We recently interviewed Dr. Scott Douglas, Associate Professor, School of Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Northern Colorado for our article, From Coaching on the Court to Coaching in the Classroom. We couldn’t fit all the valuable insights and inspiring thoughts he shared, so we’ve placed them here in an extended Q&A.
I understand the University of Northern Colorado intertwines theoretical knowledge and practical experience, what does this look like in your classroom?
“At UNC it’s all about application. We want developing coaches to take what they’ve learned in the classroom and get on the field, court or pitch to practice their craft as much as possible. Most of the undergraduate classes have numerous authentic opportunities to observe or practice sport coaching, and our majors can’t graduate until they successfully complete 225 hours of a supervised/mentored coaching internship.”
What do you think is the most important element for a coach to consider when they begin coaching an athlete?
“I believe it is knowing and connecting with the athlete. A coach needs to know and understand the meanings behind where they themselves come from and their own biases. More importantly though, they need to know who their athletes are and where they come from and how they best learn. What are the athlete’s prior experiences – both on and off the court. Only then can true learning and growth occur.”
How important is self-awareness in the coach’s progression and improvement?
“It is the fundamental building block to building a true coaching philosophy and then throughout the development process as a coach. A coach must realize who they are and why they coach like they do.”
How have your own mentors and coaches influenced your progression as a coach?
“I never had a formal mentorship experience as a coach and many of my coaches were ineffective. So, I learned a lot of what not to do from my coaches. When I entered academia and began studying coaches is how I have been influenced most. My observations, interviews, and discussions with coaches at the highest levels of sport led me to seek knowledge of how to be a better coach myself. These things also informed my teaching and through a mixture of these experiences, I believe I am an expert [tennis] coach. I have coached a variety of sports from the youth to collegiate levels but as I look back, I could have been more athlete-centered from the beginning.”
How do your students like learning about themselves through the CoachDISC profile?
“I think they like it. It starts them down that road of self-reflection. From there they can start to self-identify their own values, beliefs, and corresponding coaching behaviors. This leads them into the process of developing their own coaching philosophies.”
Modification and adaptations are part of everyday life for people who use a wheelchair to get around. Does this have any impact when it comes to adapting your behavior as a coach?
“Over the years, I have tried to build relationships and trust in my players by telling stories about my experiences both as a standing and Parasport athlete. My goal is always to put them at ease with me and my wheelchair. I am always open about sharing how I crashed at 18 years of age while snow skiing but overcame my disability and strived to be a better person and athlete every day. Just like any coach, I have to build trust and display not only my knowledge, but skill. I would often shoot with my players in basketball and also hit balls with my tennis players. While I was coaching high school or younger kids, I was often challenged to a game of H-O-R-S-E but never lost to one of my players. This gave me a lot of credibility with them – same with tennis. A few times, I brought a bunch of sport wheelchairs to the gym and we played wheelchair basketball. This was always a favorite activity at practice for my teams.”
You coach across several sports at a high level, what is common among these sports at the high-performance level?
“The commonalities are goal-driven behavior and the corresponding self-sacrifices, the everyday ‘quest for better’, and an overall thirst for competition and performing at your best at the biggest moments.”
What is the one thing you like to get across to future coaches?
“Become a student of the game and how to best coach it to your athletes, AND strive for learning to become a better coach today than you were yesterday.”
Can you put a few words around teaching your son as part of your coaching program and the special projects the 2 of you have undertaken together?
“I think of my son every time I advise a student. I coached my son growing up in multiple sports but teaching him about how to coach in a formal setting was more challenging. I always interested in his development as a [basketball] coach. I was thrilled when he asked me to help out as his assistant coach after he landed his first head high school coaching position. We worked well together and I just let him coach his way. It actually brought us closer together as father and son. We also authored an article together about our unique mentoring experience.”
All athletes competing at an elite level have to stretch themselves, is adaptive sport any different?
“No not really. Once an athlete with an impairment gets over all the emotional feelings of having to live with a disability, it is basically ‘game on’ – with modification of course. People and especially coaches have to come to the realization that Parasport athletes are still athletes. Nothing more and nothing less.”
What special equipment if any do you use to go hiking? (I have just bought a free wheel and I am keen to try it out, apparently it will let me take my wheelchair on sand so I can go for a walk up the beach)
“I don’t have any specialized equipment other than keeping my body fit and strong to be able to push through dirt, sand, gravel, and grass. I do have a set of wheels with knobby tires to help with traction. My hand-cycle has road racing tires and gears on it just like a bicycle.”
In a couple of sentences can you describe what a hiking adventure looks like for you?
“I air up my tires and try to go as far as I can up/down a trail. Some are just too steep or have a lot of stairs, so I try to find more easy to moderate trails to hike on. I hike on tougher trails like a snow skier would approach a mogul field. I analyze the surface, the terrain, and sort of map my way around or over rocks, tree stumps, or other obstacles. On occasion, I have to get on the ground and throw my chair over obstacles and scoot my bottom over the obstacle. I love when I’ve spent an hour climbing a tough trail and someone walks by and gives me a look or affirmative nod.”
What are the key reasons a student will choose your program and/or class (that uses the CoachDISC Profile)?
