How volunteer assistant coaches in AU’s athletic department approach their positions
Often serving as a connection between coaches and athletes, the volunteer assistant coaches of AU athletic programs assist in building success and cultivating relationships
The role of the volunteer assistant athletic coach is a balancing act.
In a normal year, American University coaches devote time to other careers, business ventures or even a hopeful Olympic pursuit on top of working with AU athletes. However, amid the coronavirus pandemic, coaches also must contend with the difficulties of canceled or altered seasons.
But, for the volunteer coaches in the track and cross country, men’s soccer and wrestling programs, their leadership serves as a unique connection between the coaches and the players.
AU’s track and cross country volunteer coach, Emily Lipari, is a professional runner with her sights set on the 2021 Olympic Games. After closing her collegiate career at Villanova in 2014 as a three-time NCAA champion (2010 cross country team, 2011 DMR, 2014 mile), a 10-time All-American and 13-time Big East champion, her position with AU has allowed her to give back to the sport while still training for her own career.
“Running can kind of be a little bit of a selfish sport, so being able to find somewhere where you can get back with your experiences was what I was really looking for,” Lipari said.
Her husband’s military service brought her to D.C., where she connected with head coach Sean Graham and began working with the athletic department. The flexible coaching role has allowed her to focus on her Olympic training while still leaving time to offer guidance to AU’s student-athletes.
“With the years that I've been in the sport, I just felt like I've learned so much and have a lot to give back,” Lipari said. “Just as I've gotten more years and more experience, you realize that there's so much that you would have liked to have told your younger self, so that's why it's kind of fun to now step into a coaching role now.”
Lipari reflected that she’s in a similar phase of her life as AU’s runners because they’re both training for upcoming seasons and competitions. Since she can relate to their perspective as a former student-athlete and current professional runner, she hopes to lead by example and provide a glimpse into what it’s like to be a professional after college competition is over.
“I just really love the youth and energy [of the team],” she said. “It’s a really positive atmosphere. You get a really great vibe with kids who want to be successful, and when you see that it's really inspiring because you know that the work that you're putting into these athletes, you're going to get back from them because they want to be as successful as you want them to be.”
For men’s soccer volunteer coach Patrick Mehlert, coaching at American is a return to his roots. As a 2014 graduate of the program, Mehlert helps oversee a rebuilding team under the leadership of second-year head coach Zach Samol. Mehlert’s father, Peter Mehlert, coached the men’s soccer team from 1972-91 and is now in the Stafford H. Cassell Hall of Fame.
“As a senior, I knew that I wanted to be part of the game,” Patrick Mehlert said. “From what I was able to experience, I thought that I could give back to the game and give back to this program.”
“I studied finance and business when I was in school, but I wasn't ready to sit behind a desk and crunch numbers,” he added. “I wanted to be on the field, and I want to be involved with the game that has given so much to me growing up. Part of it does go to my father who was a coach for years and years; that definitely was able to rub off on me and I learned an incredible amount from him.”
Since graduating from AU, Patrick Mehlert has started a soccer coaching business, PrimeTime Training LLC in the DMV area. The business provides one-on-one, small group and team training throughout the year. As the technical director and director of operations, Patrick Mehlert heads curriculum design and lesson plans, as well as scheduling and coaching assignments.
During the fall AU soccer season, balancing coaching with his business can be tough to manage, but both roles allow him to build on his coaching knowledge and experience within soccer. Mehlert is looking to establish a career in college coaching, and while he is not far in age from AU’s players, he has had to shift his focus from being the player to being the coach.
“Now I think, ‘How can I make these guys the best player they can possibly be?,’ and ‘How can I add change?’” he said. “It’s also being able to see things and helping them make their decisions on the field or guiding them in any way possible. I think that's the best part about being on the field and the work that goes into it, which translates to the games on the weekends.”
In the wrestling program, another former Eagle has found their way into a volunteer assistant position. Former two-time All-American wrestler Ganbayar Sanjaa is now in his second season with AU after serving in similar assistant roles at the University of Maryland and the University of Oklahoma.
In his final year at AU, Sanjaa placed sixth at the NCAA Championships and second at the Midlands Championships before earning a bachelor’s degree in health promotion. Sanjaa is also a four-time Mongolian Junior National Champion and has wrestled for the Mongolian national team.
“I loved the sport of wrestling since I was a young age,” Sanjaa wrote in an email. “I have competed in Nationals and Internationals before I came to the U.S.A to pursue my education. Fortunately, I got the chance to compete at NCAA wrestling at American University. I have had great experience and coaches throughout my wrestling career. That is why I love to share and teach my wrestling experience with young athletes.”
Sanjaa and the other volunteer assistant coaches are not full-time employees at the University, so they do not receive payment or benefits from AU. The volunteers at AU have found other places of employment or opportunities to earn money, and in Sanjaa’s case, he receives a stipend from the DC Athletic Club Wrestling organization when the club can find fundraising.
Sanjaa hopes to pursue full-time coaching in the future, and said that his prior experiences within the Big Ten, Big 12, and Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association have taught him how to be a role model for athletes of all ages, the value of positive reinforcement and how to develop meaningful communication with athletes.