‘It’s been intimidating at times, especially when I have to deliver criticism’

Jackson, Garrett thriving as Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute coaches

Posted:  Monday, October 1, 2018 - 11:30pm
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TROY, N.Y. — Many people may not be as familiar with Troy, New York, compared to other parts of the state, but it is home to two former Midcoast residents — Jamie Jackson and Michaela Garrett — who are thriving as athletic coaches for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a NCAA Division III university. 

Jackson, a Belfast native and Belfast Area graduate, was tabbed in the summer of 2017 to be the university golf program’s head coach after spending the 2016 season as an assistant coach with the program. In the 2015 season, he was a member of the RPI team as a student-athlete. 

Asked to talk about his rapid transition from player to assistant to the man in charge of the program Jackson said: “It’s been intimidating at times, especially when I have to deliver criticism. But, I’ve had the fortune of having a group of men that respect me for my expertise on how to be a student-athlete at RPI rather than my age or limited years as a coach. Without this I’m not sure if I could have made the transition as fast as I have.”

Jackson graduated from RPI with a biomedical engineering degree, and 3.94 GPA, in 2016 and is set to graduate with a master’s in human factors with a systems engineering concentration from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019.  

While studying at RPI, Jackson was an accomplished golfer with the team, according to his university biography, and was the school’s 2016 Richard S. Lyons Male Career Athlete and voted the Liberty League Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year, an award presented to graduating student-athletes “who have demonstrated excellence in academics, athletics and service/leadership throughout their time as student-athletes.” 

Other honors Jackson collected as an undergraduate included being a two time National Academic All-American (the only RPI golfer to earn this accolade), three time Liberty League All-Academic, eight time Dean’s List member and two time member of the College Sports Information Directors of America Capital One Academic all-district first team. 

“He was awarded the prestigious Leopold L. Balleisen Prize, which was established by the Class of 1918 and honors a senior student-athlete who has won a varsity letter in at least one sport during two undergraduate years and who stands highest academically among those thus qualified, a Founders Award of Excellence and the Rensselaer Leadership Award,” per his biography. 

As a senior, he “was All-Liberty League and All-Region after he averaged a team-best 76.7 strokes over 18 rounds” and “had four top 10 finishes, including third overall at the NYU Spring Invitational, fifth at the ECAC Championship in the fall and eighth in the four-round Liberty League Championship,” per his biography.

Jackson won four of 10 tournament he competed in as a junior and was a four time Liberty League Performer of the Week and one time ECAC Golfer of the Month. He had three top 10 finishes, including one runner-up finish, in his first two seasons, per his biography. 

Jackson, in addition to his coaching duties, serves as an associate human factors engineer for Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, where he influences combination product user interface design by applying the human factors engineering process and applies knowledge of human capabilities, conducts user based risk analyses for different combination products and manages the execution of formative and summative human factors studies directly or through third party vendors, according to his LinkedIn profile. 

Garrett, a Spruce Head native and graduate of Limestone’s residential magnet high school Maine School of Science and Mathematics, was hired in September 2017 as the weight, hammer and discus coach for the university’s track and field programs. 

Garrett is a 2017 of Colby College with a degree in psychology and concentration in neuroscience. At Colby, she was a four time New England Small College Athletic Conference all-academic honoree and served as a tutor to psychology majors as an undergraduate student, per her hiring announcement

At Colby, Garrett, “threw the 20-pound weight, hammer, discus, shot put and javelin and set school records in the weight (18.20 meters) and hammer (53.21 meters) throws, breaking her own records on numerous occasions,” an announcement stated. “She finished first in the hammer at the NESCAC Outdoor Championship twice and was runner-up in the discus once. Garrett earned two trips to NCAA Championship Meets, competing in the indoor weight throw in 2017 and outdoor hammer throw. She finished 10th in the nation in the former and 17th in Division III in the latter.”

