Coaching Experience at the Heart of Course Curriculum

A unique post-graduate approach to developing coach effectiveness, ethics, leadership, and working with elite athletes
Mim Haigh
Sports Writer – Athlete Assessments

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What do a six-time Olympian, former NFL player, national level gymnastics coach, and an aspiring Athletic Director have in common?

If you guessed they might all be sporting A-listers, you’re very close, try just some of the Ohio State University Master of Sport Coaching recent class list.

Built from the ground up to fulfill the ongoing development needs of coaches working with elite athletes, this transformational master’s degree was designed to harness the unique and authentic experiences of its students, all of whom are experienced coaches.

Situated within the campus of the highly successful Ohio State Buckeyes (their football team has topped the Big Ten Conference for the last four years!), the degree has been able to enhance its already stellar faculty by harnessing the internal knowledge of the university’s coaches, along with some international coaching expertise.

Instrumental in the creation of the degree, Director, Phillip Ward shared his perspective with us on the course’s growth and trajectory since it was first offered. Five years on, Phillip gives us an insight into the initial design of the course,

We have tried to create a unique degree. More of an executive MBA for coaches than a typical master’s degree, as the coaches all bring their own expertise. Students learn from and have access to world-class faculty, guest speakers, and master coaches. They also spend time engaged with bright, talented, and experienced classmates. 

They are exposed to current insights and practices from across a variety of disciplines and perspectives. We hope that we have created an exciting, congenial academic community in the study of coaching. Importantly, we do not address youth coaches but focus on the coaching of elite athletes (collegiate, professional, Olympic sports, and some high schools working toward pro performances).

Differentiating itself with the Ohio State philosophy of, “Go beyond the textbook with the Ohio State University Master of Sport Coaching,” this rhetoric is reflected in the unique criteria points for selection into the program. A primary entry requirement is that an applicant must not only be a current coach, but they must be a passionate and committed coach. As a result, this degree does not provide placements like other programs where undergraduate students move directly into a relevant post-graduate program. In the Ohio State Master’s, the focus is practical and applied, therefore requiring its students to be established coaches. In fact, a typical Master of Sport Coaching student will have 4-8 years coaching experience under their belt prior to undertaking this degree.

A foundational element of the degree is to develop the students’ self-awareness and Athlete Assessments are key contributors to this, having been invited to form part of the internationally based coaching experts woven into the curriculum to share our knowledge, tools, and techniques.

Phillip shares his perspective on structuring the course curriculum in this way saying,

We view each class as a triad, with faculty who are highly knowledgeable in the content they teach, experts such as Athlete Assessments and master coaches who contribute, and then the students who bring their own expertise to the classes. For example, in the class I taught this summer was a coach who is a six-time Olympian, having represented two countries, and had typically finished in the top five in each Olympics he competed in. There was also a former NFL player returning to coaching, alongside head, associate, assistant, and some volunteer coaches.”

Liz Masen, Athlete Assessments’ CEO, speaks on the enjoyment our team gets out of working with this unique program,

“What I admire most about this program is that they attract coaches who value commitment to ongoing development, whether they’re early in their coaching career or already have a stellar record of coaching success. From where we sit, we see the very best coaches as the ones who continually commit to their ongoing development, value learning from others, and are willing to contribute to others’ development. Being part of this program demonstrates they are all of this, and we are constantly inspired by each intake of coaches who make the choice to further their development.”

The first step of Athlete Assessments’ involvement is to have all Master of Sport Coaching students take a CoachDISC Profile and receive a detailed debrief on how to apply the unique and individualized report it generates. There is no good or bad, right or wrong DISC Profile, the CoachDISC simply provides the fundamental awareness of each coach’s own preferred behavioral style, knowledge of their strengths and limitations, plus an insight into their potential areas for improvement. Each individual’s profile also details the pace they prefer to tackle tasks, the way they build relationships, communicate, deal with challenges, and information about environments they naturally thrive in. Importantly, it also delivers an insight into what the individual is likely to do under stress, giving them time to develop strategies to counter these tendencies when necessary. Learn more about Athlete Assessments’ DISC Profiles here.

Ohio State’s Master of Sport Coaching curriculum focuses on coaching issues related to ethics, leadership, coaching effectiveness, skill, and game analysis, falling within the degree’s overarching mission to create caring, competent, and ethical coaches. And, what does Phillip think are his students’ most important skills for post-graduation success? Put simply, “Adaptive coaching, interpersonal communication, growth mindsets for athletes and coaches, leadership skills, understanding ethical conduct, coaching effectiveness, and athlete growth and development as people.”

