NSCA’s Coaching Podcast, Episode 103: Ali Kershner

by Eric McMahon, MEd, CSCS, RSCC*D and Alexandra Kershner, CSCS
Coaching Podcast June 2021


Ali Kershner, Director of Creative Strategy for Art of Coaching, talks to the NSCA Coaching and Sport Science Program Manager, Eric McMahon, about overcoming adversity on the road to win the 2021 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I Women’s Basketball Championship at Stanford University. Topics under discussion include the inequalities found at the NCAA tournament, being true to yourself as a coach, and working outside of the weight room to help strengthen coach-athlete relationships.

Find Ali on Instagram: @kershner.ali or Twitter: @alikershner | Find Eric on Instagram: @ericmcmahoncscs or Twitter: @ericmcmahoncscs

Show Notes

“But our head coach Tara VanDerveer, she has a good saying, which I now completely buy into, which is to be at the elite level and to win a national championship, what she's now done quite a few times, so I feel like she has some ability to say this, you need to be good, you need to be healthy, and you need to be really lucky.” 5:07

“I'm definitely more of a observer, I am more of a like, let's talk to the athlete at an individual level, try to figure out what they need, where they want to go, and then try to problem solve from there.” 19:12

“It was just like, had I not given them choice, had I not empowered them on the front end to have some autonomy and have some leeway, I personally would have really had a hard time dealing with this year and all of the nuance and gray area and change that occurred.” 24:53

“…it's truly all of the periphery, it's the interpersonal, it's the communication, it's knowing how to negotiate, it's knowing how to build your resume. And all of these things we don't learn until we need them. We learn them in almost like it's not a proactive approach, it's a reactive approach.” 35:52

“Coaching is storytelling. It's relating to somebody else and putting a message in terms they'll understand.” 33:45


[00:00:00.81] Welcome to the NSCA Coaching Podcast episode 103.

[00:00:04.89] Coaching is storytelling. It's relating to somebody else and putting a message in terms, they'll understand.

[00:00:14.58] This is the NSCA's Coaching Podcast, where we talk to strength and conditioning coaches about what you really need to know but probably didn't learn in school. There's strength and conditioning, and then there's everything else.

[00:00:25.39] Welcome to the NSCA Coaching Podcast. I'm Eric McMahon. Today we have Ali Kershner with us. Ali was the strength and conditioning coach for the 2021 NCAA champion Stanford University Women's Basketball program. Ali also just took on a new position with Art of Coaching so there's a lot to talk about. Ali, welcome.

[00:00:46.59] Thanks for having me, Eric, I'm excited to be here.

[00:00:49.42] It's great to have you on-- When we got to talking about having you on the podcast that was before the National championship, and then you just had the job change. So this has been a very exciting year for you.

[00:01:03.12] Well, I think it's less of a big year and more of just like a big month, but yeah, it's been quite the whirlwind. I'm slowly coming back to Earth. I did manage to get off the grid and go on an awesome vacation in Utah. So I went from three weeks in a bubble where I didn't see the light of day to three days or four days of didn't see inside, which was a great transition. So I'm back to neutral and excited to be on your podcast.

[00:01:32.05] I think a lot of coaches in the field know who you are, but I want to give all our listeners who don't know you yet a chance to learn your path into the profession. Tell us about your experiences as an athlete and how that led into strength and conditioning.

[00:01:47.45] I'll try to keep it concise. I think that all of us have long winding paths, myself included. But I did, I started as an athlete. I played collegiate soccer at Duke.

[00:02:00.50] I was, I would say, average at best. I was good enough to make it to Division I level, but I wasn't necessarily going to make soccer my career. And I was fortunate enough to be on an incredible team, but that also meant that I was behind an All-American. As a goalkeeper, there's only one of you that plays.

[00:02:24.08] So very quickly I learned that where I was really passionate and also found the most success was in the weight room like a lot of people. And when you find success in a place you tend to have fond memories of it. I had a great strength coach in college as well that didn't hurt.

[00:02:40.07] So as I'm trying to figure out what I want to do with my life, I end up interning in the weight room at Duke, and that leads to a internship-- or sorry, that leads to a graduate assistant role at the University of Kansas.

[00:02:57.77] And I think the reason I got the job at Kansas is because I had done just a small stint at Sparta, which is the force plate company because they're out of my hometown in Menlo Park or Palo Alto.

