CSCA – How did you get started in the industry?
In 1994, I was attending Simon Fraser University, taking Forensic Psychology courses hoping to be the next Jodie Foster (referencing her role in the movie Silence of the Lambs). But in all honesty, like most young adults, I was not sure what to study and where my true aptitudes lay.
In second year, I ended up taking a Kinesiology course which I found both intriguing and refreshing, plus I earned my first decent mark. I was always a sporty girl and grew up playing everything like most kids in the 80’s so the subject matter seemed to suit me. Shortly after I got a job at a local gym teaching weight training. Now, mind you, this was back in 1996 where my life was school, softball, working, and Tupac. It was also a time when I began to lift weights with some of the football players at SFU.
Kids in my era didn’t strength train much until after high school, so I was new to all of it. Looking back though, I can honestly say I wasn’t really ‘following my passion’ or anything that ‘deep and spiritual.’ I kind of fell into it.
Training people just seemed to suit me. I enjoyed the teaching aspects and empowering people, but I also quickly realized that the culture of fitness wasn’t quite the right fit. Let me just say that I’m just a wee bit intense. 😉 So, in 1998, I approached a college-level basketball coach to see if he needed help with his women’s basketball team. He agreed to take me on, with no experience working with athletes. I had played basketball in high school though and new the game well enough and had taken a few more Kinesiology classes.
From there, things snowballed. I began to read and attend conferences. I read Supertraining cover to cover, not once, but thrice. I took a weightlifting certification and studied track and field with local coaches. Back then, S&C was a new field and it was all very exciting. After a season with the college team, I decided to transfer my academic preparation to the University of British Columbia where they had a Physical Education degree stream.
I also landed a role as the S&C coach for the women’s basketball team. That began a 6 year position with a basketball program that ended up winning 2 National Titles and the start of a great career. I also finished my undergraduate degree and my master’s degree where I shifted more towards sports physiology and sports medicine. I did a load monitoring study before it even became in vogue, using the old RPE models, pen and paper! Wow, the stats on that were miserable.
I was fortunate to work with some keen and hard-working athletes and a coaching staff that trusted me at such a young age. I ran workouts all year round for the athletes, developed a monitoring system and collaborated with the therapy team. It all sounds cliché, but this was back in 1998-2005, a time where sport performance training was just being born.
During the summer months, I worked for a local training company that attracted many amateur and professional ice hockey players to Vancouver. I had opportunities to work with some world-class players and enjoyed that population too.
In 2004, during grad school, I also started my consulting company. Well, let me re-phrase that: A friend of mine started it and asked me to join him. We worked together on a few athlete developmental projects and he ended up handing the business over to me. I remember thinking – what am I supposed to do with this?
I had never run a company before, but like a good 80’s kid, I just went for it. I spent a lot of time building relationships with sport clubs, coaches, councils and other trainers. After a while, I found myself too busy to handle my client load, so I hired a few contractors to help me out. I always leased space from gym owners so that gave me the freedom to explore other opportunities too, like a 6 month stint in Malaysia training National Team athletes, a year-long contract at EA Sports building a fitness video game and my other love – teaching at the university and college level.
I began teaching at the age of 28, which, looking back is quite young, but I was really into it and loved to share what I had learned with future coaches. I ran my company for a good 12 years and then dissolved it as a corporation when I decided to move away from the city. At that time, my son was 2 years old and I was ready to go back to consulting on my own and teaching versus having staff and a huge client roster to try and manage. It was simply too much and I knew if I were to be fully present in my day today, I had to let that go.
Over the past 7 years or so, I have had many terrific opportunities to work with some very high-level athletes, now specializing in American Football and Combat sport, particularly Freestyle Wrestling. Currently, I have about 6-10 athletes on my active roster (local or international) at any given time and no longer work ‘hourly’ as most trainers might. Instead, I offer a specialized consulting service to the kids under my wing and have realized that coaching is not a 9-5 job. Some sessions might be in person on the field, some might be in the weight-room, some might be with a therapist and some might be on the phone. Service, I have realized can take on many forms.
CSCA – What have been some of the challenges you have faced?
Oh boy! Where do I start!
First, let me say that if I faced the same challenge twice, that is on me. Challenge is part of life and part of working with people. I do try to be self-aware and see how I may have contributed to a challenging situation, but I am also wise enough now to know when someone is behaving in a way that is undermining and non-transparent. Sometimes challenges can be easily boiled down to a miscommunication which is easily solved, especially when parties are accountable for their actions. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt initially and form my opinion over time, and varied context.
I’m not going to pull the female card on this question because I’m confident in my abilities and if someone does not like me or does not want to work with me because I am a woman, that is on them. They have lost out. Many times, I get asked what it is like being a female strength coach and my answer is always the same: “I have never been a male.” I really cannot say if it is better or worse, or if I face more or less challenges. It is a poor hypothesis. I have been recruited for many top-level jobs and have worked alongside some great men. I have also worked with some very insecure men (and women). Is it a challenge? Sure, it is, but I have learned to not make it about me. I have also learned it is okay to walk away from bad energy. Sometimes enough is enough.
Another key part of facing a challenge is that I have learned to take my job very seriously, but not to take myself seriously. It’s important to be able to laugh at yourself and call yourself a dummy now and then. I think when we get too in our heads and start thinking we are some type of X factor, then the ego takes over. I have good people around me that would quickly put me in my place if I behaved as such. I’m a coach. I help athletes. The athletes do the job, not me.
CSCA – Where do you see S&C going in the next 10 years?
I have no idea; I’m a bit of a surfer when it comes to things like this. Meaning, I like to try and be as present as possible in life and not worry or think about the future. Maybe it’s because of my age. However, I can share with you, my wish for the future! I wish that more S&C coaches would ‘learn it all’ – sprints, plyos, the lifts, testing, monitoring, etc. etc. etc. I am seeing too much specializing in one biomotor ability. And too much influence of one methodology area like track or powerlifting.
We are here to develop athletes physically in all trainable qualities. It is insufficient to only be a weight room guy or a linear speed girl when you are prescribing exercise for most athlete populations. I love what David Epstein writes about in his new book, Range. He talks about how we all need to ‘sample widely’ and why generalists will rule over specialists in most professions. I think all S&C coaches should be able to train all components of fitness for the non-specializing athlete. For example, I feel I know enough about prescribing and coaching Olympic weightlifting for the non-Olympic lifter. I know enough about coaching linear speed for the non-track athlete. I see the value in having these skills, but those with them are a dying breed.
I’d love to see more S&C coaches with a breadth of knowledge and to have read-only 4-6 books. Instead of spending their time learning hands-on, making mistakes and getting back to the drawing board. I’d love to see more of them asking questions to willing mentors who have the wisdom and experience to quickly sift through the BS. We are in an age where information is too accessible, and it seems that reading Instagram posts trumps coaching humans.
The next generation needs to value the investment of time. With that acceptance of the long game, comes more wisdom in our young profession.