Latisha Dolford

by Cpl. Hye Joon Byun
U.S. Army

YONGSAN GARRISON -- It is often difficult for a community to go through change on short notice and sometimes it can take many years for plans to be fully implemented. However, there are also times when individuals can play a role in creating the first ripples of change. This is exactly what Latisha Dolford, a senior at Seoul American High School, did within the youth community of U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan. Seeing how there was a lack of sports programs offered during off-season periods, Dolford decided to conduct her own volleyball training sessions to fill in the gaps. The young leader shared her experiences with us during an interview:

What motivated you to start a volleyball program?

When I first arrived here, there were no extensive volleyball programs at the time. I decided to take the initiative and apply what I had learned through my previous experiences to help others. The biggest problem was most of the people who tried out for the volleyball team did not have any prior experience. Some of the other schools play throughout the year, but since volleyball was more or less constrained to seasonal periods at SAHS, this kind of put us at a disadvantage. I thought this needed to be fixed and wanted to prepare them ahead of time. It started off with about three or four people, but by the end of the summer we had more than 20 participants.

Did you have a specific goal in mind when you started off?

I first wanted the participants to be able make the cut for the team they were trying out for. I also wanted those who were more accustomed to the sport to improve their skills and develop their sense of confidence. In the beginning, most of the students were very timid, but as they gained confidence, they became more social and more comfortable with themselves.

Did everything go as planned?

No. Sometimes people wouldn't come and when the group started growing, not everybody was on the same level. There were many times we would have to go back to the basics because of these discrepancies. However, I would have an agenda that I planned out the previous day and would write the different activities for each day. I would stay up late at night looking at helpful material on the Internet and I think this helped the program become more organized. In the end, the 3 to 4 hours we would spend in the gym from Monday to Friday contributed to improving our skills.

What changes could you could see?

The most noticeable change is how most of the participants lacked even the basic skills at first, but are at an advanced level now. My goal was much smaller than that. I just wanted them to obtain the basic skills but they all went beyond any of my prior expectations. Also, I could see changes that went beyond the aspects of volleyball through the implementation of conditioning exercises and trust activities. For me, trust is essential because I have seen in my previous teams how trust issues can break down the group's chemistry during a game. That's why even the simplest activities like the 'trust fall' helped us develop these fundamentals. You can't have a team or work together if you don't trust the people around you. This experience ended up being invaluable because most of the people I worked with during the summer are on the same team. We still have that trust that bonds us together.

What was the biggest challenge?

I think the biggest challenge was having people respect each other. This especially applied to me because I'm not an adult. People sometimes feel the need to argue if they are told to do something by someone who is perceived as an equal. The members that I started out with in the beginning had to go help out others as the group grew, so a lot of leadership skills were involved. There were some confrontations but it worked out really well.

Where do you get your motivation from?

My love for the sport itself has always motivated me, but my mother has always been a point of inspiration for me. She would encourage me even when I wanted to throw in the towel. She would tell me, "Keep going. You never know what's going to happen." This kept me motivated and gave me strength. Additionally, the different people that I worked with were also a big help. You could really see some people blossom, and that inspired me greatly.

The program started out with the objective to teach others. Did you end up learning anything in the end as well?

I did. I learned that even when you're technically a leader, you sometimes have to step down and let others have a chance at the steering wheel. I never felt I was the leader type, nor was I really placed in that position. Even though running the sports program was way out of my comfort zone, it helped me develop my own leadership skills.

What kind of advice would you give people, especially those in their younger years, who want to make a difference?

If you have a dream or something you believe in, just keep pushing. No matter what kind of obstacles might come in the way, keep on trying since you really don't know what you'll find at the end of the journey. Furthermore, don't try to take up a position of responsibility just for the rewards. You'll be able to gain more than you ever imagined if you pursue your goals. Take the opportunity whenever you see the chance to do what you feel is right.

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