[00:03:10.22] And Kansas at the time had adopted this specific technology, they were looking for a coach who knew the technology and could also help them implement it. So I got my foot in the door with Coach Hudy at the University of Kansas, did my graduate assistantship there, which extended into a full-time position with women's basketball, soccer, swimming, and women's golf.

[00:03:36.44] And then I was extremely fortunate that the Stanford Women's Basketball job came open and having grown up in literally the shadows of the University, it was an opportunity I just could not pass up to be with a Hall of Fame coach, an incredible winning team, and to be back with my parents at a pretty young age. So I feel incredibly lucky to have done that.

[00:04:03.17] And then you alluded to, we won the National Championship this year, and I decided to, after that, take on a role with art of coaching. So I've done a little bit of a lot of different things.

[00:04:18.15] I think it's really cool. A lot of us when we started in this profession, we packed our bags, and where we grew up wasn't always on the horizon. Coaches are always looking ahead and seeking that next opportunity, whether it be an internship or a full-time job. It's great you got to go back home and work at a program where growing up you probably looked up to right in your backyard.

[00:04:45.38] Now, you're a part of that program winning a National Championship. Ali, tell us about that National Championship team and what made that season so special.

[00:04:56.53] I don't even know where to start with that question, Eric. I mean, yeah, it's easy to look back and be like, we were a great team, and we sure were.

[00:05:06.70] But our head coach Tara VanDerveer, she has a good saying, which I now completely buy into, which is to be at the elite level and to win a national championship, what she's now done quite a few times, so I feel like she has some ability to say this, you need to be good, you need to be healthy, and you need to be really lucky.

[00:05:26.20] And if you watched our final four, you know that we got a good dose of bad luck. And I think, that sure, we were healthy, which I am so happy about, and we were very talented.

[00:05:39.34] But I think that one of the determining factors in our success this year was the adversity that we battled early in the season when our county, Santa Clara County decided to tell us that they were not going to allow indoor activity when every other University was back in person indoors. So we started our season on the tennis courts.

[00:06:05.87] And then we made a decision because teams are starting to play games and still we couldn't get inside our arena, to move to Las Vegas. So we are in Las Vegas for a period of time, and then we just start playing all of our games on the road. We were not home until mid-January.

[00:06:24.40] So at that point, we had been on the road for 10 straight weeks and when you think about that in comparison to a three-week bubble, our kids were just prepared for it, they were like, OK, this is nothing new and so. It was really, really challenging the moment, but I think that's one thing that we can all point to say that might have been the tipping point.

[00:06:46.67] Wow, I didn't know that, talk about an experience that brings the team together early in the season. Ali, I have to ask you your Instagram account got pretty popular towards the beginning of the NCAA tournament.

[00:07:02.81] You made the world aware of some injustices going on between the men's tournament weight room and the women's tournament weight. I pulled up your post again today, and I had around 150,000 likes. This story was featured on Good Morning America and a number of the major news networks.

[00:07:22.06] When you shared that the small dumbbell rack and stack of exercise mats was all you and your team had to work with, the day before I had just seen a post about how cool the men's tournament weight room was.

[00:07:37.00] So you, Sedona Prince, and others who let us know what was happening in the women's bubble. That really opened some eyes. I know a lot of people have reached out to you to talk about this, what was that experience like for you and your team?

[00:07:53.53] It's hindsight's 2020 and it shades a very different picture now because we ended up winning a tournament. I'll tell you in the moment the feeling that I had more than anything was overwhelmed. I initially posted it with the intention of just, like you said, drawing awareness, maybe to striken up a conversation, or at least bringing strength coaches together around a central issue.

[00:08:24.22] And I say that with confidence because I had at the time like less than 1,000 followers, and I was like, maybe my mom sees this or maybe a few friends see this, it'll do what it does. And then it obviously got picked up by some bigger accounts and the snowball effect. It really shows you the power of social media.

[00:08:45.40] And at the time I was like, oh man, I really just don't want to be a distraction. We hadn't played a game yet, and mind you, the last thing I needed was for our athletes attention to be taken elsewhere, for our coaches attention to be taken elsewhere. I mean, they were asking our head coach, what are your thoughts on this? And I was like, and she's got so many other things to focus on. So it was something important that we needed to focus on, and that I wanted to draw attention to.