“Requirement for the Sport Coaching degree. Many students are PE teachers adding a minor. Most in the online Master’s program are already high school coaches looking to develop their knowledge and skill in coaching, and increase their pay scale at their school.”
What are the most valuable takeaways you aim for your students to obtain when they take your class?
“A self- awareness of WHO they are as coaches and WHY they want to coach. Also, the basic fundamentals of HOW to do it. It is also about developing a coaching philosophy rooted in QUALITY athlete-centered coaching. Another objective is to expose students to the reality of coaching… the teaching and communicating aspects that are so vital to the ultimate goal of bringing people together toward a transcendent cause.”
What is the best feedback you receive from your students about their experiences in your classes?
- Authentic real-world discussion and application about the profession of coaching.
- Being able to learn how to self-reflect.
- Well prepared to pass the ASEP Coaching Certification Exam
- Access and approachability of professor.
What do you like most about teaching this class?
“Having the opportunity to change students and (future) coaches’ mindsets about the profession of coaching and the corresponding responsibilities necessary for coaches to implement proper athlete motivation, enjoyment, and long-term development practices.”
What do you like/most enjoy about your teaching role at the university?
“I love the role I play in influencing and impacting future and developing coaches through my formal teaching and mentorship, and by being able to use my own experiences as an athlete, coach, and teacher-scholar to bring energy and enthusiasm, and an authentic look into what the profession of sport coaching is, or can be.”
What do you think are the most important skills/experience students leaving your program need to succeed post-graduation?
- Seek an experienced mentor.
- A thirst for learning.
- An ability to be creative and take risk but not without detailed analysis.
- Be patient – take your turn.
What was one thing you changed in your program or your teaching from last year that has made a significant difference?
“I have implemented more focus in my teaching and supervising on the concepts of self-awareness, intersectionality, and cross-cultural competence.”
What advice would you give someone starting out in their academic or teaching career so far?
“It’s the same advice I’d give my son. I would stress staying updated in the field by reading, networking with peers, attending conferences – staying connected to the profession, and always learning and developing. Next, I would stress the importance of becoming more observational, analytical, and developing great listening skills. Next, I’d stress the importance of getting on the field and coaching – the practice makes perfect theory. Lastly, it is to “look and act the part.” Coaching is a profession NOT a college beach party.”
What gets you excited/what do you look forward to most about your role within coach development and coach education?
“The continued dialogue and discussions about quality coaching and how then to best develop culturally aware coaches in a diverse society within the dynamic profession of sport coaching. I like to introduce new coaches to ideas that challenge ‘common’ assumptions. For example, in Parasport, the mindset or philosophy of developing what the athlete has, not what they don’t have.”
What has been the top 1-3 things that have helped you succeed in your own career?
- Goal-setting and an intrinsic motivation driven by people thinking or assuming I can’t do (or achieve) something because of my impairment.
- A commitment to finish what I start. And give my energy to do whatever that is to the best of my ability.
- Taking calculated risks.
What you are most proud of? What has been your career highlight so far?
- Being able to achieve my goals and then having the mindset to set new ones. This mindset, at age 57, includes the mantra “I ain’t dead yet.”
- Watching my son coach a basketball game. I also remember him making a half-court shot to win a game for his team in middle school. His teammates carried him off the court.
- Seeing my name as the #1 world-ranked doubles player in the world and being part of four Paralympic Games – including a bronze medal in 2000 in Sydney, Australia. I am very proud of being able to represent my country at the highest levels of my sport.
- Passing my dissertation defense at the University of Alabama and hearing one of my committee members call me Dr. Douglas for the first time.
- I am always proud that I beat many of the top players in the world in wheelchair tennis while holding a full-time job and being a husband and dad.
How/why did you get into the role you are in now?
“Through coaching my son and at the local high school, I fell in love with teaching and player development. I loved watching my players successfully execute a play that we worked on in practice. I wanted to coach and the best way to do that was to become a teacher. So, after serving as the Athletic Director at the Lakeshore Foundation Olympic & Paralympic Training Site in Birmingham, Alabama, I went back to get my Master’s in Education. Soon thereafter, I had to make a choice between teaching and coaching in high school or accepting an Assistantship at the University of Alabama. I rarely choose the easy route just because something might be hard. After a one-year stop at the PETE program at the Univ of Texas El Paso, I landed here at the University of Northern Colorado with the goal of further developing the Sport Coaching program.”
What are you aiming for in the future?
“To continue to contribute to the field of Coaching Education and Coach Development, especially in the parasport context. That context now fits under the umbrella of intersectionality so, I look forward to expanding my knowledge and understanding of how to best develop coaches being mindful of diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
How has working with Athlete Assessments contributed to your class?
“Through the DISC and guest lectures with Liz, this partnership helps me provide the opportunity for my students to begin to build a foundation for their coaching philosophy and coaching behaviors (and style). This is their first chance to self-reflect within the context of coaching and Athlete Assessments helps facilitate their early growth and development as an effective coach.”
“I rarely choose the easy route just because something might be hard.” It’s a simple and succinct statement of fact, but it also serves as a quick character portrait summing up Dr. Scott Douglas, a 2x NWBA Champion, 4x player for the U.S. Men's World Cup Tennis Team, 3x Paralympian, coach, and Associate Professor at University of Northern Colorado.
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