The Challenges Have Made Me a Better Coach – Good Mentors Are Key in This Industry

Published On: January 15, 2020Categories: Interviews

I really enjoy helping people achieve things they never thought possible, on the field, ice, court, while also providing opportunities for achievement outside their sport. 

 CSCA – How did you get started in the industry? 

As with most coaches, I started as an athlete, spending thousands of hours on the pitch. As with most athletes, I was completely blind that anything outside of having my hands on a rugby ball would help me improve. As I got further into my Kinesiology degree, I quickly started to realize the ignorance of those thoughts and started playing around with what I was learning in school.  

Strength and Conditioning was not really on my radar until I was completing my master’s at the University of Guelph. Firstly, I should clarify that my primary motivation for continuing my education was to win a National Championship. Kinesiology was something “school-related” that wouldn’t hurt my career path and could keep me eligible on the pitch. During this time, I stumbled across the first and most influential mentor in my career.  

I met Trevor Cottrell while I was giving a presentation about Hydration for Sport Performance at an open house of a therapy clinic for a friend. In true Trevor Cottrell fashion, he ripped me apart about certain physiological references that I was using to support my work. Although he had 2 post docs and a million other letters behind his name, Trevor was spending several nights a week (somewhere that can literally only be described as a hole in the wall, for compensation that most likely only covered gas) going to work with athletes from the National Wrestling Team.  

He would have chosen to be nowhere else. It was an incredible thing to experience. So, I did what any normal person would do and hung around their gym sessions for the better part of 2 years and learned everything I possibly could from him. 10 years later, I am still learning from him. 

I am coming up to a decade in this industry, and it took me more than three quarters of that time to land full-time work where I was not piecing contracts together from various National Sport Organizations (NSO’s) and Provincial Sport Organizations (PSO’s). I count myself lucky, as there are not many full-time positions in strength and conditioning. The first paid position where I held any sort of true responsibility was at Sheridan College as their S&C Coordinator. This allowed me to pay the bills while juggling a variety of PSO and NSO individual athlete contracts to get my foot in the door.  

My break into the elite athlete world came from my second mentor, Chris Chapman, who connected me with a few athletes from Ontario Figure Skating, a sport I knew nothing about (I still do not know how to skate). This seemed to become a trend for me, as I took on more contracts with unconventional PSO’s and NSO’s; Beach Volleyball, Synchronized Swimming, BMX, Track and Road Cycling. Some of the best advice I ever received was from Chris, as I initially hesitated when he asked me to take on Figure Skating. “How can I positively influence and get buy-in from athletes in a sport that I have never experienced”, I thought. Chris told me, “Go out of your comfort zone, into theirs, and experience the sport. You ask them to come into your comfort zone every day in the gym, which could not be farther from theirs”. For every sport that I have worked with, I have heeded Chris’ advice and embedded myself in their comfort zone.  

On the ice, in the pool, on the track. Synchronized Swimming has my utmost respect, one of the hardest training sessions I have ever done.  

My real passion is people and education. Which has brought me back to the collegiate world, as the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at York University. I really enjoy helping people achieve things they never thought possible, on the field, ice, court, while also providing opportunities for achievement outside their sport. 

CSCA – What have been some of the challenges you have faced? 

This question stumped me for some time because I knew what I needed to talk about but had a hard time coming to terms with writing about it. Being a strength coach who is female, talking about being female as a challenge, is pretty cliché. It is no secret that the industry continues to be quite a boy’s club and cracking into that club has not been easy.  

Unfortunately, I have not gotten to where I am today, without being sexually harassed, discriminated against or bullied by athletes, colleagues, and supervisors. More and more athletes and support staff are openly reporting on these issues, which is encouraging for changes in the environment for future coaches in this field.  

The only thing I have found that works 100% of the time with any level of athlete, is putting their performance at the forefront of decision-making and showing them results. By doing this, the athlete will realize that you truly care, and they will trust you and follow you.  Sheldon Persad was my third mentor, who provided me with that key piece of advice.

Initially, I struggled to get buy-in from (male) athletes who lifted extremely heavy (squatting 2.5x their body weight). Most of the advice from my male colleagues at the time was, “lift with them, throw weight around and look the part.” I can say from experience, throwing weight around is an easy way to get weight room cred, and I do use it at pivotal moments with some programs and athletes, but it will only get you so far.  

Sometimes you must do something different to show them that you care about their performance. Although it can be challenging, I have found unique ways to connect with my athletes. For instance, in sports in which I cannot compete safely in (i.e. Football), I show them that I also love and care about competition by challenging them to life-size board games in the weight room. Surprisingly, you learn a lot about a 6’7”, 300lb graduating lineman when he has to carefully place a Jenga piece during a plank! As a strength coach, you often need to find unique ways to forge a common bond with your athletes so that they trust you and follow you. 

CSCA – Where do you see S&C going in the next 10 years? 

I am hoping with the development of the CSCA, there will be more clear pathways for people looking to get into this industry. I also hope that organizations will have a better understanding of a Strength and Conditioning Coach’s value to their programs. 

The industry is so small, yet very saturated at the same time. With so much information readily available, it can be both a blessing and a curse when developing new coaches. We need to establish some structure to support the growth of S&C coaches, as even those who are well established in the industry still admit to being overwhelmed by the amount of information they can access. 

I would like to see more time and value being placed into well-established paid internships and apprenticeship programs. Universities are a perfect place for this to be cultivated, but the institutions need to appreciate that this takes time; and that this time is over and above face time with athletes. 

Unfortunately, I only see Instagram and social media making things more difficult for the public to be protected to understand what good service is. The only way I see this being rectified is if the title of Strength and Conditioning Coach is protected. I am not convinced that this is within reach within the next 10 years. 

Perhaps we may even get to a place in 10 years where I can more easily explain to my relatives exactly what I do. My uncle still thinks I am a physiotherapist! Small wins. 

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