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A new path to success

Thanks to an innovative partnership with the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute and collaborations with WVU Athletics, CPASS students are getting hands on experience.

The new CPASS program in coaching and performance science sprang from the cutting edge of both high-performance athletics and recreational sport. One of the only undergraduate programs of its kind in the country, coaching and performance science offers students three areas of emphasis: coaching and leadership, strength and conditioning and applied sport science. “That is incredibly unique,” says Guy Hornsby, assistant professor of athletic coaching education. “I am not aware of such a push to do this at the undergrad level anywhere else.”

But the program didn’t spring from nowhere. A long history of collaboration, integration and listening to the industry has developed into a robust push to not only marry collegiate athletics with faculty research and student learning opportunities, but to also bring a valuable service to coaches and teams in the Morgantown area.

As a volunteer coach for WVU Track and Field (throws), head coach of West Virginia Weightlifting (a USAW registered WVU club), coaching science coordinator through an adjunct faculty appointment with the WVU Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute’s Human Performance Innovation Center (HPIC) and the West Virginia State Director for the National Strength and Conditioning Association for the past three years, Guy is working hard to create one-of-a-kind, direct experiences for students at all levels — while bringing the latest sports science technology to coaches and teams, helping them improve and better understand their athletic performance.

We sat down with Guy to get a deeper understanding of how sports science and athlete monitoring has become such a cornerstone of coaching and performance science at CPASS.

Why has sports science and athlete monitoring become so important for coaching and performance science students to learn and practice?

We have seen in the last five to 10 years a huge uptick in the interest in certain tools and monitoring devices and assessment technologies. It’s very much a movement. And we’re seeing a shift in professional teams and other collegiate programs now investing in sports science. The big certification organizations are also responding to what is happening in the field, so we knew we needed to be integrated with our approach to sports science education — for our students and our coaches and athletes. 

You say the undergraduate coaching and performance science program at CPASS is cutting edge. What makes it so?

First, students here get to pick one of three areas of emphasis at the undergrad level, which is far more robust than a minor: coaching and leadership, strength and conditioning and applied sport science.

One of the biggest, most important, components to this is the hands-on experience along with the classroom work. Our collaboration with the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute (RNI) and the Human Performance Innovation Center (HPIC), through the direction of RNI faculty Drs. Scott Galster and Josh Hagen, allows students to get comfortable talking with real coaches and athletes, working in the lab, carrying out tests and analyzing data.

We also oversee a program that provides strength and conditioning to all three Monongalia County schools. And we have other collaborations with teams throughout the area. We are really imbedded. So even if a student isn’t doing work with a WVU team, there are always a bunch of opportunities to work with other populations.

Can you describe some of these collaborations — like with RNI — and how students are involved?

Early on, the RNI collaboration was mostly about communicating and working with different WVU Athletics teams that were interested in participating in athlete monitoring. The RNI HPIC, which opened in February 2019, has been able to involve numerous teams. There, we do a combination of testing — bringing the testing to the athletes in the field and bringing teams into the lab for testing.

Just this year, we’ve tested cross-country, women’s soccer, rowing, diving and baseball in the lab. When it comes to in-lab testing situations, such as women’s soccer, four of our coaching performance science students were there helping to carry out tests. As a faculty member, it’s my job to prepare our students to be able to conduct the tests and understand data analysis and interpretation.

We’ve also been conducting testing of Olympic sports, such as volleyball, where we are taking the testing to the teams in the field. Last year we had two students in strength and conditioning internship roles help with vertical jump with testing WVU football at their facility; both individuals are now employed as strength coaches at major power 5 programs, Clemson University and Mississippi State university, utilizing some of the technologies and processes they were introduced to here. This semester we have two students in sport science roles assisting with workload monitoring for WVU volleyball and WVU soccer.

RNI has funded students of ours for graduate assistantships. And even before the lab opened, I had a doctoral student who was hired by RNI while he was pursuing his PhD. He helped with the communication, planning and coordination side of things to set up testing with Olympic sports. He ended up earning a great opportunity as a strength and conditioning coach with a U.S. Special Operations unit.

What’s your long-term goal for this undergraduate program and athlete monitoring in general at WVU?

Overall, this collaboration has provided a strong foundation for what I hope, moving forward, will become a truly top-notch athlete monitoring program at WVU. The integration between sports science on an academic level with athletics programs and teams makes too much sense. As a coach, when you get a research laboratory and sport science personnel like what RNI has been able to provide, this allows sports teams to receive high quality assessments and, more importantly, receive high level expertise and guidance that doesn’t come out of their budget. It is a great deal for them and an excellent opportunity for us, as scientists, to learn from their data, provide service to athletes and coaches while offering real-world experience to our students. I am looking forward to building upon what we have established. Applied sport science, like sport, is a continuous process, and, also like sport, is incredibly multi-faceted. Thus, it is a long-term commitment.

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