In Part 1 of The ABC’s of Coaching, I explored the parallels between my time working as a kindergarten teach and my dream job that I now possess, working as a Strength and Conditioning coach. In this next installment I am going to elaborate on the unique learnings that I had teaching a room full of 4 and 5 year olds, which have proved invaluable in my transition to full-time strength coach and business owner. Let me preface this information by saying that I have worked with athletes from 9 to 30’s, amateur to professional, Big league All-star to fighting to make the team, and the approach is always the same, in that it isn’t!
What I am referring to here in the education world is called a student centered, or student lead approach to learning. What this means is that instead of telling students this is what we are doing today, this is what you are going to learn and I want you to memorize each of these facts/figures/etc. The educator will say, “what is it students, that interests you?” and with this in mind, will design learning opportunities around said topic which will create a rich environment of exploration that encompasses all of the required curriculum materials, but which is fully explored and discovered by the student, in a manor which makes sense to each of the individual learners. By acknowledging the learners as capable and competent participant in the learning process, the teacher creates the ability for the learners to come to conclusions on their own, confirmed by collaboration and thus a deeper engagement and understanding of the content. This approach to education in theory sounds wonderful and in practice it is! However, it is also extremely difficult to pull off. In order to create an environment where the students appear to seamlessly explore and discover things that lead them exactly to the end point the curriculum requires they get to is a major challenge to the educator who is tasked with building an environment that provides options for different learner types, varying degrees of background knowledge and wide-ranging abilities to comprehend expectations. What this means is that the educator must be constantly reflecting on the process and evaluating what the next steps are, while planning multiple tasks for any one concept to ensure that each learner is accounted for. As well, this approach requires a great deal of collaboration with the learner and other educators, which is completely for naught if there is not a strong attention to the communication that is taking place within the environment.
Out of my experience in developing this type of environment within my classroom, I came to a point where I re-examined everything I knew about coaching. Like many former athletes, I have been exposed to a myriad of different coaching styles, both good and bad. However, when I think back to the most influential coaches I’ve had, the common theme was a great relationship with the athletes, where they felt comfortable approaching, discussing and (most importantly) questioning the coaches. While writing part 1 of this post, I reached out to my mentor (and reason I became a Strength and Conditioning coach) Mark Verbeek and he reminded me of what another of the best coaches I ever had, Coach Stef Ptaszek, now of the Hamilton Ticats, used to say, “It’s not about building better athletes, it’s about building better people.” I didn’t know it necessarily at the time when I was an athlete within the Marauder Football program, but the reason why these two coaches, Ptaszek and Verbeek along with my defensive coordinator (now Head coach with McMaster Football) Greg Knox, had such a profound impact on my development as a player, is that they approached each meeting, practice, training session, as an opportunity to educate, create understanding and develop a sense of what it means not just to be successful on the field, but more importantly off of the field. They truly loved the interactions they had with players not just around sport, but as people. Without me realizing it, they were roll modeling the very characteristics that would make my transition to education and then eventually back to sport seem like utter common-sense. It is this type of impact and environment that I have attempted to create with the athletes here at PSP.
As I transitioned out of the classroom, I stole that term, ‘Student Centered,’ from my B.Ed and assimilated it into the mission statement for the approach I wanted to take with my athletes’. This became and Athlete Centered environment. (By no means do I claim to have created the term ‘athlete centered,’ though I came to it in a very organic way based off of connections to past experience.) As mentioned, in order to create an athlete centered environment, just like a student centered environment, careful attention to detail around communication is paramount. As I’ve rambled on now for a while, I will without further ado, share the meat of my learnings that have served me as a Strength and Conditioning coach seeking to create an athlete centered environment.
About the Author
Justin Vince is the founder of Prototype Sports Performance in Mississauga, ON. In addition to being a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, Justin is also a member of the Ontario College of Teachers. Justin is passionate learner and coach, who also enjoys picking up heavy things.
Like what you read? Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @Coach_JVince.