Working in the CFL

Published On: November 6, 2019Categories: Industry, Interviews

Jordan discusses his experience working in the Canadian Football League 

CSCA – How did you get your first job working in pro sport?  

I got it the old-fashioned way, they posted a job and I applied, sort of. Much like many others, it is no secret that Strength & Conditioning is a people business and I had a prior connection to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, in the Canadian Football League, through my network. I have never kept it secret that most, if not all, of my opportunities, came from prior connections and I am quite proud of that. I don’t think that I gained any of these opportunities because someone in my network was impressed by a job that I did poorly and reached out to me for the next opportunity.  I have said it before and will say it again, whether you do a good job or not, it will follow you.  

On to the specifics of how I landed the S&C job with the Ticats. Through my network, I got in contact with the Head Athletic Therapist at that time and learned that we would be working together for a week in the near future when she was going to be covering for a therapist at my current place of employment. Throughout that week we had a few conversations about our approaches to sport performance, rehab, reconditioning, etc. and near the end of the week I made it clear to her that I was going to be applying for the position and wanted to be transparent to avoid putting her into an awkward situation and a potential professional conflict of interest.  

I began preparing for the interview right away. I researched the head coach Kent Austin, his background, and philosophies. I was fortunate enough to be personal friends with a former player of his and he gave me some great insights into how to converse with Coach Austin. I was granted an interview and am glad I prepared for Coach Austin specifically because I was only asked two S&C technical questions. The remainder of the questions were about leadership, behavior change, and dealing with conflict. It was one of most intense 90 mins of my life. During that 90 mins, Coach Austin spoke for about 75, me 14, and the remaining two members of the panel a combined 1 minute!   

A few intense moments during the interview I will never forget, and I believe that how I handled them helped me get the job.  

At one-point Coach, Austin was trying to get me to change my mind about hip mobility for change of direction question and kept asking for more and more clarity. I saw nothing else to do but show him. I jumped up out of my chair in the fancy board room, took off my suit jacket, and began demonstrating. I then gestured to Coach Austin to join me and I would show him exactly what I was talking about.  He smiled and said, “that’s great, I understand now, sit down.”  

That could have gone either way looking back! Another moment was when Coach asked me about my training. At the time I was deep into competing in Strongman and had been criticized for it at times when people assumed that my own training was a carbon copy of how I would work with athletes.  

When asked about a video that I had posted on YouTube where I did a 180kg front squat with a 5-second pause with my coach counting aloud in the background, I quickly began to downplay it and say something to the effect of strength training is only part of the training for athletes.  Coach Austin stopped me dead and said: “yeah, but the guys will know that you lift.” From that moment on I have never downplayed what I have learned through my own training process and highlight how it will help me with the population in question.  

To this day no matter the group of athletes, they are always interested in discussing what I do in my own training. Often this helps build a relationship as they see you working towards goals of your own, and at least walking some path beside (or super far behind!) them.  

I survived the interview and was offered the position shortly after. I still recall walking to my car, taking off my suit jacket, putting it in the back seat, getting in the driver’s seat and saying aloud “what the hell just happened?”  

CSCA – What skills do you need to be successful in this area?   

I flip flop with what order these need to be in, so they are listed in no particular order.  

You must be extremely competent, and you need to have the interpersonal skills to support people.  To coach with integrity, I think that you must be using and implementing best practices with your athletes (competent). To implement them you must have the people skills to convert that competency into action on the part of the athlete.   

If you have one without the other it just simply won’t work. S&C coaching is a technical position in a people business, you need both.  

CSCA – What are 1-2 of the differences between roles in this area compared to previous S&C jobs you have had?  

The biggest difference is that the players were already at the level that they aspired to reach, even though some in the CFL desire to play in the NFL, or have already done so previously.  Regardless, they were professional football athletes.  

Why this is different is that the sales pitch becomes a lot different. It becomes all about shaping conversations and narratives around how to affect career longevity, personal achievement to get the next contract, how to get back on the field after an injury to get game checks, etc.  

This is different than other levels in that it wasn’t so much about on-going development and jumping to the next level, but rather what can be done in the short term with quick pay off.  

CSCA – How do you upskill your knowledge and network as an S&C coach?  

I do like most of the rest of us concerning articles, textbooks, podcasts, and videos. I like to focus on things across different realms from S&C specific, coaching, teaching, behavior change, leadership, business, and anything else where I can track successful habits that can be applied to my coaching practice.  

