Advocating an Experience-Based Coaching Education

To the kinesiology undergrad student/aspiring coach,

Look at 100% of all strength and conditioning job postings and the first requirement that you will see is a four-year education in Kinesiology or a related field.

So, you ibegin your journey toward becoming a coach inevitably by enrolling in the appropriate courses to put you on track for a degree in Kinesiology.

You, the aspiring strength coach, already know that you need to learn — learn a lot: about how different stimuli cause adaptations in the body; how to go about monitoring physiological outputs; how to mathematically quantify performance measures; and, how to fuel an athlete nutritionally, etc.

And, with the ability to regurgitate this knowledge-base, a diploma, and a CSCS-certification in hand, you expect to land a job post-graduation — or in the very least an internship at a big-time institution (e.g. the Ohio State’s and Texas’s of the world).

So you do what you’re supposed to do — you go to class every day, and even self-study in your free time after you finish typical college activities.

But ask yourself the following questions: over the course of those four years, what are you doing to build your resume with coaching applicable experiences? Moreover, what are you doing to prepare yourself for a coaching lifestyle? And, most importantly, what are you doing to determine your own unique coaching style, and to gain confidence in yourself as a young coach?


This is where my story differed from many 22-year olds coming out of college with a Kinesiology degree in hand. I was blessed to have a job lined up for post-graduation life, having accepted it prior to actually walking across the stage for graduation. What’s more, I already knew who I was as a coach and, although I knew I had a lot to learn yet (and still do), I was firmly confident in myself as a coach.

I firmly believe that the reason I was able to not only secure a full-time coaching job so quickly, but to also have this understanding of and conviction in my coaching, was the way in which I spent my four years of undergrad — which was a lot different than most students.


A Hands-On Education in Coaching

As I neared graduation from high school I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do with my career. I had decided not to pursue collegiate baseball, despite having low-level opportunities, and knew that strength and conditioning was already something that I was passionate about (I spent years trying to get as much as possible out of my slight frame on the mound).

Instead of doing what most 18 year olds want to do — go away to school, live independently, have some cash flowing into the bank, and live the college life — I chose to stay home to complete my associates degree.

I also took my first opportunity to coach and ran with it. I became a volunteer assistant high school baseball coach at my alma mater.

My responsibilities began with throwing BP (a steady stream of cutters… my BP-throwing days didn’t last long), raking the field, painting, and the icing on the cake; coaching… I got to coach athletes, which made the rest of the work worth it.

Mind you, coaching high schoolers for virtually no money, 30–40 hours per week, may not seem like a glorious position at first glance. But, over time my responsibilities grew with the amount of proactivity and ambition that I chose to exert. As time went on I took on the warm-up duties — throwing away the “circle stretch” in favor of dynamic movement prep — the weight training sessions, and anything else I could get my hands on. I coached first base and called pitches for the JV players, ran back and forth from the dugout to the bullpen during varsity games, and took on summers of travelball as well.

Of course, I fielded the same questions from my peers, “How much do you make to coach?” and, “Volunteering that much time? Why would you do that?

But what they didn’t see was, over the course of my 4-years of undergrad, I independently coached nearly a thousand warm-ups, hundreds of training sessions, and got to coach a few hundred different athletes — all with their own unique set of athletic and personal abilities and traits. I had no idea what I was doing, really, but I was getting to experiment, learn, and grow on the fly.

They say, “Make the big time where you’re at”, and I certainly did. To me, DeLand High School might as well have been the Los Angeles Dodgers.

I didn’t just get an education in kinesiology. I got a first-hand, hands-on, fully-customized education in coaching.

And that was just at the high school level.


Building the Resume

As rewarding and fun as high school coaching had proven to be, I realized that I needed to fill out my resume with more than just one isolated coaching experience, regardless of how long it may have had the potential to last.

After a year and a half of coaching at DeLand High School I made a push to try to find a collegiate environment in which to volunteer. Fortunately, Stetson University was one of the few schools that responded to my incessant emailing and calling. And, as luck would have it, this private Division-I University had a Strength & Conditioning Department in its inaugural year. Thus, I not only became their first strength-intern, but also their first “assistant” strength coach.

Again, from the outside it may not have looked so glorious: here I was making no money with the title “Volunteer Intern”.

But, what everyone else did not see was that I got to wear my coaching hat every single day. Sure, I had intern responibilities — I cleaned the racks, set up the weight room, went through the educational components like everyone else — but I also coached daily. Quickly I was coaching many teams (like Softball, Baseball, and Women’s Soccer) alone while the Director tended to conditioning sessions and other events outside of the weight room.

Of course, these were very special circumstances: I came into a very fortuitous opportunity, so I ran with it. But, even had I been able to volunteer with a much more “established” collegiate strength department and been given a lesser role, the experience, observation, and education would have been invaluable regardless. I was a 20-year old in a Division-I weight room, learning to coach a new type and caliber of athlete.

