James Madison University

Alumni Highlight - Joe Valentino

BS Kinesiology: Exercise Science, Class of 2012

Choosing a Major

PHOTO: Joe Valentino

Upon being admitted into JMU, I declared my undergraduate major as Athletic Training. I decided to take the time to volunteer under the JMU Athletic Training staff for a semester in order to gain experience in the field. After my volunteer experience, I developed a realization that my true passion was in the Athletic Physical Preparation/Sports Performance/Strength & Conditioning field, rather than Athletic Training. I decided to switch my undergraduate major to Kinesiology with a concentration in Exercise Science in order to follow my true passion into the Sport Performance field.

Volunteer and Internship Experience

After switching my major, I volunteered for the JMU Strength & Conditioning staff (Olympic Sports) under Coach Greg Werner, Callye Williams, Lee Rowland, and Scott Bennett. All of the JMU Strength & Conditioning coaches provided me with invaluable advice while I was coaching athletes on the floor (in the weight room) and out on the field. I made sure to make the most of my time working with the JMU Strength & Conditioning staff by asking endless questions related to the Sports Performance profession. I was very reluctant that all of the strength coaches were very patient in taking the time to answer all of my questions, even if they ended up in long and detailed discussions. The internship responsibilities did not just contain wiping down and organizing the weight room equipment. Instead, I was trusted enough by the Strength Staff to train athletes on my own of various sport teams such as: Men’s and Women’s Basketball, Baseball, Softball, Men’s and Women’s Soccer.
Aside from my internship experience with the JMU Strength Staff, I had very passionate and intelligent kinesiology professors that encouraged me to be very enthusiastic to attend their classes and learn from what they were presenting to teach me. Not only was I enthusiastic about learning in the classroom, but I spent a lot of my free time reading highly-noted pieces of literature related to sports performance or nutrition, doing research and training on my own.

Carolina Panthers Strength and Conditioning Internship

During my last year at JMU, I was offered a position to work under Joe Kenn at the Carolina Panthers. This internship included the most responsibilities out of any experience I previously had in the Strength & Conditioning profession. By the end of the first two weeks, I had the responsibility of coaching all of the running backs, wide receivers, and defensive backs in the weight room as well as recording all of the weekly and monthly training data/numbers. With the help of another intern, we were expected to set up the designated workouts for the following training day after having to break down the equipment we set up from the previous training day.
The working experience with the Carolina Panthers was both physically and mentally demanding, but as interns, we were tested by how we responded under pressure situations when we were thrown to the wolves. Coach Kenn taught me that in order to be a great strength coach, you need to perform at your highest level at all times, focus on the little things, don’t try to be someone you’re not, be on your toes, and organize any chaotic atmosphere that you are presented with as a coach. At first, working with professional athletes is intimidating. I was reluctant to work with a great group of guys who made the coaching process fun for me. As a coach, once the athlete understands that you’re working to help them get better and without always being such a drill sergeant, it is the best way to get any athlete to believe in your work. Being a strength coach is not about having your athletes lift as much weight as humanly possible. Yes, you need to get the athlete stronger, but that is the easiest task of a strength coach. A common misconception coaches have is that they treat athletes like weightlifters when they are in fact, ATHLETES OF THEIR SPORT, not athletes of weightlifting. The main focus of a strength coach should be to keep the athlete healthy, and take a therapeutic approach in the weight room in order to lower their risk of injuries while they perform at high intensities on the field.

I’ve also learned that you can wear a different hat when you’re working with so many different personalities (athletes). Again, don’t be someone that you are not. Instead, learn to adjust to different personalities in order to develop a better relationship with your athlete. The experience I gained under Coach Kenn has molded me into a much stronger and smarter coach that I am today.

Graduate School

I am currently the Graduate Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach for the Florida Atlantic University Owls. My responsibilities include: programming and administering the annual weight room, speed, and agility training for athletes of the following Division-1 sport teams: Baseball, Football (assistant), Swimming & Diving, Men’s Soccer, Men’s Tennis, Women’s Tennis, and Men’s Cross Country. I am currently studying Exercise Science & Health Promotion as a graduate student at FAU. Hopefully this opportunity will open doors for me to get a job offer as a Strength & Conditioning coach at a University/College or Professional level.

Invaluable Tips for Aspiring Young Strength & Conditioning Coaches:

  • Prepare to make many (essential & necessary) sacrifices along your journey towards your career goals.
  • The difference between becoming a good strength coach and a great strength coach is your work ethic, how well you respond under different levels of pressure situations, paying attention to details (small and big), and the quality (not so much quantity) of your work.
  • Offer your time and effort to work for free (internships) or minimal pay in order to gain experience under coaches who can be great mentors and references for you.
  • Always continue to build your network with other coaches and do not burn any bridges.
  • When you stop learning, your athletes will stop improving.
  • Continue your own education by reading books and learning from other coaches/mentors (in school or on your own time).
  • Act in the position you WANT to be in, not the position you are currently in (as an intern).
  • After obtaining your undergraduate degree, work towards a graduate assistant strength coach position for graduate school.
  • Be a hybrid of all the coaches you’ve worked under and learned from, not a clone.