Q&A with Kinzee Salo, Teaching Specialist & Coach

Mim Haigh
Sports Writer – Athlete Assessments

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We recently interviewed Kinzee Salo for our article When Coaching Sport isn’t All About Coaching Sport and we found that she shared too many valuable insights to include in just one article. So, we’re sharing all her answers in an extended Q&A here.

You coach yourself, what motivates you to also teach/lecture in coaching?

In a weird way, I view teaching/lecturing as a form of coaching. I enjoy working with students and helping them grow personally and professionally throughout the semester. Seeing the progress they make and the way they approach classroom discussions never ceases to amaze me. To me, this is another way to influence and be a role model for young people who enjoy sport and who want to be coaches themselves in the future. It’s an honor to be able to work with them and I’m grateful for the opportunity to give back to the School of Kinesiology at the University of Minnesota where I did my graduate work.

How does teaching/lecturing in coaching help you as a coach?

Coaching involves a lot of people management. Every day brings something new and as a coach you are trying to help young people not only develop as a player, but as a person. Each player has different needs and being able to understand what that player needs at any given moment can be a challenge at times. Teaching/lecturing helps me continue to enhance my skills with managing people and being able to better understand the variety of individuals I will come in to contact with during my coaching career. It is another opportunity to continue to learn about coaching myself as the conversations and discussions we have in class are always beneficial to me. Students are often times bringing in real world examples of things they’ve encountered as a coach. To me, teaching is coaching and being able to continue to grow as a teacher and coach at the same time is something I am grateful for.

Your Master’s thesis research focused on the portrayal of women coaches in digital sport media. Why did you choose this focus area?

I was fortunate to do my graduate studies in the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in sport. Through that work, I developed a great passion about advocating for women and girls in sport, and in particular, female coaches. The number of opportunities for female coaches are extremely limited compared to their male counterparts. Many of the narratives that surround female coaches are negative and place the blame on female coaches themselves. For example, a common narrative we hear is “women do not want to coach”. These types of narratives negatively impact current and future women who have a passion for coaching. These common negatives combined with the increased popularity of digital media lead me to focus my thesis on that area. With the new type of media, we wanted to see if the narratives about female coaches would be different and/or more positive. What I found however, was the narratives were the same. Female coaches being portrayed as not wanting to coach and/or being difficult to find. These narratives need to change and there is a lot of great work the Tucke Center is doing to combat them.

You were a graduate student in the Tucker Center and have been mentored by some accomplished and well-respected individuals, how important has their insight and guidance been to your career progression?

I do not think I can adequately put in to words what my experience at the Tucker Center means to me. Being able to be apart of a group of people who are passionate about equity not only for women but other identities and minority groups as well is an experience I will never forget. The leadership of Dr. LaVoi and Dr. Kane is inspiring and the way they help mentor and shape young people to go out in to the world and use their voice pushes me to be a better person every day. I still stay in contact with the people who were on the Tucker Team with me and have made lifelong friends who will be there for me. Dr. LaVoi is an amazing mentor and will be someone I will continue to learn from and lean on for advice as I continue to advance my career.

Specifically, you’ve been involved with the NCAA Women Coaches Academy, how has the academy shaped you as a coach?

The NCAA Women Coaches Academy was such an amazing experience. I think the part I loved the most was being surrounded with 40 other female coaches from different sports and different levels in a supportive environment where we were able to grow together. Every single session was worthwhile and while I can say I learned a lot, I think my biggest takeaway was the connections I made with other coaches.

What are the most valuable take-aways you aim for your students when they take your class?

I think the biggest takeaway I want my students to learn in the class, is that every single player, coach, parent, spectator they will meet is different and relationships are key. Sport is an amazing vehicle to teach young people not only your sport but life skills as well. Being able to effectively communicate and treat others the way they would want to be treated is a skill and takes a lot of hard work and dedication. That is why using DISC in our class is extremely beneficial. It helps my students grasp the different styles of individuals they will probably come in to contact with. And while everyone is not one specific style, it helps them understand or start to think about relationships they have in their own lives and why they get along better with some people over others. It is so cool to see how students implement Athlete Assessments’ DISC into our classroom discussion and point out specific behaviors they see in others that relate to how they need to communicate with that individual. Sport is all about people management, so if my students can leave the class with a better understanding of how to communicate with a broad range of people, I’ve set them up for success in whatever profession they choose to pursue.

What is the best feedback you receive from your students about their experience in your classes?

I try to make my class very discussion based. Especially during a pandemic, classroom discussions are crucial because it is so easy for students to check out or be distracted in class via zoom. A lot of students appreciate how the class is not a lot of lecturing and a lot of practical application and discussion. A lot of students who take my class are currently coaching, so this gives them an opportunity to discuss real life problems or scenarios they’ve seen. Creating an atmosphere where our class is a ‘team’ is important to me. While I will help guide them, I really want them to take the reins and take the class where they want it to go, which I think a lot of students appreciate.

