Stephanie Smith (featured on the left hand side in the picture above) has been coaching for as long as she can remember.
“Growing up, I don’t really know how it happened but all of the kids in our neighborhood – no matter how young or old – would end up in my parents’ front yard and I’d run games of football, soccer, and tag over and over and over. I loved it. Every time someone came to our door and asked, ‘Can you come out and play?’ I was just always ALWAYS like, ‘YES!’”
The games in the front yard were simple and fun and life-changing.
They had started with Dave, Steph’s stepfather, who came into her life when she was three and has remained her Dad ever since.
“Games of catch started with him. We’d go out front and pass the football for hours. I mean HOURS. Playing catch was something that we did from the time that I was little until the last day of his life – when early onset Alzheimer’s took him far too soon and far too young. So much of him was already gone – but when I showed up with the football and passed it back and forth for both us, I felt like I did when I was a kid. I felt connected. Him and me. No matter what.”
As a child life specialist and the on-site Coordinator for the Teammates for Kids Child Life Zone at Children’s Minnesota, the importance of coaching and connection remains at the heart of Steph’s work.
“When I taught 4th Grade and people asked what I did, they got it. When I transitioned to a career in child life – I had to explain a bit more – so I memorized an exact definition. We are certified health care professionals who help children and their families navigate the process of coping with illness, injury, disability, trauma, and hospitalization. And to me, that means we must stay present. That we connect with compassion and openness when it matters most. Teammates for Kids and The Life is Good Kids Foundation both understand that – which is why I think the collaboration between the two organizations is so very good for all of us working in the Teammates Child Life Zones and the thousands of children we collectively care for.”
Co-founded by country superstar, Garth Brooks, Teammates for Kids is a non-profit focused on giving all kids an even start. They support recreational and development programs in inner cities and in the areas of health and education. Their Child Life Zones are spectacular centers in leading children’s hospitals all across the U.S., where pediatric patients and their families can go to play, explore, laugh, and express themselves.
According to Steph:
“It was clear early on that the staff utilizing the Zones would need to implement effective and innovative approaches in order to make these places as connective and therapeutic as possible. And, I knew from my very first Playmakers Discovery, that the Life is Good Kids Foundation would help all of us working in the Zones find meaningful ways to create a healing environment.”
For more than two years now, The Life is Good Kids Foundation’s Playmaker Movement has been a foundation of support for Playmakers like Steph and her many colleagues within the Teammates organization.
“We provide services for children and families experiencing a variety of challenges. We’re with them as they face everything from a new diabetes diagnosis to relearning basic skills following brain surgery to end of life situations. Healing from ANY treatment or circumstance can be hard and often painful. Through the support of Teammates and The Life is Good Kids Foundation, child life specialists like me get to engage with these children and their loved ones to help build resilience through authentic and positive connections.”
It should be noted that throughout the interview for this piece, Steph kept her Life is Good Playmakers Beach Ball in her hands.
“For me, I think it’ll always come back to the massive power of a game of catch. It’s not the ball, or even if you’re outside or inside. It’s the act of giving and receiving. The trust of letting go and being caught. The reassurance that when the ball drops, we can pick it back up. Be present. Play. Love. That’s how we stay connected to ourselves, to others and to this big, unpredictable beautiful world.”
Keep spreading good vibes, Playmaker Steph!
You can send a note of gratitude to Steph and nominate a Playmaker in your life by hitting the “Submit” button below.