[00:09:14.80] But at the same time I was like, man, can we please just play a game, get the monkey off our back. Let's just start rolling here and so. Fortunately, we did, and we ended up playing really well, obviously. And I'm really, really glad that it started the conversations that it did and that myself and a few of the other string coaches throughout the tournament got to talk to the higher-level people at the NCAA and express our concern.

[00:09:42.32] But I think more than anything, Eric, I'm just happy that it showed the disparity on so many different levels. The weight room was one small thing that obviously shed light on the testing procedures and the food and the amount of money being spent and all these different avenues. And so the weight room, you could argue was a small piece, but it ended up being a catalyst to bigger things.

[00:10:09.75] Yeah, I mean it. It truly did, and I think it brought awareness to some bigger overarching themes that we talk about, and they come up from time to time. But I think one of the things I was so happy about just after the fact, was just seeing how the strength community came together around your post, and what other people were sharing, and people sharing their stories that may be similar to that and that's what it's all about.

[00:10:42.59] It's picking each other up in these times, and it's something that we care so deeply for our athletes, for our institutions. I mean, even just in how you answer that, you didn't want to be the center of attention, even calling something out that's so obvious. And it just speaks to us as always wanting to be helpful and taking our teams forward but still be in the background. And it's just a very humble profession but not.

[00:11:17.57] I just personally want to thank you. I think it's great that you did share that message, and we support you in bringing that, and I think it just really shed a positive light on our field as a whole, and yeah, I'm just really, really impressed by that. So thank you.

[00:11:36.60] I appreciate you saying that, Eric. I think the cool thing you alluded to, was that a strong community really did rally together. And even within that tournament, I was texting and talking to, within those next few days, 10 to 15 of the other string coaches that were there.

[00:11:53.25] And we were tasked with coming up with a list of things that we would want in an immediate solution type of way. The NCAA literally came to us and said, hey, we're trying to fix this. What can we do?

[00:12:07.83] Now whether or not that ended up happening is a discussion for a later time. But you know immediately there was 10 of us in a text thread, and we were coming up with kettle bells, and barbells, and med balls and what would we want. What do we actually need? What's fair?

[00:12:23.74] And then that led to us being able to present that to the NCAA along with just asking for a seat at the table, and not in a cliche way, but hey, look, we want to help, this is us presenting a solution.

[00:12:39.06] But also this is a longer conversation. And the fact that there's no sports performance professional represented on any of these oversight committees, that's a complete mess. Because there's medical professionals, there's operations professionals, so where's the sports performance one?

[00:12:58.47] And they accepted that, and they admitted to the fact there wasn't one. And hopefully, that's a giant step forward in terms of the NCAA seeing the strength and conditioning profession as a more legitimate body.

[00:13:14.57] But I think that's a great message and realization from it all and it truly does take us forward. Because I think we had a collective view on what happened, and we may not be able to wipe out all of the bigger picture challenges and injustices that are out there all in one shot, but we can chip away at it and keep this conversation going forward. So I'm really happy that we could talk about that a little bit.

[00:13:47.50] But I do want to ask you some coaching questions. I've been a fan of some of your other podcasts that you've done, where you really talked about your onboarding into the profession, and just carving out your coaching philosophy and your approach to working with athletes. Speak to that a little bit, what's your process working with teams and athletes?

[00:14:17.30] I was actually listening to your episode that you just released with Molly, and she's a really, really close friend of mine. And she actually said it perfectly, and it's actually interesting of the similarities of what we experienced coming into the profession. Both of us worked for extremely well-known females at the top of the Strength and Conditioning world.

[00:14:40.70] Obviously, her with Teena Murray and me with Andrea Hudy. And it's hard when you're a young multiple professional male, female, doesn't matter, to not see that mentor of yours as somebody you should replicate.

[00:14:54.14] And initially, when I was at Kansas, who wouldn't want to replicate coach Hudy, I mean, she's incredible resource, she's done great things for this field, and she's everything that you would want to be in a person. And so when I was thinking about my philosophy, it just was natural for me to try to emulate what she was doing. And I'll tell you very, very candidly, Eric.

[00:15:20.63] When I came out to Stanford, and I was no longer under her immediate umbrella or tutelage, I was suddenly like, oh, wait. Who am I? Who am I as a coach? What do I want my brand to be?

[00:15:39.31] And I had realized that I had inauthentically just adopted her methods, but they weren't natural to me, anybody that knows the two of us know that we are vastly different people. And it's not a surprise to me that what worked for her didn't necessarily feel natural to me, and yet I was just thinking that was what I had to do in order to be a known name in the profession and a respected professional.

