ER – I am currently the head strength & conditioning coach for Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. My role has grown from working with a few of the varsity teams to taking over full operations single handed and providing a program structure not seen before at SMU. I now run varsity programs and am entering a second year providing an internship for local students. I formerly worked as a strength & conditioning coach for the Canadian Sports Centre Atlantic. I am a CSCS and a CEP, and I am finishing up my masters in Biomechanics.
CSCA – Why did you select this role?
ER – I have been asked this question a lot from my peers in recent months. I always aspired to become a head strength & conditioning coach after my time as an intern under Elliott Richardson at Acadia University. Learning from him became the cornerstone for my success early on and the opportunities he provided led to me getting a job for the Canadian Sports Centre Atlantic under the phenomenal staff there. I got to work alongside exceptional professionals and learn from different perspectives that helped change the way I approach high performance.
Early on I was clear that my goal was to develop into a position to take on a position with a university program. A few months later my director Ken Bagnell approached me with an opportunity to train some hockey players (at the time it was just that – a few hockey players). The opportunity put me into collaboration with Trevor Stienberg, the head coach for the men’s varsity team at SMU. After the initial weeks I was recruited to train the varsity team and it snowballed quickly from there. I certainly took the approach that no time is better than the present, and there was a clear opportunity waiting to be seized with enough determination.
Beyond the intent of seizing a leadership role as a head strength & conditioning coach, I am intent on building a lasting program that did not previously exist. One that can exist and thrive beyond my time working there. The second objective is to raise the compensation standards for the profession by setting higher expectations on what a strength & conditioning coach should be paid in the Maritimes as we are generally valued greatly but not provided the adequate amount of resources for long term success.
I certainly attempted to fight above my weight class in terms of experience, but it has paid off immensely through constant innovation and determination – but also by leaning on the support of my exceptional peers and mentors in the region.
CSCA – Entering the industry what was your greatest need?
ER – Because of how quickly I ascended into a leadership role, there was one glaring issue that I faced – administrative skills. The Kinesiology program that I completed at Acadia is next-to-none in terms of practical experience and overall readiness preparation for entering the workforce, however administrative leadership wasn’t part of the curriculum. Although the administrative demands and skills are unique to each organization and institution, leadership roles inherently come with more time spent in meetings, on the phone, scheduling, processing paperwork, and meeting deadlines that are unrelated to the gym or athlete performance.
Although there are programs dedicated to teaching athletic & recreation administration, it became clear that those skills were necessary to facilitate a jump into a larger role. My time with the Canadian Sports Centre was my first foray into this kind of work, and I leveraged my relationships to learn about the aspects of administration within sport. I spent time in countless meetings and learned about how funding and sport politics worked.
Overall, my approach has always been inquisitive, and to succeed within an organization you must understand what the moving parts are and how the hierarchy works (especially where the money flows). This understanding has become a greater asset than I expected, and I feel like many people in our field overlook its importance or are never made aware of the intricacies of administration. Although still not common, there are more and more strength & conditioning coaches adopting roles as large as Athletic Directorships, creating a precedent that head strength & conditioning coach or director of performance is not the last rung on the ladder.
CSCA – To date, what has been your greatest learning?
The biggest lesson I have learned so far in my career is that family life is always a priority. We deal in the business of people, and the biggest currency we expend is our emotional energy every day. If we do not make time for our families and get too caught up in the “grind” we inevitably burn out and have little left to give to the ones who are the most important to us. Once I started standing up for my time and making time for family, I was valued to a far greater degree by my coworkers and peers and was able to put more time into my family.
Time is a limited commodity, and we need to make sure we have enough for those that matter the most to us (even though we all know we will always give more than is owed to our job).
CSCA – How has COVID changed what you do?
ER – COVID has presented challenges that I am sure everyone has faced. Athlete compliance has been the biggest issue as the uncertainty in the world can be paralyzing for young and goal driven minds. We have taken on different ways to engage with athletes by kicking up our social media presence and trying to show new ways to approach training from home. I believe that although it can be frustrating for athletes to become lazy and fall off the program, they are only creating a case against themselves and those who are maximizing the time will dominate when the dust settles.
The next biggest change has been a shift to virtual operations where possible. There have been more virtual team meetings, and I try my best to engage with questions from athletes by using video chatting or phone calls to keep the personal connection present. Running some training sessions through video has unique challenges that will always be present (Wi-Fi strength, lag, audiovisual quality etc.) but I’ve found what works best for myself and those I interact with.
I think that COVID has highlighted significant limitations to our job security, but also shown that there is a way to thrive in a virtual environment with enough preparation and organization to either provide a “safety net” or an alternative business service which some programs leverage already. I have been fortunate to have coaches that strongly advocate for increased utilization of my role and services helping secure my position during this time of uncertainty.