Jené Baclawski began playing soccer at 4 years old. While coaches motivated her, practices of her youth were filled with isolated skills training, drills, and 2-mile runs.
Now 42, Baclawski is a coach educator enrolled in UNC Greensboro’s online Doctor of Education in Kinesiology (EdD in KIN). She’s worked with top teams like with Georgia State, Emory, and Southwestern universities. She’s worked with current and former U.S. Women’s National Team players Ali Krieger, Nicole Barnhart, and Heather O’Reilly. And she’s currently serving as the head coach for the St. Kitts-Nevis Women’s National Team, who have advanced to the final round of qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
But her focus right now is on the future of soccer—youth and their experience in the game.
Making an Impact on the Field and in Her Field
Baclawski is a technical director for the South Texas Youth Soccer Association as well as a National Instructor for U.S. Soccer. She oversees coaches, players, all aspects of soccer, as well as development of educational platforms. As the only female technical director out of 52 associations nationwide, she wants to get more women into coaching and coaching education.
She’s part of U.S. Soccer’s grassroots Play-Practice-Play initiative to teach youth soccer through play-centered coaching, advocating that the game is the best teacher. She hopes to use research from the EdD program to show that Play-Practice-Play’s game-based teaching is effective.
“It’s about transfer from practice to game,” she says. “We have to teach them how to make decisions for themselves, and that’s what Play-Practice-Play helps people do for their kids.”
The philosophy focuses on a more integrated teaching approach than in her youth, with all fitness, technical, mental, and social skills taught with the ball, playing soccer-like games. It’s a fun way to learn, especially if kids feel like they are appropriately challenged. The goal is to help increase the number of youth playing in the game and decrease the number of dropouts in the sport.
Baclawski also wants to help coaches realize that they’re teachers.
“Just like education in our high schools has changed and the way you teach kids, so should coaching, and most people forget that,” she says. “They just grow up and they coach like their coach coached them.”
Finding Solutions to Unique Problems
Baclawski is interested in helping more women become coaches and coaching educators because there are so few. Through her work in the EdD program, she’s interested in researching why this happens and solutions to the problem.
“It’s almost like a pipeline effect, and when we don’t have very many women coaching at the youth levels, then we don’t have very many women who think that they could teach and that that would be an option for them,” she says.
Changing the Course of the Future
Baclawski can already see her impact on the future. With the U.S. team’s recent Women’s World Cup win, she’s hopeful the future of soccer is changing. She sees the players as role models and says the buzz surrounding women’s soccer will continue to grow.
“I think that if we continue to do things right at the younger levels, we’ll see even more talented girls coming through the ranks,” Baclawski says. “I think our national team will continue to be dominant, and I know I play a role in that to some degree. I know that I’m creating coaches and players that will support them, be engaged with them, and hopefully be like them.”
She hopes what she’s learning in the EdD program will help her be more successful in her career.
“One of the things I’ve found quite effective with the EdD program was the ability to think about curriculum, youth sports, and pedagogy, like how to teach and how to be a better teacher and coach,” she says. “I also know that this degree will help me have more credibility in my field.”
Applying Coursework on the Job
Part of the 2018 cohort, Baclawski applies knowledge from the EdD program to her daily work.
She teaches higher-level coaching courses to instructors across the country, helping them deliver information in a meaningful and effective way, and improving on their professional goals. The Curriculum Design in Kinesiology course helped her understand how to implement and communicate a better coaching education system.
Because she works with people across the country and in a large state like Texas, she takes advantage of online communication tools like video conferencing and online platforms to communicate with coaches, something she has learned to use more effectively in the EdD program.
“Those kinds of skills are things that I’m learning as a student in the EdD program and then transferring to the way that I can communicate and help other people across this kind of modern, Internet-based, global communication career path that I have,” she says.
Online Pedagogy in Kinesiology helped her design and create online educational platforms for coaches in her state.
“Without that class and understanding how to do backwards design to create outcomes, then think through the steps for the content and the interaction, it would not be nearly as developed or engaging,” she says.
The Way Education Should Be
With work and travel, Baclawski needs an effective education program too. For her, online learning is flexible, and she never feels alone. Professors are accessible, providing personal, thoughtful feedback.
“There’s true engagement and it feels like a community, which is something I never would have expected I could feel living hundreds of miles away from campus,” she says. “But I feel very much connected to UNCG and the people who are in my cohort.”
Whether she’s logging in on a plane during work travel or reading on the treadmill, having the flexibility to complete assignments and groupwork on her own schedule is a lifesaver.
“This is to me the way that education should be for people who are professionals and already established in their career,” she says.
UNCG’s interdisciplinary online Doctor of Education in Kinesiology program is for practicing professionals with three or more years of experience in kinesiology or related fields, focusing on scholarship and professional practice in leadership, advocacy, and teaching. Download a brochure.