[00:16:06.58] And I really had to sit back and examine what I've been doing, why I had been doing it, and then where I want to go with my own personal flavor if you will.

[00:16:17.08] And I really resonated with more of an autonomy model and introducing more choice to the student-athlete. And I started researching and picking that up as a philosophy, much more towards the end of my stint here at Stanford. And it really clicked with my personality, and what I wanted to do, and what I wanted to accomplish. And I could definitely talk more to that but that's really where the change in my philosophy came from.

[00:16:50.24] That's interesting and it really connects with early in our careers we were observing or were interning, and we know we're not coming in, and setting the tone in being in charge of the training sessions. But that transition from a young coach to experienced coach or assistant to head coach. We don't talk about that a lot. And there's a lot of lessons in there.

[00:17:20.06] I remember the coaching theory class I was in my undergrad, and the coach who was teaching the class, stood out to me, and said hey, number one thing in coaching, just be yourself.

[00:17:33.37] And I remember thinking, well, gosh, if it's that easy, they should be hiring me right now. But there's a long road ahead. And it's not really what I wanted to hear at the time. I wanted a little bit more of coaching processes, and building your coaching philosophy, and theory, and science.

[00:17:53.40] But coming back to that later, I think it is good to reflect back on that. Who are we? How do we communicate? What are the best ways that we can get a message out there and have it be received?

[00:18:07.50] Those are really deep layers to when you're peeling it back, and you're thinking of who you are as a coach. But I've really liked how just speak to that, because that's not something we always hear.

[00:18:20.52] I think it's very obvious when you are trying to act in a way, or coach in a way that is not natural or organic to your personality or the way that you best communicate, like you said. And athletes can see right through that peers, colleagues can see right through that and so.

[00:18:45.66] Especially for me, I thought that I had to be this very demanding and audacious and just a more of a presence. Because that's what coach Hudy is, and if you look at her personality, it matches right up. So there's no gap there between what she was trying to do and who she was.

[00:19:09.27] Whereas for me, I was trying to take that same approach to coaching, and I'm definitely more of a observer, I am more of a like, let's talk to the athlete at an individual level, try to figure out what they need, where they want to go, and then try to problem solve from there.

[00:19:31.12] And not that those can't work but when there's that mismatch, it feels like there's this, like in music when there's just like that resonance frequency that doesn't quite match up, and then it has this ugly sound. That felt like-- It just like felt like something wasn't aligning.

[00:19:51.07] And when I did finally find a coaching style, of which was bespoke and not something that you could just pick a library, but I was OK, this is what's supposed to feel like, and by the way, now I'm getting more buy in, now I'm making more connections, even though it's not the way that I've seen people build buy in and have connections in the past.

[00:20:12.40] You mentioned growing autonomy within your teams, giving players choices, and basically, putting them into the leadership process or the coaching process. There's a lot of benefits to that coaching style, but how do you maintain high standards in your program with a coaching style that gives so much to the athletes? Do you ever thought about that?

[00:20:39.94] That's such a great question. In fact, I think about it all the time. One of the main reasons why I was averse to the idea of autonomy was because of that very thing. I was well, if you give them too much choice they're just going to run with it, or you give them too much choice, how are they going to know what it's supposed to look like. It's going to be messy.

[00:21:00.73] It's going to be like, if another coach walks in, they're going to be like, what's going on here, And all of these insecurities started bubbling up to the surface, and I was like, man, why do I want to use autonomy? Seems like it's hard to control. It's not necessarily something that you can draw a line between A and B, and say, Yep, that caused that and all of these things.

[00:21:28.43] And I kept coming back to what is my purpose in coaching? Is it my number one purpose? Let's just say that. Is it to make them stronger and faster? Is it to get them to like the weight room? Or is it to get them to be empowered to make decisions about their own health, wellness, and learn skills that are going to serve them beyond the weight room?

[00:21:50.71] And I'm not saying there's one right answer to that, but for me, I wanted them to learn. I want the weight room to be a learning environment. And so I had to think about the risk reward payoff there, and the risk was that it was going to look a little messy. It was not going to be clean.

[00:22:07.12] There was going to be a little bit of wiggle room for the athlete, where they might not adhere to all the same standards, but the payoff if it works, is that they learn something about themselves, is that they develop skills that are going to serve them way beyond the weight room.

