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**This story was originally published on Up2Us Sports by Emily Mohlin.**

Up2Us Sports coaches are leaders in the field of sports-based youth development (SBYD), but they often don't receive the recognition they deserve. Coaches' Corner is our way to show our appreciation for our incredible coaches who make positive changes in their communities every day! 

“Giving back” is one of those phrases that gets tossed around a lot — it’s one of those things we like to do around the holiday season, or it’s something that our alumni board at our high school asks us to do every once in a while. Maybe it’s even a buzzword we include on a resume.

But Karla Ruiz’s year of service with Up2Us Sports is proof that giving back to your community means so much more than that.

Ruiz, a 24-year-old soccer coach and mentor at South Bronx United (SBU), began her year of service with Up2Us Sports last year, but her involvement with SBU began several years earlier.

Ruiz joined SBU as a student-athlete in 2014 and graduated from the SBU Academy in 2015. After remaining involved with SBU for a few more years, Ruiz attended Lehman College, where she graduated with her Bachelor’s Degree — but even after graduating, she knew she still wanted to support SBU in some way.

Motivated by the idea of being able to give back to an organization that had given her so much when she was growing up, Ruiz decided to join Up2Us Sports to serve as a full-time coach for one year at SBU.

“I wanted to be a coach because I wanted to learn the ropes and be there for the girls like the SBU staff were there for me back in 2014,” Ruiz said. “I believe that I can make an impact here at SBU, and when my year of service is over it will be a full circle.”

But even though Ruiz had played soccer at SBU for years, the transition from becoming a player in the organization to becoming a coach in the organization still wasn’t easy.

“It was really weird for me going from [being] a player to being a coach at SBU,” Ruiz admitted. “Since I'm really passionate [about soccer], I thought the transition would be smooth for me. Well, I lied,” she said, “because it wasn’t.”

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Ruiz found that learning how to build a relationship with the girls on her U14 team was one of the most challenging parts of her new role. Ruiz wanted to learn how to communicate with them, to become someone who was approachable and someone the girls felt they could confide in about anything — soccer or otherwise.

And although it took some time, Ruiz’s dedication to her team both on the field as a coach and off the field as an academic tutor really paid off in the end.

“It took a month, but it was all worth it,” Ruiz said. “I feel like I became more than just a coach to the girls in the team… I became that person the girls would trust and even come to… like [if] something [was] going on outside SBU or if they wanted to do something specific at practice [or] for some chisme time [gossip]. It’s been rewarding seeing the girls grow as soccer players, leaders, scholars, and the [people] they want to become.”

Ruiz has certainly been able to watch her team grow over the past year. After a challenging fall season, Ruiz’s team thrived this spring. 

In their final game of the spring season, Ruiz’s team played what she described as “an intense game, that ended with a 5-5 score” — but despite the tie, this result secured her team a first place title in the league, a huge victory for a team only a few months removed from a tough season.

“The girls came a long way compared to the fall season,” Ruiz said. “Only a few knew how we struggled. [But] [w]hen the game was over, the girls were cheering, the parents rushed to be with their girls, and the girls themselves were throwing water at Coach Josh [another coach for the team] and I. It was a really proud moment for everyone including myself. After taking a group picture, a lot of parents approached me to congratulate me and even asked if I will be returning [to coach again]. They really made me feel like I made a difference, and just to hear that made me almost tear up. To know that the girls and the parents want me to come back is such an accomplishment, and I will forever be grateful for this year of service at SBU.”

And what a year of service it has been for Ruiz. Supporting a team through the challenging times and the triumphant times, both on and off the field, is truly what serving as an Up2Us Sports coach is all about — and Karla has done just that this year. And being able to do it all for an organization that once did the same for you? That just makes it even better.

So what does giving back to your community really mean? For Ruiz, it’s this:

“I just want everyone to know that if you do good things in life, good things will come back to you,” Ruiz said, “and it is so rewarding.”

Photo credits: Shutterstock, Up2Us Sports