve them for their entire life. This is the mission that Winning Mindset focuses on, and it is work we do extremely well.
BTS’s ability to help athletes is the work of an entire community. Donations from businesses and individuals back up the time and energy put forth by coaches, mentors, and office staff to alter the life trajectories of the youth of Philadelphia. When my career took another direction and I stepped out of the classroom, I knew my work with BTS couldn’t end. In my new role, I advocated for an enlarged partnership between Winning Mindset and BTS.
“Our partnership with Winning Mindset has given our youth the mental tools needed to work through adversity; this helps our Beat the Streets student athletes on the mat, and helps them persevere in life.” - Ben Reiter, BTSP mentoring director
This year I stepped into a management role at Winning Mindset. We focus on the mental aspect of teams and athletes to help them perform consistently at their best, without being hampered by the stress, anxiety, and self-doubt that so many athletes,regardless of age, struggle with. In my new role, I took on the training and ongoing professional development of our coaching staff. Growth Mindset, as well as using sports as a vehicle to improve individuals, are core values of Winning Mindset. In the BTS office on Market Street, the leadership of Winning Mindset and BTS created a plan to support the athletes served by BTS.
Over the course of the last spring and summer, more than 20 Mindset coaches have worked with the athletes who frequent the BTS Mentoring Center. This past weekend was the next stage of our work to help grow Philadelphia’s wrestling ecosystem. On Saturday, September 15, we held our first Winning Mindset Training Session with the coaches of BTS programs across the Philadelphia area. Our aim was to share our knowledge and practices of improving the mental capacity of the wrestlers they coach. Our work with BTS will continue in the future with their coaches, mentors, and athletes.
“Mindset training helps the kids learn from their mistakes on and off the mat, and manage fear in tough situations.” - Edwin Morales, BTSP alum and mentor
The relationships we are fostering with BTS wrestlers and coaches allow us to help them improve their mental toughness, motivation, confidence, and ability to control aggression and compete in challenging situations. These are the skills that translate from wrestling, directly into life, and are the focus of our work with BTS. Building confidence for a match is similar to building confidence for an interview. This is a skill that Winning Mindset teaches countless teams and individuals across the country. Setting goals as an athlete, as a student, and in a career allows you to pinpoint what you want and what you are working for. The action plan to get there is what outlines the path to achieve it. At Winning Mindset, these are a few of the skills we seek to instill in athletes and teams across all sports.
The techniques and physical improvements gained in athletics help athletes excel in their chosen sport, but I personally haven’t found that my strength or single leg has been very helpful during job interviews, teaching classes, or managing a company. It is the mental toughness, confidence, and motivation – sharpened through years of athletics – that lasts a lifetime.
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