[00:22:22.88] So Yeah, like anything, Eric, I think there is that risk. And that's why education on the front end is super important, laying a super solid foundation, is essential if you're going to use autonomy. I think-- I thought of autonomy as like, you walk into the weight room day one, and you throw your programs up in the air, and you say, all right pick whatever you want.

[00:22:45.41] But in reality the way to implement autonomy in the weight room, at least in my experience, needs to have a lot of structure up front, a lot of education up front, and that-- it prevents a little bit of what you were alluding to.

[00:23:00.42] I always like to think of it like, you're giving choices but it's strategic choices. And not giving them a ton of options where it lead them to failure but in building and empowering them to make the right choices for that situation.

[00:23:19.66] And I think another layer to it is, these aren't black and white training situations that we're in anymore. If you look at training theory of just our growth and how we think about linear periodization to undulating, and now these flexible training models. Everything is getting more flexible.

[00:23:38.25] And as coaches our coaching style needs to adapt to that as well. Because the reason the reason why have we adopted these training models, it's because there was a need for more flexibility. And so we as professionals need to adopt that as well. So I think that's really awesome

[00:23:57.12] And Eric, I mean, as I talked about earlier, we were on the road for 10 weeks straight. If I had used my old programming style of these really crisp workout cards that look super nice and there.

[00:24:10.02] Everything is based on a super scientific yearly program and everything's periodized to the tee. I'd honestly don't know what we would have done. Because there are points this season where we were as a team sharing for kettlebells, and a medicine ball, there were times where we were in hotel weight rooms, there were times when we were outside on fields.

[00:24:35.34] There were times that during practice they-- half the team got to me, and we did step ups on the bleachers in high school gym. It was just like, had I not given them choice, had I not empowered them on the front end to have some autonomy and have some leeway,

[00:24:53.07] I personally would have really had a hard time dealing with this year and all of the nuance and gray area and change that occurred. And so I'm just so thankful that I had adopted this prior to so that we were able to utilize it during all of this period of uncertainty.

[00:25:09.87] So this topic here, it makes me think of coaching archetypes and so our previous guests that we've had on the podcast a couple of times Brett Bartholemew, who you work with now at art of coaching new job. What are you what? Most excited about?

[00:25:30.14] Art of coaching has always-- it's always been featured prominently in a lot of the things I do. And I've always really respected Brett and the stuff that he puts out and the content that he creates.

[00:25:44.59] There wasn't necessarily as much focus on this early in my career, because like many young, strong coaches it's not sexy. It's hard to grasp, and by the way, when all your friends are going to these fun Olympic lifting, conferences, and learning the newest sports science techniques, those are objectively more interesting to look at. And they're fun to have-- it's fun to have more credentials behind your name and all these things.

[00:26:16.23] And then I started, in my own life, looking at what was actually moving the needle. And it wasn't the programs I was writing because I knew that I was no master programmer, but when I bought into the athletes, and I used the archetype model, and I understood power dynamics, and I utilized influence tactics and all the things that Brett teaches along the way, which are, by the way, super practical. And that's very rare in this space.

[00:26:46.05] I think a lot of communication workshops and a lot of communication talks are the seven C's of communication and the five M's of motivation. And those are nice PowerPoints to look at, but I have no clue how to actually implement that.

[00:27:01.29] So when I saw a combination of skills and tools that were pertaining to intra and interpersonal side of coaching, and by the way, here's how you do it, I was sold. I was like, this is absolutely the missing link in our profession.

[00:27:17.82] And I started, obviously, working with Brett a little bit on the side. He's a great friend of mine, and we got into talks, and he was like, why don't you come do this full time? And it was at the point where I was ready for a new challenge.

[00:27:33.52] I was ready to make what I was already thinking about and doing with 90% of my full time, I was like this is it for me. This is really where I'm nerding out. This is what is interesting to me and, by the way, I can actually coach coaches. So I'm still coaching. It was just the perfect fit, and I'm super excited for my new role as an entrepreneur. And working at a small company is super exciting too.

[00:28:04.87] And that's awesome. I tune in a lot to Brett's content out there in the art of coaching material that he's shared with some of our conferences and other events. And one thing I really like is that he's not afraid to take things from other disciplines or other fields and relate it to who he knows, the coaching audience.

[00:28:26.59] And in just the process that he's gone through, and I think a lot of coaches connect with that. For you what are those areas? What are the other areas that you've been exposed to that maybe led you down this inquisitive path towards really just expanding your view of what coaching can be?