And, to top it off, I continued to volunteer coach at the high school level as much as possible. I’d imagine I was coaching 40–60 hours per week at this point.

The experience that I was acquiring, again, was tremendously beneficial, and it also allowed me to add this six-month stint to my resume. Also, the new collegiate environment provided me the opportunity to attend an NSCA Coaches Conference for the first time, exposing me to even more learning and networking.


By 2014 I had three years of high school baseball-specific coaching experience, and collegiate time to boot. Combined, this resume helped me secure an internship with the Los Angeles Dodgers. I traveled to Phoenix, AZ to work during the Arizona League (Rookie Ball). Again, I took the position solely with the pretenses of learning, observing a lot, but coaching sparingly.

Again, I was presented with the opportunity to coach much more than I had originally bargained. I got to lead warm-ups and coach athletes every day, and by virtue of some extenuating circumstances, I was sent to their Advanced-Rookie Ball affiliate in Ogden, Utah to take over their strength and conditioning needs independently for my final two weeks of the internship.

Just as had happened before, not only did I build upon my resume, but I also got tremendous coaching experience — this time with professional, international, and older athletes — which was equally as valuable to me.


Finally, I finished my last semester of undergrad with an internship at a private facility back home. Not one day had passed since I returned from the Dodgers before I was coaching athletes again. And, much like the previous opportunities, it was in a unique environment to me (I had never worked in the private sector), further diversifying my coaching experience.

In November of 2014 I interviewed for and ultimately accepted a full-time position with the Los Angeles Dodgers, pending my graduation the next month.


It’s important to note that I was still a college student, and by this very fact I was naive, formally uneducated, and ignorant in many ways. In other words, I had no clue what I was doing, and learned very much as I went along. I made mistakes: my programming was hideous, I accidently made an athlete or two cry, I even got ejected from a high school baseball game (another story of its own). But, I learned so much…

In four years I not only earned a formal education, but I was on a field or in a weight room probably 300+ days per year and learned to coach multiple types of athletes:

  • Ages probably 13–25
  • Male and Female
  • From “well-off” families or flat broke lifestyles
  • Highly talented to dangerously incapable
  • American, Latino, European, and Asian
  • Athletes and general population
  • In English and Spanish

I also got to learn on my own and from highly successful strength and conditioning coaches in the field — oftentimes simultaneously. I got to be a part of a winning program that gave me an experience in what it is like to work toward a team goal and actually achieve it. And, I got to find what I was most passionate about.

What’s most important, in my eyes, is this: I learned how to coach — and what my coaching style is — before ever having to coach for a living.

I can promise you that I am not the greatest coach. I certainly don’t look the part of a strength coach. And, I don’t know nearly as much as I probably should. But, I was able to walk into my first professional coaching opportunity with more than my formal education — I knew who I was as a coach, and I believed in myself, no matter where I went or what athletes were in front of me.

And, above all else that you can get with an experienced-based education in coaching— the resume that you can build and the experiences you can attain — learning about myself and instilling that firm belief in my coaching abilities was the greatest takeaway from my four years of undergrad.


Disclaimer:

I’m wrote this essay not because I feel like I’ve achieved anything significant, but because I want to show young aspiring coaches one effective way to build an early coaching career.

Granted, my personal journey — an experience-based one — is not the only way to go, and it may not be feasible for some, but it can work well, as it has for me.

Also, before you say it, I am painfully aware of the circumstances that I was blessed to have during this time. I had the ability to pursue my goals without having to worry as much as others about a roof over my head or the food on my table. My family provided me with every opportunity to get this coaching experience, and I am forever for thankful for that.

While my circumstances and situations were unique to my story and my journey, it’s simply the concept that I am trying to get across to the aspiring coach so that they may too see the benefit of creating an experienced-based coaching education. The key points are the following:

  • Be proactive and take on as much volunteering as you can feasibly handle. If you have to work another job to pay the bills on top of your course-load, maybe you only coach once or twice per week.
  • Never fear that an experience is too big for you. If you’re presented with a responsibility, it is because somebody believes in you. Now just need to believe in yourself. And, once you conquer that situation, you’ll never have a doubt the next time it presents itself.
  • Reach out to as many coaches as you. The worst they can do is not respond. There is so much to learn, so many opportunities to discover, and so much experience to gain.
  • Use the experience as an opportunity to experiment and learning — safely of course. Write down what works and what doesn’t. And, this isn’t just limited to the X’s and O’s of training. Write down what coaching methods you use, who you want to emulate, and what areas you need to work on as a coach.

Parting Thoughts

Ultimately, the point I am striving to get across is this: we can go through our undergraduate program allowing others to dictate our curriculum. Or we can take some control over our journey by using experiential learning — as much as we can afford to take on — to compliment our formal education.

The choice — and your future — is yours.

Respectfully,

RJF
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