Pursuing higher education presents many challenges – especially for the full-time coach. Choosing the right post-graduate program can go a long way towards deciding whether the experience will become a chore or an inspiration.
Take for instance, Jacob Flint, the co-director of football strength and conditioning at Notre Dame. He found his way into the profession through hard work, a love of the game and surrounding himself with great coaches, and had never thought of pursuing higher education during his introduction to the coaching profession.
Flint just wasn’t exactly sure where to start. Luckily for him, Notre Dame has a partnership with Australian Catholic University (ACU). Together, they hold an annual High Performance Summit right here in the United States. Through this partnership – which also serves to give ACU students an opportunity to fulfill practical application requirements for their studies – Flint soon learned how sharp and friendly the staff at ACU is, and they helped him work through some of his apprehension.
“I finally just took the plunge and jumped in, and I knew it was going to be the best thing for me,” Flint explains of his decision to enroll in the Master of High Performance Sport Program at ACU. “Once I started, it just took consistency, which is something strength coaches preach every day.
“I had already been in the profession at several different levels and experienced real world scenarios on a day-to-day basis, but it really solidified what I already knew, while at the same time growing my knowledge and experience.”
Being a full-time coach made the experience so much richer for Flint, who is slated to be honored with the MSCC title of distinction in 2022. He often found lessons on Monday would apply to real-world problems at Notre Dame on Tuesday.
Flint’s experience isn’t an outlier. Alex Calder is the head of sports science for the Houston Dynamo FC, a professional soccer club in the heart of Texas. When he chose ACU, he did so not only for their sterling reputation, but for the immediate positive impact it would have on his skill set.
“ACU has more of a broad perspective and covers more of the aspects of the sports performance world that a lot of the other master’s degree programs don’t offer,” Calder says. “It helped me because a lot of the theory we were covering in class was applicable in my day to day.
“One of the things that really helped to separate ACU from other potential programs was the coursework specifically designed to help you investigate research. It really made me a better practitioner because it gave me the skills to see what was valid versus invalid, and what was reliable versus unreliable.”
Calder was working in the collegiate setting during his time as an ACU student, and while he admits the program was demanding, he was glowing in his praise of how the ACU staff caters to the needs of their students’ demanding schedules.
“I probably took on a little heavier load than I needed to initially,” Calder remembers. “ACU was completely understanding in providing recommendations about the number of classes you should be taking depending on your workload.”
Jesse Green, head of sports science for the Sacramento Kings, echoes Calder’s thoughts. He points out how the program is not only flexible in the amount of coursework students choose to take on, but also in allowing students to decide for themselves which specific areas of study they would like to focus on.
“It’s one of the best decisions I’ve made since I moved to the United States,” Green says of completing the program. “Although the program was online, it really didn’t feel like it was online. There was a community feel to the program and the pathways they allow you to choose from are very flexible.
“There are some facets of the program that are compulsory and some facets that you’re able to choose from. The ones that are mandatory are these really big cornerstones of sports performance – sports medicine, injury and rehabilitation, strength and power, data analysis – all of these things are becoming more and more prevalent.”
Both the content of the coursework and the way in which it is delivered dovetails beautifully with the diverse, modern skillset coaches must possess to be successful in today’s athletic program. And that’s fitting, because the program isn’t meant to pad anyone’s resume. It’s designed to ignite passions, enhance pre-existing skillsets and set coaches up for a career of constant improvement and evolution.
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