CSCA Director Q and A with Sheldon Persad
CSCA – How did you get started in the industry?
SP – My passion has been coaching since I was in grade school. My first paid opportunity came in the mid-1980s as a result of one of my teachers (Doug Quarrington) having faith in me and seeing something in me I did not see in myself. Although he was a teacher, he had a part-time job as the convenor of a youth basketball league. At the last minute, just before the regular season started, one of the coaches had to drop out. He asked me if I could step in and coach the team.
Yes, I was the youngest coach in the league, yes I knew pretty well nothing about basketball (still don’t), and yes it was a paid position! With less than a week before the first game, I spent a few sleepless nights trying to learn as much as I could about the game. Coincidently, at the time I was going through my first certification process for a different sport, which was of great benefit, and laid foundation for my understanding that any certification course is valuable time spent.
As I think back, I understand that my teacher was grooming me and evaluating how I responded to coaching/teaching situations. For example, in class, he used to ask me to teach my classmates different skills from time to time.
The basketball season went well, we won the championships despite my lack of knowledge, but I faced challenges. I instituted a few rules that were not popular. First, I made it a rule that everyone on the floor had to touch the ball before we took a shot. Second, everyone on the floor had to score. For example, if we had 4 players who had scored it was our team goal to ensure the 5th player scored before anyone else made attempts. When all 5 players on the floor had scored, I would make substitutions. The final rule I instituted was that everyone played equal time, no matter the score or the importance of the game.
Some of the parents and their kids were not happy initially, but then we started winning, the tension subsided, and most important kids were having fun even when we lost games. Part of the fun was due to them looking out for each other and finding those who hadn’t scored yet without me having to prompt them. It was amazing.
Decades later I am reminded of that situation when I read research like Amanda Visek’s, which touches on reasons kids play and drop out of sport (1). Moreover, during that time I gained invaluable experience dealing with politics, parents, and league administration that I carried with me to other head coaching opportunities in other sports at higher levels.
My love is coaching. My life goal as a professional is to be a better coach (i.e., learner, mentor, teacher). I am a big fan and supporter of the National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP). For over 30 years I have taken, facilitated and helped create NCCP courses in a variety of sports, and continue to do so. My quest for greater coaching knowledge led me to become an S&C coach because it offers me the privilege to work with athletes from different sports while concurrently being the coach of various sports teams.
I first started working with national team athletes in the early 1990s with my business partner and close friend Barrie Shepley. We met during our days at McMaster University and started our company (Personal Best Health & Performance Inc. or PB for short) within months of finishing school. We are still running our company together to this day. Our company has 3 divisions, 1) Camps and Events (in Canada, US and Europe), 2) Corporate Wellness and Facility Management, and 3) Coaching, Testing, and Training. The main area of focus for our company is servicing endurance athletes (triathlon and marathon running), at every level from beginners to Olympians. For example, this September we are taking over 20 people to compete in an Ironman triathlon in Italy.
Additionally, I began to work as an external S&C coach with the National Sports Centre Toronto (NSCT) shortly after it was formed 20 years ago. In that time, the NSCT has changed names a couple of times and today is known as Canadian Sport Institute Ontario.
CSCA – What challenges have you faced in amateur sport?
SP – Technology is certainly one challenge however, we have done the best we can and have moved on from the fax machine! Technology is ever-changing, so rather than talk about that, I prefer to discuss a challenge that all elite athletes face, and that is retirement.
To date, I have worked with national and Olympic athletes from over 20 different sports including medalists at world championships, Pan Ams, Commonwealth Games and the Olympics. Planned, or unplanned due to injury, transitioning from elite sport to retirement is inevitable. On many occasions I have had the privilege of working with athletes through their careers, to starting a job, getting married and starting a family. When I first started in this industry there was not a lot of support or information for athletes to help them make smooth transitions.
Following the Athens Olympics in 2004, I was asked to speak at a Summit for national team athletes who were considering retirement. It was the first time I was able to participate in such an educational offering and was very well received by the athletes. However, in debriefing, it was determined that more was needed. Thankfully, today there is a program called Game Plan in Canada that helps athletes start the process and prepare well before they are considering retirement. Support through Game Plan includes education on financial planning, how to create a resume, job interviewing skills, and detraining education, just to name a few.
Helping athletes transition to a stable life outside of sport is still a challenge. However, today there is greater support compared to 30 years ago.
CSCA – What do you see for our industry in 10 years?
SP – My vision of S&C in Canada 10 years from now is tied to the growth of the CSCA. I see S&C coaches understanding what their options are for a career pathway. Not to say S&C coaches need to all strive towards working with Olympic athletes. Far from it, I believe in 10 years we will have an established road map for an S&C coach who wants to be world-class at coaching kids, or working with adults picking up sports for the first time. Additionally, and concurrently a road map for those who want to work with elite and professional athletes. Moreover, the educational platform to support the growth of S&C coaches will be in place to assist movement along each pathway.
In 10 years I see more options for S&C coaches across the spectrum of sport, with opportunities for mentorship programs so the experienced can share their knowledge in an organized, structured manner, from coast to coast through the CSCA. An amazing coach I learned from in the past, Andy Higgins, once told me he believed that the best coaches in the world should spend a great deal of their time working at the grassroots. This can come in the form of working with up and coming athletes, or as it relates to the CSCA, working with up and coming S&C coaches.
To date, some phenomenal people have stepped up to help the CSCA on the Advisory Team. With the help of such people, in 10 years I would like to see the CSCA continue to attract such quality individuals to continue building upon the foundation that has been created.
As S&C coaches we need to support each other, to understand that we are all on the same team, and ideally working towards the same goals – to collaborate and grow our profession together.
- Visek, Amanda J. et al., “Fun Integration Theory: Towards Sustaining Children and Adolescents Sport Participation,” Journal of Physical Activity & Health, 2014.