What do you like most about teaching this class?

The best thing about teaching this class is being able to connect with students who are interested in something I am passionate about. To be able to hear about why they want to go into coaching and help them develop and grow into a better coach is an amazing thing. They also help me continue to learn and grow as a coach and teacher. It is a great way to connect with students at my alma mater.

What do you like/most enjoy about your teaching role at the university?

It is fun to be back in the School of Kinesiology at the University of Minnesota. I really enjoyed my time there as a student, so to give back to a place that gave so much to me and helped me develop my strong passion of advocating for women and girls in sport is extremely special to me.

What do you think are the most important skills/experience students leaving your program need to succeed post-graduation?

One important skill I hope my students leave with is their ability to be open-minded and empathetic. Our world is going through a lot right now and this is a difficult time for many. It is so much bigger than sport, and if I can help students develop empathy and the ability to engage in difficult/at times uncomfortable conversations with the ability to be open-minded, I hope I’ve helped them with their ability to succeed once they leave the classroom.

What gets you excited/what do you look forward to most about your role within coach development and coach education?

There are a lot of not so good coaches in this world. I’ve learned this through stories and my own experience. And I think there is this preconceived notion that coaching is just x’s and o’s. But what a lot of people don’t know, is that it is A LOT more than that. So what gets me excited about my role with coach development is that I get to help young people develop into great coaches who get the bigger picture. A lot of students leave the class and say that they learned coaching is tough and there is a lot involved in it. Having them leave with that awareness and understanding how they can best serve their athletes is something that is very exciting to me.

What have been the top 1-3 things that have helped you succeed in your own career?

  1. I’ve found mentors who I can lean on and go to for advice. Having individuals who support you and can help you process and learn is important.
  2. I’ve developed self-awareness to better understand who I am and what I need to be at my best. Having self-awareness has helped my development as a person and coach
  3. I have a strong support system with family and friends. I have people in my life who support me in everything I do. These are also people that I can be around that help me check out from work. This ability to check out and focus on things other than coaching has been a breath of fresh air because as much as I love coaching, it is important for me to take breaks and prioritize self-care.

Can you share an ‘ah-ha’ moment in your career?

I am still very early in my career but I will share an “ah ha” moment I’ve had happened recently. I am currently a volunteer coach for the Gustavus Men’s Tennis team which is a nationally ranked DIII program. It is one of the most successful programs in men’s tennis and I am grateful for the opportunity to work with the guys and to work under the head coach/great mentor of mine Tommy Valentini. I think what is most special about this program is how much they do not focus on winning as the focus is solely on things that are within our control. This is not easy to do on a day to day basis as life happens and obstacles can be thrown your way. But we believe that if you can focus on things within your control, you will succeed no matter if you win on the court or not. A moment recently that demonstrated the impact of this philosophy was a few weeks ago when we had our conference championship match. A week before the match, we had one of our players test positive for COVID. This caused three other players and myself to be out for the championship match which was going to be a competitive match no matter what. In that scenario we as a team had a choice, we could choose to be mad and disappointed about a few of our guys being out of the lineup causing us to alter the lineup and not be able to run at full strength, or we could choose to accept the scenario and work hard with the hand we were dealt. We chose the latter. Those of us in quarantine choose to focus on the positive and accept what we needed to do to keep people safe and our team chose to work hard to put us in the best position to be able to extend our season in the NCAA tournament. We ended up wining that match handily with a few new players in the lineup. This is a moment I will never forget as our team played for each other and came together as a group focusing on what we can control. While I believe I already knew it, this moment helped solidify my belief in how much sport is a vehicle to learn life lessons. Our guys grew through this scenario and became better people from the adversity they faced. I was so proud of the team and they helped me become a better coach and person by the way that situation was handled.

How has working with Athlete Assessments contributed to your class? (what has been most valuable)

Having Liz come in to talk to my class was amazing. It was so nice to have a day with her to walk the class through DISC and thoroughly explain it was so important. The activities she does in class help students grasp a thorough understanding of Athlete Assessments DISC and allows them to apply it to any aspect of coaching. My students loved having her join us and having her come towards the beginning of the semester helps set up the framework for the rest of the semester as we continue to enhance their level of understanding of Athlete Assessments DISC. Many of them talked about Athlete Assessments DISC in their final projects and how they are going to apply it to their coaching, so our work with Athlete Assessments is crucial for our course.

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Athlete Assessments' Academic Program has everything you need!

Athlete Assessments’ DISC Profiles are specifically tailored to sport.

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

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

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