Nora Dooley – Interview

Nora Dooley is a coach with a very interesting coaching lifestyle! She is the Self-Directed Learning Coach and ASK for Choice Strategist for Coaches Across Continents; a charity that focuses on local issues such as: female empowerment, including gender equity; conflict prevention, and is the Global leader in social impact change. Nora travels the world to places such as Haiti, Cambodia and Israel to train and work with underprivileged communities. Find out more about her work in the documentary below and our exclusive interview with Nora herself.

Serendipity! After I graduated from university in 2012 I volunteered for a year in South Africa for a different NGO in the field of sport for development. I learned a good deal about myself and the type of work I wanted and did not want  to do. I knew an office job was not the path for me even if it was for a cause I believed in. Instead of returning to the States after my year away, I jumped on board with CAC for a three-month trial period. It was love at first program. More than two years later and here I am, still passionately dedicated to this work.

One of the most difficult tasks for CAC is telling our story and explaining exactly what it is that we do. Part of the difficulty is that every day is different. Self-directed learning (SDL) lives at the foundation of our organization and we aim to embody that ideal in every aspect of our work. As an SDL coach I am in charge of facilitating On-Field trainings for community leaders around the world. This involves year-round communication with our partners in order to ensure that the On-Field portion suits the needs of the community and also to support the implementation of sport for social impact in the communities they operate in. My main objective as an SDL coach is to create a safe space for our partners and training participants where all possibilities can thrive. I build the space in the form of the games in our curriculum but within that structure I only pose problems for them to solve, ask questions for them to discuss, and support productivity for them to carry with them into their lives.

In addition to my responsibilities coordinating with our partners and leading trainings as an SDL coach, I am also in charge of the implementation of our new female empowerment initiative called ASK for Choice. This is a separate program from what we?ve been running with our partners for the past eight years. It has a brand new curriculum aimed at bringing gender policies to life on the sports field. With the support of fellow staff members on our ASK for Choice team, I am responsible for establishing the ASK for Choice partnerships, planning the programs, communicating with our partners year-round, and managing the On-Field trainings led by our SDL coaches (including myself).

I am very fortunate to have found a career that unites so many passions sport, social justice, and travel. All of us at CAC love to travel, and it’s a good thing, because we do it often. Since joining the organization in 2013 I have worked with partners in East, West, and Southern Africa, Southeast Asia, India and Nepal, Central, South, and North America, and soon Eastern Europe! The experiences are incredible, unique, and numerous. The communities we work in vary from urban to extremely rural – as in lots of bumpy bus rides with goats and chickens on the roof! When I arrive at a new place I love to walk around and find the local fruits (hopefully mangos). One quirky thing I like to do everywhere I go is find the local grocery store ? whatever that means in the different communities. Sometimes it is a hole-in-the-wall kiosk, other times it looks similar to what we have in the US but with different contents. Upon psychoanalyzing myself over this I realize I do it, at least in part, because it resembles finding some semblance of routine in a very non-routine life. You go to the grocery store when you have a home. My home? It’s new every week or two, so to the many different grocery stores I go!

Wow, there are so many! And that is only because I am incredibly lucky to be able to work with so many amazing people. If I start talking about my global extended family I will write a novel so I?ll choose a different path. Reflecting back through my time with CAC I can safely say having malaria, pneumonia, and several bugs and odd health issues would not make this list! But I mention them here because usually when you get sick away from home (and I especially remember this feeling during college), all you want is the comfort of family and the spaces that you know and love. These moments of discomfort so far away from everything I would usually yearn for allowed me the opportunity to gauge the scope of my love for this job. I remember laughing, being in pain, feeling weak and exhausted, and just laughing. I knew in those moments more than any other that I was exactly where I needed and wanted to be.

Time, experience, patience, and tons of help! The CAC dance is a complicated one but if you?re willing to drastically shift your lifestyle away from anything widely accepted as normal, then you can pick it up. I also have to attribute great credit to my upbringing in a community where being a girl was not considered a curse or a burden, and with a family who gave me every opportunity to succeed on the field of my choice. The confidence I found growing up as a soccer player carries me around the world, and is constantly challenged by realities for women and girls that starkly contrast my own. I am grateful, I acknowledge my privilege, and I am humbled anew every day.

The women we work with through ASK for Choice are superstars. Early on I thought, unlike me and my ridiculously empowering girlhood, they have no reason to be as confident as they are. They?ve been beaten down, literally and figuratively, throughout their lives only because of the way they were born. When I first started working with these women I could not believe some of the obstacles they had overcome, and yet, they were just like me! They loved to play soccer, laugh, dance, learn, love and be loved. It was amazing for me to realize that nothing separated us but chance of birth. We all have a story; everything, including pain, is relative, and we all need help sometimes. After a training they believe we have helped them; they tell us so, and they thank us  and even though I tell them the same, I don?t think they realize how much they have helped me. I can only hope that through this program the ASK for Choice women will feel like they have the supportive, empowering environment  locally and globally that will allow them to design their own futures and help the girls in their lives to do the same.

My role with the ASK for Choice participants is to support them in any endeavor they choose. If I’ve done my job on the field and created a space where they feel comfortable discussing sensitive issues in front of me with their peers as well as with me directly, then I know we can move forward as equals (rather than in a coach-player/teacher-student relationship) and really begin to design and implement the programs of their choice. But at the end of the day it is up to them. We move on physically to the next community, and while we support them from afar a crucial part of our job is to step back and allow them to take ownership of the changes they envision for their communities.

What it all boils down to is a seemingly simple though wonderfully challenging task: Listen to them, learn from them, and allow them the opportunity to act without directing their action.

As a seriously competitive player for the better part of my life, I never imagined being part of something so infused with the game I love but without the competition. It has been therapeutic for me personally to grow so acquainted with a different side to this sport. Self-directed learning has not only become central to my professional life but also to my philosophical one. I believe the only certainty in life is uncertainty, but I can say with that youthful confidence that, in some capacity, soccer and CAC will always be part of me. And I look forward to discovering many more possibilities alive in the beautiful game, at CAC, and out in this crazy world.