By Emma Mae Sheedy
The alarm goes off at 5:45 am. A cup of coffee is poured and a banana is grabbed. Dani Tocci sits down to relax for 15 minutes before preparing her food for the day. Her morning ritual is essential to her daily success and her preparation for her hectic schedule. She grabs her things and heads to morning lift with the men’s basketball, women’s lacrosse or women’s cross country teams.
By 7 a.m. the St. Thomas Aquinas College division 2 athletes are already midway through their weight lifting workout. Tocci’s small figure in the corner, is guiding the athletes through demonstration and instruction. She throws over 120 pounds over her head without hesitation. The room stops and she throws the bar down. The athletes are in shock as Tocci, the head strength and conditioning coach at STAC, encourages them to do the same.
Dani Tocci is a certified strength and conditioning coach through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), a sports nutrition coach through the ISSN, and an American Council on Exercise (ACE) Health Coach. She knows the proper way to lift, train and strengthen athletes and STAC is lucky enough to have her as a coach.
Today, we are going to take a look into the life of a strength and conditioning coach at St. Thomas Aquinas College. A life that is not easy, filled with physically and socially draining days, that aren’t meant for everyone.
Tocci’s schedule differs each and every day, but most days are filled with tight scheduling and long days, which is why you will see her at the Kraus Fitness Center front desk with two agendas scheduling her days carefully.
“I like paperback everything. I need to have it all written down, not on my phone or computer. All my scheduling needs to be in my agendas,” Tocci said. “I have two, just in case I misplace or forget one.”
After morning lift, Tocci spends most of her day coaching STAC teams or one-on-one with clients. On the busiest of days, Tocci can spend up to 12 hours in the gym working with tens of athletes in one day. She makes sure to emphasize the fact that she focuses on her athletes’ well-being most importantly.
“I take my relationships with all of my athletes very seriously. If someone is injured you need to make sure they are being taken care of, if they are having a hard time in class or outside of school it’s part of your job as a coach to care about these issues and address them,” said Tocci.
Through the hours of coaching and training, Tocci ensures to alter her workouts depending on the way the athletes are feeling physically and as a team.
“You have to be on point, you want to make sure all the athletes are performing their best but also asking them how they are doing and mean it,” said Tocci. “Every team is different, each has their own culture as a team and individually they have different personalities.”
Tocci talks about how for each team she changes her character to fit the team. Some teams are more rowdy and need to be louder to be motivated to continue, while others are more goofy or more serious. She said that when a team comes into lift feeling tired, they will play dodgeball or do a meditation session rather than a lift session.
Tocci’s job is working with people. She knows that the early morning sessions are difficult for many and lifting isn’t everyone’s favorite thing to do, but she wants her athletes to enjoy the time she has with them, which is why she will alter the workouts.
“It’s not just about getting big and strong. If they aren’t mentally fit, the barbell can’t do much for them,” she said. “All of these certifications… you have to keep up with current events if you want to be in this field, but you also have to let the athletes have some fun and be personable. It’s not just about science. It’s about building a relationship and making sure there is team cohesion.”
Tocci has a lot to do during the day. The days can get long and confusing, but she takes her diet very seriously, especially due to the fact that she is also an athlete.
“I keep a cooler in my car and keep my snacks and food in there,” she said. “Usually, one meal consisting of lean protein and veggies and some baby food pouches because it’s hard to get meals in while you coach.”
Don’t get it wrong, Tocci does schedule days off, but they are very rare. Most of her free days go to her second job, where she works at a nonprofit organization. Tocci travels to high schools and other public areas to encourage, mentor and inspire kids in the world of fitness.
Tocci’s weight lifting is a major part of her life. Her social life surrounds her sport. Her two hours of training turn into social time before she ends the day and heads home.
Tocci talks about how she goes home for dinner and prepares for the next day before she aims for eight hours of sleep.
“Before bed, I have some magnesium in my tea and try to prepare for the next day. I lay out my clothes- write out my schedule and figure out a game plan. I’m very methodical and try to keep a routine every day. It keeps me on track because the workday can last 12 hours sometimes.”