Learning to coach is a difficult process with many twists and turns along the way. It’s hard to gain the knowledge and skill necessary to be a great coach and the most difficult piece of the puzzle is gaining the trust of your team. There is no set right and wrong way to gain their trust and every team is different. However, my experiences as a student-athlete have helped me to build that relationship and grow as a coach.
Being a college athlete is something that not everyone gets to experience. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to play college football and to experience a great level of success. During my time as a student-athlete I earned a spot as a three-year starter and competed in 3 football national championships during my four years. Because of my experiences as a student-athlete, I was driven to learn how I could help other athletes reach their full potential as my coaches did for me. I wanted to learn from the best coaches in the country so I could someday become a great coach myself, and that is exactly what ETSU offers its students.
On the outside, being a student-athlete may seem simple: you play a sport and get your school paid for. Great deal, right? Yes, it is an amazing opportunity but there is so much more to it than just playing games. Student-athletes undergo countless hours of training, conditioning sessions, travel time to and from games, and must dedicate time to the training room just to stay healthy. On top of all the time required for their sport, student-athletes are still expected to excel in the classroom just as any other student in order to graduate. The stresses that student athletes go through on a daily basis are hard to understand unless you’ve been in their shoes.
I know what it feels like to go through two-a-days in the summer heat. I know what it feels like to wake up before sunrise to go train. I know how it feels to have a coach on you all practice and then have to pull it together to go hit the books. When my athletes come into training and seem sluggish, I can talk to them and understand what they are going through. Because they know that I’ve been through it too, they trust that I mean it when I tell them I care and will do my best to help them through it.
However, there is more to it than just the tough times. As a former athlete, I know what it takes to form a championship team. I know the culture that must be formed to reach the goals set forth by the team, and I can see when an athlete steps up as a leader. It’s my job to encourage an environment that allows my athletes to grow together as a team and inspire that championship attitude. But, teams aren’t homogenous. Teams are made up of individuals from many different areas and cultures and must learn to function as one unit. My own team in college had players from 10 miles out of campus and some from 2,000 miles away. I had to take the time to get to know my teammates – how they think, what motivates them, what their goals are etc.- before we could be a team. As a coach, I do the same. My current team has players from across the united states and multiple countries. They don’t all respond to the same coaching cues, praises, or even like the same music in the weight room. Learning to understand each of them has helped me to build the trust necessary to get the most out of my athletes.
ETSU has allowed me to blend these experiences together with knowledge base to keep my athletes on the field and performing at their best. Not only have I had the opportunity to learn in the classroom from the best in the world, but I also get to use what I’ve learned every day with my team. Our program is unique because from day one on campus, students are working hands-on with their teams and growing as coaches and sport scientists, not simply downloading information as students. Specifically, my time at ETSU has given me the tools to think critically and make evidence based-decisions concerning training theory, load management, recovery-adaptation, and athlete monitoring, to name a few. These tools allow me to build upon my understanding of the student-athlete experience to point my team in a direction that leads to success. This includes designing effective annual plans, implementing testing sessions in the lab, leading strength and conditioning sessions, planning on-field practice loads and durations, and leading recovery sessions. Lastly, combining my experiences as an athlete with what I’ve learned at ETSU has allowed me to help athletes and coaches understand why they should trust the process, which may be the most important link in the chain.
Coach Meg Stone frequently talks about the tough transition from athlete to coach as you must learn to shift the focus from helping yourself to helping others. You must understand that it is no longer about you, but about what you can do for the team. However, I’ve always felt that it was never really about me. Just like my teammates knew I’d do anything to help the team succeed, my athletes know that I still put all of myself into the team as a coach. That’s what builds trust – showing your team that you will work as hard for them as they will work for you. I’m just beginning my growth as a coach, but I’m sure I will continue to rely on my experiences as an athlete to guide me along the way.