The degree has continued the development of many outstanding coaches, including Carey Fagan who has been named both National and Regional Coach of the Year in gymnastics, alongside many conference accolades over the years. Reflecting on her time as a student in the course, Carey said “The program has provided courses that directly related to my day-to-day work with student-athletes and allowed me to gain fresh perspectives from other experts in the coaching profession.” Now Ohio State’s Senior Associate Athletics Director for Sport Administration and Student-Athlete Development, Carey along with other Ohio State coaches have become an integral part of the Master of Sport Coaching Program sharing their experience with students.

Obi Atkinson, a soccer coach and student of the program reiterates this sentiment when asked about the benefit of the degree stating,

The program has provided the resources to increase my effectiveness as a coach. Through the courses taught I have learned new knowledge, applied it, and reflected on using those skills in a practical manner. I’ve been able to share this experience with amazing faculty, colleagues, and coaches. The program is one big family.”

Since the Master of Sport Coaching’s first year in 2016 when just 18 students were admitted, numbers have now grown to 40+, with students of color making up 30-54% and females 35-49% of the degree’s student population in any given year. This degree is so bespoke in tailoring the curriculum to coaches of elite athletes that students come from around the globe to attend, including from the USA, Asia, New Zealand, Canada, Europe, and Latin America.

Enrolments reflect Ohio State’s university-wide proactive approach to diversity and inclusion, striving to create a community where every student has a voice and feels a sense of belonging and pride. The current percentages for this degree are a result of deliberate recruitment and delivery strategies to ensure actions reflect intention, and Phillip very proudly shared the degree’s breakdown for diversity in their student population are well above the university average. Aligned with the university held philosophy, Phillip’s team also recognize that the degree’s strength lies in the diversity of its student population, from how they think to their different life experiences brought together.

The success and caliber of this program is echoed throughout the sporting community itself with Phillip revealing he often receives notes of support and appreciation. Phillip shared an example of this positivity with us from Ohio State Alumnus and the United States Olympic Committee’s Director of high-performance, Scott Schnitzspahn who said,

I graduated from OSU in ’95 in Exercise Science and wished for a program like this after graduation. Finding nothing like your program, I instead learned through real life experiences and 20 years later am directing the performance of our Olympic team. I wish I could require all of our national team coaches to enroll in your program.”

For information about the degree visit https://u.osu.edu/masterofsportscoaching/

Biography for Dr. Phillip Ward

Dr. Phillip Ward is a Professor of Kinesiology at The Ohio State University. He teaches and studies physical education and teacher professional development in both preservice and continuing education. He is the director of the Learning to Teach Physical Education Research Program that has as its central focus the development of pedagogical content knowledge. The program serves as a platform for collaboration among researchers to conduct rigorous, often innovative, educationally relevant research on teaching effectiveness (https://u.osu.edu/ltpe/). He also directs the Master of Sports Coaching degree focused on elite sport.  He has authored or co-authored more than 130 research papers, seven books and 13 book chapters, and has presented over 160 papers. He has served as an invited lecturer at 12 universities worldwide, and has delivered invited keynotes in Belgium, Israel, Korea, Japan, Turkey, and the United States. He has received 12 university and national awards for teaching, research and service. He reviews for 16 journals, serves on the board of two journals and is a Research Fellow of SHAPE America and the National Academy of Kinesiology.

Dr Phillip Ward_OhioState
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Where to from here?

Whether you are a coach, sport psychologist, academic, or consultant your people rely on you to bring them the latest industry information, tools, and techniques. The faculty at Ohio State University include Athlete Assessments’ CoachDISC as part of their curriculum, utilizing the full potential of our Academic Program which also includes a guest lecture, video series, and additional educational materials.

We encourage you to browse our library of free resources on this website and we would love to provide any extra or tailored information. If we can help just reach out and contact us.

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Athlete Assessments' Academic Program has everything you need!

Athlete Assessments’ DISC Profiles are specifically tailored to sport.

disc profile

Each student completes a DISC Profile assessment

guest lecture

Guest lecture (via video conference ) by 4x Olympian, Bo Hanson, debriefs the students’ DISC Reports and is tailored to your class objectives

learning guide

200+ page Student Learning Guide including an accompanying video series

comprehensive video series

Videos match to the Learning Guide sections to explain content and facilitate key activities.

Your Students will find them engaging and educational

admin support

Full DISC Profile administration is managed for you

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