Second, and I believe the most important way, is that I put myself out there and network with others. This is how I commit to my ideas and get challenged by peers on best practices and how they are implemented. I think that we get caught in the clouds arguing the super small details instead of sharing about what we DO, the result, and get challenged on our coaching process. This is how we grow, commit to an idea with conviction AND be open to being challenged in the name of improving rather than spending our time debating about 0.25 of a percent here or there in the latest research article.  

CSCA – What advice do you give individuals just entering the field who desire to work in the same area as you?  

I am glad this question is here because I was speaking with a group of students about this recently and think that the perception is all off about how to approach this in Canada. I will break down what I feel is the best approach step-by-step:  

  • Athletic Background: If possible, take your athletic career as far as you can. I shake my head when I hear of young aspiring S&C coaches not playing a varsity sport in University to do an internship, are you crazy?!?! Find a way to make it happen if possible, if not, remember this: there will always be opportunities to gain experience by coaching people for free but the opportunity to be a competitive athlete dwindles as you get older. What you learn as an athlete walking the path on your own will be valuable in coaching down the road.  
  • Train: the best way to gain technical competence and a deep understanding of training methods is to do it yourself. I don’t care what you do but make/follow a program and do it. A great approach is to follow a program that your athletes are doing. Perhaps follow the soccer program for 3 months, then try hockey, and then maybe golf. The actual sports don’t matter but what does matter is that you are developing practical skills in the weight room and on the field that you can use with your athletes.  
  • Coach: coach anyone that will let you. Put yourself in as many situations as you can where you are training multiple people at once in a semi-chaotic environment. I know that some people advocate that you should learn to coach in a small setting but I am not picky. You will not always be able to choose what opportunity comes so take advantage of what is there. If you have put in time training yourself you will have at least a few things that you can help with. At a minimum, you can help set-up, socialize with athletes to develop a relationship, and observe other coaches in the environment. This extends beyond S&C as well. It frustrates and puzzles me that many S&C coaches that are coming up right now have never coached a sport outside the weight room. Volunteer to coach youth teams, high school, etc. This will help you gain insight into what is needed in those sports as well as develop coaching and commination methods in other environments.  
  • Mentorship: whenever possible take advantage of opportunities to work alongside more experienced coaches, even if they are not in the exact setting that you aspire to be in. You can have all the knowledge in the world, but without experience, you may be barking up the wrong tree. The great thing about an effective mentor is that they can bestow some of their experience on you in the form of wisdom that will put you ahead of your current experience level.  
  • Network: let’s all say it together “networking is not adding someone to social media”. The world of S&C in Canada is small and if you are reading this site you are likely a maximum of 2 degrees of separation from every S&C coach in the country. Think about that and what an advantage it is. Remember my line from above where I said that if you do a good job or not, it will follow you? Let’s expand on that. Be competent, do a good job, have a mentor, mentor connects you with others in the field, mentors connect you with potential jobs. It doesn’t take much but networking is HUMAN based, not technology based. If you are starting and have yet to make that initial connection here are some suggestions:  
  • Attend conferences and introduce yourself to people that you would like to be mentored by. Understand that most people are extremely busy so simply introduce yourself and asking if there is a time when you could come by to shadow them coaching. Get their contact information and follow up a few days later about potential dates. If at that point you can’t work something out, no problem, as I said this is a small world so you will see them again in a few months at the next conference! Follow up by saying it is great to see them again and would love the chance to connect for a workout, coffee, shadow a session, anything where you can get with this person to show what you know about S&C. The key is to show them that you have done some homework and want to HELP THEM and that you are not asking them to do it all for you. Every S&C coach that I know would love some help, and as far as I know, none of them are looking for it in the form of a cold call email or LinkedIn request. Remember, make it HUMAN first, then use that opportunity to show them what you know and how you can help.  
  • Tip: Conferences and clinics can add up in price especially if you are a student. If you are still a student, I would suggest that you reach out to the conference organizers and ask if they need volunteers for set-up, clean-up, etc. and in exchange, you get to attend the clinic. I don’t know too many people that are turning down free help in the S&C profession.  
  • Be hungry: this is a difficult field but if it is something that you want to do and you approach it as a professional, it isn’t too complicated to make a career of it. You must want to do it because the initial few years can be difficult with lower wages and a lot of off-hour work. I do believe this though: if you are a good coach and follow the suggestions above about mentorship and networking you will have a secure S&C job within 5 years. There are just not that many people that are obsessive about developing their skills and getting out of their comfort zone to gain diverse experiences under a watchful eye. Those that have, will be rewarded.  

If you are a young, or older, S&C coach, and would like some help getting started on the steps above, be sure to keep your eye on coming information from the CSCA regarding connecting with mentors in your area. 

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