In his 19 years at Columbia, women’s soccer head coach Kevin McCarthy has taught everything from soccer and floor hockey to strength conditioning and squash.
Most of the University’s 98 physical education courses offered this semester are taught by the Lions’ varsity coaches. Coaches teach one gym class per semester, regardless of whether their team is in season.
While the gym requirement affords students the opportunity to explore a new sport, McCarthy, also uses his teaching requirement to explore his own interests.
“In terms of teaching floor hockey, I used to play hockey, so I’m very comfortable there. With squash, I was the associate, helping the squash coach out. Part of it was based on where they needed people, but I had also expressed an interest in learning the game.”
Another coach who teaches outside his usual realm is wrestling head coach Carl Fronhofer. In his four years at Columbia, Fronhofer has taught strength training and acknowledges the disadvantage of wrestling not being offered as a P.E. class.
“There is no wrestling, otherwise my expertise could be used a little better, but I think I am competent enough in strength training,” he said.
While the extra time commitment during the season can be seen as a distraction, most coaches say they find it manageable, or at least worth the time crunch.
“Well, I always find that I wish I had more time, but that’s part of the experience. The benefits of the relationships I’ve developed from teaching those classes outweigh the time commitment,” McCarthy said.
Coaches also say that getting to interact with the non-athlete student body is a benefit. “It gives you exposure to the regular student body, that we probably wouldn’t have much of if we didn’t teach these classes, so I think that’s a positive,” Fronhofer said. “I have found getting to know more of the general student body to be enriching,” McCarthy added.
Diving coach Gordon Spencer generally teaches within his area of expertise and said he finds it refreshing to work with a different level of athletes. “I coach divers who have been diving for years, and here I’m teaching students diving they have never experienced. It’s a fresh way to see the sport.”
Many assistant coaches teach their own gym classes, often with another assistant coach. Senior Isaac Santos took hiking with assistant wrestling coach Roman Fleszar and said he found Fleszar to be a great teacher. “He was very organized, while at the same time giving people the freedom to hike at their own pace,” Santos said.
While there can be difficulties for coaches, they say the general experience is positive since the coaches feel that they are contributing to something bigger—the comprehensive education at Columbia.
Spencer said he sees this program as a great offering to the student body. “The coaches are intrinsically prepared for teaching these things, and it’s a great opportunity to get to learn a sport from a D1 coach. It seems to follow in what Columbia offers in the academic realm, where they have outstanding professors and teachers presenting material,” Spencer said.
McCarthy said that the presence of a requirement is a great move by Columbia. “The kids get something out of it. I think some people do it thinking ‘I have to fulfill this requirement,’ but it’s definitely a positive thing."