Garrett noted coaching is her full time job during the school year and has a different job during the summer when her coaching duties are lighter. 

Though one serves as a head coach and the other as assistant, both former Midcoast residents had a few things to share about life as a coach. 

“Watching my players implement fundamentals I teach them leading to displayed performances that would’ve kicked my butt in college,” Jackson said when asked to describe the best part of being a coach. 

“The best part of coaching is when an athlete has been struggling with something for a long time and then one day he/she finally figures it out,” Garrett said. “It’s the aha moment of realization. It’s when everything you have been doing and everything the athlete has been doing finally pays off. I find the small victory of overcoming a challenge more rewarding than the big victory of winning the championship.”

On the flip side, Jackson noted having to find “the proper balance between mentor/friend and commander” in addition to “determining proper timing to act as either for my players” is the most difficult aspect of being a coach. 

For Garrett, the most difficult aspect “is figuring out how to take a group of people with all different personalities and making a cohesive unit out of them. It is creating a team instead of individuals.”

“Most likely, especially on a bigger team there are going to be small rifts and problems but finding a solution, a way to move forward together, is really important,” Garrett continued. “At the end of the day it’s getting everyone on the same page and striving for the same goal.”

How did the two even get into coaching in the first place? 

“Getting into coaching was a no-brainer for me,” Jackson stated. “Coaching the RPI Golf team gave me an opportunity to grow the program I played for in college and significantly shaped who I am today. Coaching gave me the opportunity to try and take RPI Golf to places it’s never been before and places I really wanted to go when I played for the team.”

“I decided to get into coaching after realizing that that I love sports more than anything else,” said Garrett. “It was weird because I never really thought about coaching until my senior year of college and then it was like ‘of course’. For someone who loves sports I feel like it’s the next logical move after your college career is over.”

The pair shared advice for those interested in transitioning from playing to coaching. 

“If you think you may be interested in coaching I suggest talking to your current coach. There is a lot more to coaching than just practices and games,” Garrett said. “By talking to your coach you can learn about the other aspect of his/her job to see if you can really see yourself doing that. Your coach can also answer any questions you may have about coaching. A coach is also a really good resource for getting your foot in the door. Your coach may have a network of other coaches he/she can use to potentially help you find a job.”

“Ensure it’s a program that you can put your heart and soul in to. The max threshold of effort of the team will only be as high that of the coach,” Jackson said. “If you’re young (below 30), be ready to be looked at as inferior by some, but, just keep in mind that results speak more than your age or the number of years you’ve coached.”

Jackson and Garrett also shared advice about the recruiting process and how to navigate the at times complex process. 

“Be up front with the coach about what you’re looking for in the program/school,” said Jackson. “While all coaches taking playing capability into consideration when recruiting they’re also looking to ensure the recruit’s values match that of the program.”

“Be proactive. If you are interested in a particular school reach out to the coach. You can’t just wait for coaches to contact you because it may never happen,” Garrett stated. “Schools have different amounts of resources and time that they can spend on recruiting. If you aren’t hearing from coaches it may mean that they are unaware of you, not that they aren’t interested in you.” 

Garrett noted many schools have recruiting surveys on their athletic websites athletes can complete to alert the institution’s coaching staff of the athlete’s interest in their program. 

“Also, if you are in contact with a coach, make sure to be prompt with responses to things he/she may ask,” said Garrett. “Your athletic ability isn’t the sole factor coaches are looking at when recruiting. If it takes you a long time to respond or a coach has to ask you multiple times for something, that’s a good indicator that you may not be the most responsible and that communication may be a problem if you were on that team.”

Lastly, Garrett noted that if you are being recruiting by coaches from a school you are not interested in, “it is OK to tell them that.” 

“We would rather you be upfront and tell us that you are going somewhere else or just aren’t interested in our school than us keep putting time into recruiting you,” she said. 


Reach George Harvey and the sports department at: sports@penbaypilot.com