June 6, 2017

Education graduate finds connections between coaching and teaching

Tom Knitter says his job is to position players and students for success
Tom Knitter
Tom Knitter

Tom Knitter will be the first to admit that he has a reputation for being a bit ornery.  At least when it comes to his time as a player and coach with the University of Calgary Dinos football team.  Bearing such a label raises the question of whether the students of this future teacher should be concerned.

After honing his teaching technique over several weeks in schools as a student teacher during practicums for his Bachelor of Education degree, Knitter says his students have nothing to be worried about. 

“My teaching style is probably the opposite of my playing and coaching style, as I like to use humor and typically joke around with my students while we get our work done,” he says.

Knitter is well known to Dinos fans, having played as a defensive back with the team for three seasons.  His final season culminated in an appearance in the Vanier Cup in 2013, after which time he transitioned into coaching with the Dinos, first as an assistant coach and now as Special Teams Coordinator. 

Knitter’s move to coaching roughly coincided with his enrollment in the Werklund School of Education (WSE), and while his approach to coaching and teaching may differ, he sees many similarities between these roles.

“I am a firm believer that coaching and teaching are near-synonymous.  They both revolve around the intrinsic passion of helping students and athletes develop, and the ultimate reward of seeing their hard work pay off.”

“Our Head Coach, Wayne Harris, gave me some great advice this year, saying, ‘athletes want to succeed, they want to do the best they can’ and I believe that to be true for both coaching and teaching. My role as a coach and as a teacher is to help engage athletes and students, putting them in the best possible position for continued growth and success.”

Looking back on his two years in the WSE, Knitter recalls a point during his practicum when he spent an entire morning with a kindergarten class helping them print their names on a sheet of paper; that afternoon, he was coaching 20-year-old university athletes on proper footwork in a new punt protection scheme.  From this experience, he again found the intersection between coaching and teaching.

“While technically they are worlds apart, the commonality between them is the patience that is required to be an effective teacher and technical coach.”

Ever the team player, Knitter, unsurprisingly, views his success as a result of collaboration.  His responsibilities as coordinator include game planning, drawing up plays, creating depth charts as well as reviewing hours of game and practice film in order to dissect techniques and oppositional strategies for daily meetings.  Knitter says he would not be able to fulfill his coaching duties and the obligations of the BEd program without a lot of assistance.

“I was fortunate enough to have the full support of our head coach and the rest of our coaching staff who made those late nights at McMahon stadium, watching film and doing assignments, much more manageable.”

On the academic side, Knitter is quick to acknowledge faculty members and his fellow students.  “I was able to rely on some amazing help from professors and students who encouraged me every step of the way.  The professors were genuinely excited to be guiding us towards becoming the best educators we can be and every class was an opportunity to learn new perspectives and share in new experiences from my fellow classmates.”

Gavin Peat, instructor for the Secondary Physical Education course, believes Knitter’s passion motivates those around him and is confident that he is well on his way to becoming a great educator.

“Tom brings a committed approach to his work that reflects his core values of hard work and solid understanding of his responsibilities as both a coach and student teacher; he builds strong relationships with everyone and has the ability to engage and enthuse all those he leads.”

Knitter says he is still weighing his post-graduation options but says that when he does take on a teaching position, he will bring the best aspects of his football experience with him.

“The Dinos football team has a culture of success ingrained within it and I would look to bring a similar culture of success into a school community.”

So rest assured students, it looks as though Knitter will bring patience to the classroom and leave the ‘ornery’ on the field.