[00:28:47.98] Well, both Brett and my own family have always reminded me of the importance of you said lateral thinking but also divergent thinking, which I think are pretty synonymous in this context. And I I'll tell you, to be honest with you, I have actually a podcast about this called ride the gray, which is about lateral thinking.

[00:29:10.90] And so obviously, Brett and I love to actually dive deep on this stuff. But it's true when I am talking to somebody from a different profession or learning about a concept that's actually very far from strength and conditioning from the outside perspective. I've really dove into the lean startup model, and I dove into behavioral economics and how the stock market works.

[00:29:41.56] And it's interesting because you learn little things or at least they reframe concepts that about inherently or that pertain to your profession but they talk about them in a completely different way. And when that is the case, it's like when your parent tells you something versus when your cool uncle tells you something. It's packaged slightly differently, and for whatever reason it tends to stick.

[00:30:05.95] And I found that time and time again. I was like there's got to be something to this idea of taking ideas from elsewhere. They aren't that different, they're just like I said packaged differently and inserting them back into your own life. It has made all the difference. And I really I'm just excited to keep exploring those other realms.

[00:30:28.98] In this role, I say this a lot, coaches are more than weight room attendants. Coaches have a lot of skills that extend beyond whatever's written on the sheet for the athletes that day. And it extends to leadership opportunities at their institutions. But I think one of the real great takeaways is that in coaching, we don't need to start and create from scratch.

[00:30:55.44] There's a lot of other professions and fields out there who have a head start on a number of areas. And if we can pull in some of that content, we see that a lot in the business world. I'm working on sports science right now. Well, there's a lot of great content out there right now in the business analytics side of things.

[00:31:13.80] And you can't help but think that our advancements in sports science and who's getting involved with that are also connected with the business analytics side of things that-- because statistically it's very similar.

[00:31:28.06] And so there are a lot of connections there and just the processes and there's so much we can learn. Quick story just made me think of what we we're talking is, I was in professional baseball in AAA, and we were in Nashville. And just being a country music fan,

[00:31:47.67] I connected with an old college buddy who was a studio drummer just for a few artists. And he just had some different touring opportunities, and to me this is so cool. What he is doing I was just like, wow, I'm asking him a million questions about what he's got coming up and all these things.

[00:32:09.01] And it's funny, because he was a diehard baseball fan, and he's asking me about what I do. And what I realized is that we had a very similar path, and that we had professions that took us all over the country challenges. They took us away from our family at times. We had a lot to talk. There was so much relatability between completely separate industries.

[00:32:33.12] And it's funny when we talk now. It goes back to that conversation because there's about a 20 year gap from the time before that we had connected. But it just was a really cool thing, and when I think of relatability across professions, we're all humans. We all have emotions and feelings and thoughts, and we have different things that motivate us. But there's a lot of things that connect us too. So I think that's really great.

[00:33:00.11] It's a great story and it actually made me think-- I think we often talk as a profession about taking other ideas from other professions and using them in our own, but how about vice versa. I think we're still obviously under appreciated or under misunderstood in the larger business and in the scheme of all the other professions in terms of the value that we provide.

[00:33:23.73] And I was I was listening to one episode of Brett's podcast before I came on, where he interviewed somebody who a screenwriter and a storyteller professionally. And the guy was like yeah, I was interested that you want to reach out to me and have me on your podcast, and Brett was like, well, coaches and storytellers have a lot in common, and I think there's a lot that we can each learn from each other.

[00:33:45.54] Coaching is storytelling. It's relating to somebody else and putting a message in terms they'll understand. And I think that I'm excited for the future of using lateral thinking in my own life. But then also helping other people understand how coaching, especially sport performance can help them in their life.

[00:34:09.12] Leadership and coaching are synonymous, I mean, coaching can be used in any realm and it doesn't need to be exclusive to sport. And so I'm excited to keep pushing that message toward the greater professional sphere.

[00:34:27.00] We talked a little bit about your path into the profession and just the process of figuring out your coaching philosophy, and now it's expanded to just this broad look, high level view of what our fields can be and represent, and where all that information can come from.

[00:34:47.58] For young coaches listening, how do you take on such a wide ranging curriculum? They already have strength and conditioning content they want to learn, programming, working with athletes, when should young coaches key in on this type of information, and what's a great approach to just soaking it in from the more interpersonal and intrapersonal perspective?

