Chris Chapman’s story
Chris is the Director of Sport Science at PUSH, a Canadian-based sport and weight room technology company. He is also a strength and conditioning coach with Freestyle Ski Canada and Paddle Monster, working with extreme and endurance sport athletes.
Meeting My Mentor
When people ask me how I got to where I am, after saying a combination of luck and unrelenting hard work, I always tell the story of how I met Steve Lidstone, my first strength coach mentor.
I had recently graduated from the kinesiology program at McMaster University. I had spent 2 years as both a personal trainer and athletic therapist and had more experience than most at my age. The Canadian University system was lagging far behind the US in the 2000s with minimal existence of field specific jobs. McMaster was always a school that led the way in athletics in Ontario and was hiring a full-time S&C coach after its previous one, and one of the few in the country, Neil Ross had left.
In my naivety, I applied for the job and thought I had a chance (in reality no chance in hell). They ended up hiring Steve Lidstone (current Director of Sport Performance at Brock U) who held the same position at York University where he was employed at the time. I had successfully earned a job staying on at McMaster as an Athletic Therapist for the Canada Basketball Development Academy program and was still crushing hours of personal training to pay the bills, so I decided to stick around McMaster a little longer.
When Steve started he held an open meeting to explain the program he was trying to build. I showed up with ears and eyes wide open because he had the job that I wanted. He told the story of how he got to where he was, his influences and mentors, how he went about learning from them, and specifically his story about meeting one of his mentors Scott Livingston in a very similar situation to how I met Steve. At that exact moment, I said to myself, “I am going to do the same thing with you, how you got to where you are is what I am going to do to get to where I want to be.” My goal from that moment was to be, hopefully, the not so annoying shadow learning every little bit of experience and knowledge I could. At the time I didn’t realize it, but now I can honestly say I owe my whole career to Steve Lidstone taking a chance on me and taking me under his wing.
From One Mentor to the Next
Roughly 2 years later I decided it was time to fly the coop, being one of the first Steve brought into the Hockey Canada circles (“Steve-lings” as Julie Healy and Mel Davidson had named us), I was ready to leave McMaster and begin the next journey of my career.
At that time, I knew I wanted to work with Olympians from the taste I had with Canada Basketball and Hockey Canada. The only person I knew training athletes full-time was Chris DalCin at his lab called the Olympic High Performance Centre based out of the Fitness Institute in Toronto. I decided to move to Toronto and figure out a way to learn from Chris.
As a parting gift, Steve passed on his role as the Head Strength Coach for Trampoline Canada, an Olympic discipline of gymnastics. He didn’t have the time to work with them anymore, and I was moving to the city where they were based. Given I was one of his first proteges whom he trusted, it made sense from a transition and legacy standpoint and opened another opportunity for me that eventually led to my employment with the Canadian Sport Centre Ontario (CSCO).
My sole goal in moving to Toronto was to work at the CSCO. Shortly after moving to Toronto the Canadian Sport Center Ontario (which is now Canadian Sport Institute Ontario) had recently been formed, and Chris DalCin moved his lab from the Fitness Institute to become the Lab Manager. Chris had done all of the testing for the Olympic trampoline team since the sport’s inception in the Sydney Olympics, so he was extremely well versed in the sport. I used this as a gateway to learn as much as I could from him, taking every opportunity to pick his brain.
I was also enamoured with the sport lab and what Chris had built, I had seen nothing else like it at the time. I put all my efforts into doing great work with trampoline, and they noticed and gave me another contract with figure skating. Again, I put all of my energy into that and eventually they brought me on as one of the first full-time strength coaches at the CSIO. When people give you opportunities doing your best to knock it out of the park will go a long way to creating more opportunities.
It was because of Steve and Chris that I made a conscious effort to give back and mentor those coming up after me. I found a love of teaching and educating early on in my career, and mentorship is a very targeted and specific version of that. Steve and Chris were great mentors, plus they are egoless, humble, and always think of others before themselves. A perfect example of this is on the first day of working with Steve he gave me a USB key with every piece of work and programming he had ever created. No secrets, nothing to hide, just “here this may help you to be better.” Chris on the other hand, would give his time without limits whenever I had a question, or discuss an idea, or teach me a new skill/tool. Time is the most valuable resource in our world, and Chris gave an unlimited amount to help me grow.
Where to Start
One of the best parts of being a mentor is that you surround yourself with young coaches who are learning the latest in academics and science. They will ask questions and hopefully challenge your thinking and processes, making you a better coach. A mentor can learn just as much from a student as they can give; mentorship is a two-way street or a win-win situation for everyone involved if done right.
My first suggestion to anyone starting or looking for growth in their career is to find someone who has the job you want, the skills you desire or any other facet of the industry you might be interested in and spend time with them in ANY way you can. Whether that is asking to shadow/observe, offering your services or volunteer, or taking them out for a meal or a beverage. Be personable; the industry is much more saturated today then it was when I was coming up. You need to set yourself apart from the crowd. Pick up a phone. Do something other than email. Seeking mentorship is an active process, and a mentor’s time is invaluable so show them why they should give back by investing in you.
For mentors, be very clear what your goals are in mentoring someone as it is a lot of time and effort, and it doesn’t always work out as planned. Giving back is one thing, but making meaningful change and helping others to achieve their professional goals is another.
Finally – I challenge you to draw out your family tree. Even if you don’t have enough to fill it, draw out what you want it to look like. What skills do you want to learn? What roles do you want to have in your career? Then find possible people to fill those boxes. People who would be humbled, happy, and honoured to work together. People who have the role you are striving towards.
- Being a mentor will challenge your current systems and beliefs with a young and hopefully unbiased mind that will ask lots of questions. It also helps you to keep a pulse on the latest knowledge, science and trends being taught at educational institutions.
- Being a mentor moves the industry forward as the lessons you learned through your and your mentors’ experiences can be passed down, ideally shortening the cycle for growth and preventing backward movement or lost knowledge in the industry.
- S&C is a people game and experience is king. The experiential knowledge you gain from a mentor who has been in the game longer than you have is more than likely something you will not learn in school. Don’t let education get in the way of your learning.