On an off day during a road trip last month, Polk State's soccer players could have rested in their hotel rooms or spent a day shopping. Instead, the student-athletes made time to put on a soccer clinic at the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Gulf Coast in Gulfport, Miss.
"With amount of running we do in a game, we don't want to play two games in a row," said Head Coach Steve Linamen. "So we thought we'd use our off day to volunteer to help teach kids the game of soccer."
Linamen turned to Gina Kim, who works in the Wellness Center on the Lakeland campus, for help in finding a volunteer opportunity for the team during their time in Mississippi.
Working with about 50 fourth- and fifth-graders, the Polk players taught basic soccer skills.
"The club had had other teams come in, but this was the first time for soccer, so everyone was really excited," said Linamen.
Volunteering is nothing new for the team, said Linamen.
"We do lots of other volunteer activities, but often we're doing something like collecting food or clothes, so we don't directly interact with people. Putting on the clinic gave us a chance to directly interact with kids."
The kids at the clinic weren't the only ones who enjoyed the activity.
"I liked working with kids and playing soccer, so this was enjoyable and rewarding at same time," said sophomore Meghan Flaherty of Inverness.
Freshman Sarah McKinney of Fruitland Park agreed.
"I enjoyed getting to know the kids and seeing how much they enjoyed us being there. It was great to see how they loved a sport we love too. I hope they get the same joy out of the game that we do."
Freshman Kara Quintanilla of Auburndale came away from the experience with a sense of gratitude.
"It helped me realize how blessed and grateful I am to have the things I do," she said. "I think we all came away more grateful for all we have.
"And the kids loved it. They had smiles on their faces and asked lots of questions. One of them wanted to know if we played on TV.
"I really enjoyed it and didn't realize beforehand how much impact one visit could have."