[00:35:13.12] I would challenge the current model. I think that myself as I talked about earlier, and I think this is something that's shared by many young coaches, we are taught that the X's and O's, and the programming, and the sports science, and the day to day minutia of what we do is what's going to get you the job.

[00:35:35.65] And I think to a certain extent that's true if you have to have a baseline understanding of the scientific and foundational principles of coaching and strength and conditioning. But I would push back against the idea that that's going to be the thing that sets you over the edge, it's truly all of the periphery, it's the interpersonal, it's the communication, it's knowing how to negotiate, it's knowing how to build your resume. And all of these things we don't learn until we need them. We learn them in almost like it's not a proactive approach, it's a reactive approach.

[00:36:14.92] And so yes, while it's not always the, how do I want to say it, it's always the sexiest, go back to that term, thing to start with. I think that without the intra and the interpersonal being a foundation,

[00:36:34.53] I think it should be switched. I think those need to be the foundation of Strength and Conditioning, learning and growing, and then you layer in the programming. Because the programming is like the cherry on top. Once you know how to relate to people, once you know how to get them to buy into a program, once you know how to identify what their needs, relate to them, and then provide what they need.

[00:36:58.02] It really doesn't matter what you give them. I mean, we've seen that, and we've talked about time and time again. But it's nice to talk about. It's another thing to do it. And yeah, I mean-- I think, that's what I'm really excited about with Art of Coaching, is the ability to help shape that side of things where-- young coaches really do need this in their initial training, and we can help provide that to them.

[00:37:24.71] You alluded to experience with technology early in the podcast, and how that gave you some opportunities early on, and then you've progressed more into the psychosocial and interpersonal, intrapersonal path of coaching. What is the future of our field look like in terms of coaching skills? What are we going to see in the next 5 to 10 years?

[00:37:52.55] You're asking me to pull out my crystal ball, uh. So I think we're seeing two things happen simultaneously. We're seeing the automation and the AI wave start to hit. I live in the Silicon Valley, so I can see it coming from a mile away. And the technology is obviously growing, and growing, and growing, and it's super important. And it's going to be extremely useful. These are all tools in our toolbox.

[00:38:23.60] So I think what's going to be important is that people understand that these are tools, and that they are meant to be situationally fit to help the coach. Just the same way that different programming methods are tools, the same way that communication is a tool that can help you be a better coach and deliver information to the people that you're leading.

[00:38:53.17] So I think that with the onset of more compilicated-- not complicated but more just, I don't even know the word for it, just more technology and more information, there is going to be a need for the ability to relate it to the people you serve in a more digestible manner.

[00:39:17.53] So I think communication and all these soft skills, if you will, are going to become more and more important as some of the other more technologically advanced concepts start becoming more popularized, so that you can close that gap and deliver to the athlete what they need.

[00:39:34.29] And in an interesting way or there's the processing it's you need to possess those soft skills to be able to deliver to the athlete but you also need to be able to, I mean, you know how these coaching roles are, you're a lot of times doing that data collection or setting up the equipment.

[00:39:51.75] And so basically, pulling the highly analytical complex data or information and then bringing it to the athlete in the most productive way. So technology impacting our coaching processes as technology advanced our coaching process evolves.

[00:40:15.60] What you just said summarized it beautifully. And I think, my dad's an engineer, and he talks all the time about how the best engineers are the ones that have great speaking and oration skills as well. Because what they do is so technical and not understood a lot of times by management.

[00:40:35.59] And so the ones that are able to break it down, communicate it effectively, are the ones that end up getting advance in their career. Because otherwise nobody knows what they're doing.

[00:40:47.32] So I think that coaching is the same way. It's both an inherent better understanding of what you're doing, but then ability to relate it to coaches and to athletes to get them to understand why you're using it, and how it's going to help them. Because again, all these coaches, and I have direct experience with it, they think these tools are great. But until they understand how they can help your program, they're not going to buy into it. And if you don't have buy-in from your head coach, well, you're spending a lot of money on a really fancy looking sports bra or sensor that doesn't do a whole lot to move your program forward.

[00:41:28.18] You bring up so many great points it made me think COVID this past year, we've been on all these Zoom calls, and we're in a public speaking profession. We are communicators. We're always in front of a group, and now we have a lot of opportunities with being on in meetings and on Zoom to practice those public speaking skills.

