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Experiential learning leads to career launch at the collegiate level

Gregory Warren credits his experiences at the College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences in paving the pathway to his new role as director of strength and conditioning at Bluefield State College, Bluefield, W.Va.

The master of science, coaching and sport education (2021) graduate says the CPASS connection served a critical role in initiating his career. “Although it was only for two years, the coaching experience I gained as a graduate assistant and head strength coach at University High School in Morgantown gave me the confidence to realize my abilities as a coach in this field,” Warren said.

Guy Hornsby, assistant professor, coaching and teaching studies, explains how high school strength and conditioning graduate assistants further develop knowledge and skills during the two years in the program. “Our master's degree curriculum, the oversight and mentorship provided by CPASS coaching and performance science faculty and the opportunity to lead a high school S&C program allows our program to stand out,” he said. “I take great pride in the coordination and oversight of the GA contract. I believe that we must deliver a robust program which goes well beyond simply providing a strength coach for a school.”

Warren says that his interactions with CPASS faculty have left a great impact on him. “Dr. Kristen Dieffenbach (associate professor, coaching and teaching studies) was an absolute joy to speak with her about coaching and situations I came across as a coach. Her advice on how to coach my female athletes sparked something inside of me to change for the better; I have not looked back,” he said.

“Dr. Mike Ryan’s (teaching assistant professor, coaching and teaching studies) take on sports and coaching youth athletes solidified my convictions I already had. Dr. Guy Hornsby’s knowledge and expertise on coaching, sport science and programming are something I greatly appreciate. He is someone I continuously reach out to for advice. I have adapted to my philosophy and approach to coaching with the knowledge and advice I received from them,” Warren added.

Warren recognizes Dr. Dana Voelker (associate professor, sport and exercise psychology) with enabling him to learn to tap into the mind and psychology of the athlete. “The connection with sport performance left an impact on how I approach coaching. She strengthened my opinion on the psychological aspect of sport. My overall experience was nothing short of excellent,” Warren said.

As a grad student, Warren served as the head strength coach at University High School. “It gave me the confidence I needed to realize that I am more than capable to succeed in that role. In a way, I felt I needed to prove it to not just myself, but to friends and family that the amount of work and the grinding I did to get to that point was worth it. I truly hope I left a positive impact on the coaches, parents and athletes that I came across during my time there,” he explained.

Warren says helping young athletes is especially fulfilling. “I’m proud of the change in culture and the mindset of the UHS athletes. More importantly, it was thrilling to see the reactions of every athlete when they achieved something that they did not think they could accomplish. It’s my greatest joy as a coach to experience that,” he said.

Being the head strength coach of a high school is unique in that it involves being a good strength coach while requiring leadership, organization, professionalism and communication skills. “Our strength coaches must communicate with many sport coaches, the AD and athletic training staff. They create the weight room schedule and more,” Hornsby said. “This is a valuable experience that many strength coaches do not receive until later in their careers. I believe the last several years are evidence that our high school GAs transition well into collegiate S&C. I am proud that our last four S&C GAs have found positions in the collegiate sector, including Bluefield State College, Clemson, Pitt and Illinois,” he added.

Additionally, Hornsby says that the goal is to deliver a long term, comprehensive strength and conditioning program through the S&C graduate assistantship. “This involves both a unified philosophical approach, such as using long-term athlete development, and keeping important S&C aspects consistent through training prescriptions and assessments, so that when one S&C GA leaves the major themes of the program continue,” he said.

Warren tells current students who want to enter the coaching field to network and connect with other coaches. “Stay true to your beliefs and philosophy while leaving room to be flexible. Never become set in your ways. Be willing to adapt to any environment,” he said. “More importantly, if this is something that you want to do, be prepared for a grind and having to work your butt off. You may have to work for nothing, or next to nothing, with almost no glory nor recognition for yourself. This career is as selfless as it gets. You must check your ego at the door, just as much as you ask your athletes to do the very same,” he added.

Prior to his graduate assistant position with CPASS, Warren spent more than six years in collegiate strength and conditioning internships, including the University of Virginia's College at Wise, Wise, Va., Gardner-Webb University, Catawba College, Salisbury, N.C., and San Jose State University. Warren is certified by the National Strength Coaches Association (NSCA).

“If I am being honest, I never thought I would ever receive an opportunity like CPASS. I was content as a teacher, coach and personal trainer back home. I got a call to see if I was interested in a position. I applied and interviewed, and the rest is history. Having graduate school paid for is not a bad way to go. It was a goal of mine to be a grad assistant, which could help me in paying for my education.”

Warren maintains strong ties with two areas that he claims as hometowns. “I would not be who I am today without them both. They hold a special place for me. I was born in Southeast, Washington, D.C. and then lived in Kannapolis, N.C. since I was a teenager. The journey to achieve your goal may be short, but it may also be a long process. However, if this is something that you know you want to do, keep fighting for it, until you physically can’t,” he said.

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