[00:41:54.79] But I think of it as really a call to action coming from our conversation today for coaches, that we do have a voice, and we have a lot to offer. And get over those fears of sharing and find a platform to do it. Reach out to the NSCA. Reach out to different podcasts that are out there and make those connections. So you have an opportunity to be a part of the solution going forward.

[00:42:22.74] And like you said, communication skills are not just for coaches. It connects with every profession. We hear about this in medicine all the time with the need for bedside manner with physicians. And so I think it's something that's universal to everyone and definitely just a good call to action for coaches to be on the proactive side of solutions for our field.

[00:42:49.08] Well, and the proactive in this situation means actually practicing it. And communications is one of those things just like driving, where you do it so often. They don't feel like you need to actively get better at it necessarily. You're like, yeah, I just do it every day and that's how I train it.

[00:43:08.97] But you wouldn't do the same thing with a new movement in the weight room, you wouldn't just throw it on your sheet without having researched it and looked at it and then actually tried it and figured out where you're not good and where you have gaps.

[00:43:24.92] And I think, like you said, it's important to get over the fear and start doing it, but we also need to create safe places to practice communication where you can fail and then get evaluated as well. Because I don't know right now those aren't in abundance and that's another thing that, hopefully, we'll start to see more of.

[00:43:49.92] Being more welcoming to new voices as a profession, being more welcoming in general as a profession, to onboarding new young coaches in a way that takes us forward and grows, the number of positive voices we have. I think there's a lot there. I can talk about this stuff all day, Ali. I really enjoy connecting on this. I want to give you the opportunity, I think we've already mentioned your Instagram page, what's the best way for listeners to get in touch with you?

[00:44:22.04] I think Instagram is definitely where I'm most active. I'm a very visual person. So I appreciate all the pictures, but kershner.ali is my Instagram. I'm on Twitter, Ali Kershner, and then yeah, I mean, also ride the gray is another place you can find me. But besides that, I'll probably be on art of coaching a little bit more as well. So all of those platforms are a good place to reach me, and I will try to get back to everybody.

[00:44:52.86] That's great Thanks for being with us. And to our listeners, we appreciate you tuning in. Also a special thanks to of exercise equipment we appreciate their support. From the NSCA, thank you for listening to the NSCA Coaching Podcast. We serve you the coaching community, so follow, subscribe, and download for future episodes.

[00:45:13.44] We look forward to connecting with you again soon, and hope you'll join us at an upcoming NSCA event or in one of our special interest groups. For more information, go to NSCA.com.

[00:45:25.35] This was the NSCA's Coaching Podcast. The National Strength and Conditioning Association was founded in 1978 by strength and conditioning coaches to share information, resources, and help advance the profession. Serving coaches for over 40 years, the NSCA is the trusted source for strength and conditioning professionals. Be sure to join us next time.

Reporting Errors: To report errors in a podcast episode requiring correction or clarification, email the editor at publications@nsca.com or write to NSCA, attn: Publications Dept., 1885 Bob Johnson Dr., Colorado Springs, CO 80906. Your letter should be clearly marked as a letter of complaint. Please (a) identify in writing the precise factual errors in the published podcast episode (every false, factual assertion allegedly contained therein), (b) explain with specificity what the true facts are, and (c) include your full name and contact information.

Photo of Eric L. McMahon, MEd, CSCS,*D, TSAC-F,*D, RSCC*E
About the author

Eric L. McMahon, MEd, CSCS,*D, TSAC-F,*D, RSCC*E

NSCA Headquarters

Contact Eric McMahon

Contact Eric McMahon

Your first name is required.
Your last name is required.
Your email is required.
Your message is required.
Your reCaptcha is required.

Your email was successfully sent to Eric McMahon

Eric McMahon is the Coaching and Sport Science Program Manager at the NSCA Headquarters in Colorado Springs. He joined the NSCA Staff in 2020 with ove ...

View full biography
About the author

Alexandra Kershner, CSCS

Stanford University

Contact Alexandra Kershner

Contact Alexandra Kershner

Your first name is required.
Your last name is required.
Your email is required.
Your message is required.
Your reCaptcha is required.

Your email was successfully sent to Alexandra Kershner

Ali Kershner is The Director of Creative Strategy for Art of Coaching where she works on all aspects of live events, mentorship, creative content and ...

View full biography
#NSCAStrong #NSCAStrong

has been added to your shopping cart!

Continue Shopping Checkout Now