Q+A: American Football Coach

Daniel Stanzel on his educational journey, his experience working as a media coach and a football coach, and advice on how to stay open to new opportunities.

~ 11 minute read

The CareerExplorer Discord Community had the opportunity to speak to Daniel Stanzel, an American Football coach, in a live, fireside Q&A.

Daniel Stanzel is an American Football coach living in Helsinki, Finland. Originally from Vienna, Austria, he moved to Vancouver, Canada for university in 2007 to study communications and play varsity football. He paid his way through school by working as a bartender and organizing popular events on campus as part of the student union.

Daniel then went on to earn a Master’s Degree in Philosophy from the University of Glasgow in Scotland and worked as a media coach in Vienna, training politicians, athletes, and executives on how to give impactful interviews with journalists and the media. Since then, he has coached football in Switzerland and now runs the Helsinki Roosters youth football program in Finland.

The transcript below has been modified and abridged from the original conversation.

An Education in Philosophy

What made you decide to pursue a Master’s Degree in Philosophy?

During my undergraduate degree in communications, I took a few philosophy courses and got hooked. The courses were an introduction to the field and later on everyday life situations made me even more concerned about finding the truth in things. So when I had a chance to pursue this interest a few years later, I took it!

Should a master’s degree relate to your bachelor’s degree?

Depending on your path, I don’t think you need to stay in the same field of interest. I believe university teaches you a certain set of skills — or gives you a mental toolbox, so to speak — but on the job is when you start building. So it might open your horizon if you go into a different field for a little bit because you can always come back [to your original one] as well. Usually.

I had a good job in communications after my bachelor’s degree but after a couple of years I decided I wanted to go in a different direction — the one I was introduced to when I took those philosophy courses. And I was actually able to combine the two by focusing on the philosophy of language. However, of course, there’s a lot of external pressure one has to overcome when switching lanes, such as financial resources, parents, or people in general.

Did you have a long-term plan in mind when you were in school, or did you take opportunities as they presented themselves?

I have always been a year-to-year sort of guy, so when I decided to go into philosophy I also kept in touch with my business contacts so I could do some projects with them.

I worked in an art gallery on the side to see if art is something that interested me. And I always kept a very active athletic life. If one of those areas made me really happy, I would then pursue it. When I was working for the communication company, I was mostly interested in the studies we were looking at (for example, a Harvard study on how the brain works) so that interest grew into me wanting to do a master’s degree.

What types of careers are available for those interested in pursuing a degree in philosophy?

That’s a tough one — if you study philosophy, you pursue the discipline of philosophy instead of pursuing a career. Of course, the obvious one is being a teacher or a writer, but I think the critical thinking you learn is applicable to a wide range of areas, for example politics or law. A degree in philosophy could be a great tool in your toolbox.

On His Career as a Media Coach

Did earning a Master’s Degree in Philosophy help your work as a media coach? If so, how?

100%! You develop critical thinking skills and you are capable of understanding very complex texts. You learn so much about how to deal with mental overload — I had to learn that my brain works best in the morning when it comes to complex messages or work. Because I was studying the philosophy of language, I became more aware of how language creates truths, which is very relatable to the field.

For those interested in becoming a media coach, can you describe what that career entails and what educational path you suggest?

As a media coach, you will first consume all forms of media, especially the media outlets that create opinions in society. Secondly, you will deal with very important people who have very strong opinions. You will also have very unregulated working hours.

It is a cool field, especially when you read a sentence in an interview that resulted from you brainstorming with the person that was interviewed. You basically help people shape their voice and messages when they are speaking to journalists or TV networks, etc. And, of course, there’s an aspect of branding to it as well.

I would suggest a degree in political science, communications, or even sociology. But more than anything, it’s about finding internships, networking, and connections. You won’t make a lot of money at the beginning, but once you’re known in the field, your salary can really grow.

What personality type would do well as a media coach?

You have to be very sure of yourself, confident in your opinions, able to sell your vision to others well, and you should enjoy being social. You need to be able to absorb a lot of information and live, sleep, and breathe mass media. And remember, you are saying no to people that hear only yes — celebrities, for example. That’s why they hire you. You need to be comfortable giving them your honest opinion.

Has living and working in Europe changed any perspectives and/or led to any particular realizations for you?

Well, I am European (I was born in Vienna, Austria) so it was actually going to North America that changed my perspective and gave me realizations. But every country I have lived in has changed me in some bigger or smaller way.

For example, living in Vancouver made me appreciate nature and the ocean. Ever since, I cannot live away from it. Very social Scottish people taught me to learn how to take a jab sometimes. Finland has made me more honest and taught me to enjoy the sauna.

It’s very hard to explain what changes you go through, but I would definitely recommend to anyone to spend a longer period of time in another part of the world.

Being an Athlete and Sports Coach

Is being a sports coach fulfilling? Would you recommend this career to others?

For me it is. I decided to work with young people, and with the role of a coach I’m not a parent or a teacher but I can still shape them positively via sports. And there are small things that I really appreciate: working outdoors, being in a field that is quite honest — you either win or you lose — and always meeting new people. I would definitely recommend it to people that have a high interest in sports and like being amongst others.

How do you prevent yourself from being overly competitive to the point of disliking people who might pose a competitive threat?

That’s so hard. I am super competitive. If people play by the rules, I don’t dislike them. If they are better than me, I will do everything I can to learn from them and try to take their skill sets into my repertoire. Kobe Bryant said he would be nothing without Michael Jordan.

You mentioned that being involved in sports can help with work ethic. How so?

You learn very early on to set priorities. For example, in college I never missed a practice, was on top of my schooling, and worked on the side. So you develop strong time management skills. Sports teach you to do things that you don’t like because of the end results they may lead to. Sometimes it doesn’t lead to what you want, so you work harder or change your approach next time.

A college career is also like a short lifetime. You come in as a rookie and nobody cares about you. Then you become a senior or team captain and think you’re very important. And when you’re an alumni, you realize that the world keeps spinning even without you there. It’s a very humbling experience.

General Advice

What advice do you have for those trying to make a career choice that have a fear of making the wrong decision?

Sometimes it’s good to ask people that you trust. I have had a couple of teachers and coaches that told me I might be a good coach or teacher. They gave me insights about what they thought my strengths were. There are also great resources, such as the CareerExplorer assessment, and I believe a lot of schools offer career advising.

One thing that is actually the best, in my opinion, is internships. If you have an interest in something, try it. There’s no harm done if you work somewhere for a short time. I’m a living example that you can always change your mind if you’re not happy with your choice.

How do you tune out societal and/or parental pressure, and follow your instincts instead?

That is definitely hard. At first football allowed me to do so. I had a dream and I turned anything down that was in the way of that dream — certain job offers or even a family birthday because I had to go to practice instead. I am very observant, so if there was someone putting pressure on me to do something, I tended to look at what they were doing or why they were doing it. Why, for example, does my uncle want me to take a secure job in a bank?

Starting in my early 20s, I started to listen to my instincts and I trusted them in small ways. That eventually led me to trust them in bigger ways. But there is constantly a gut check. You have to be able to take defeat if you get it wrong and start over.

I also understood that pressure from society came a lot from social media. So I took a break from it to really reflect on what was important to me. I knew that seeing a picture of a friend doing something cool had an effect on me because I felt I had to do something cool as well. So I was in touch with my friends, but I wouldn’t look on my feed to see what they were doing.

When faced with challenges or negative thoughts, what sorts of things do you tell yourself?

It’s so cliché, but I think of the Muhammad Ali quote: “I will show you how great I am.” I like to rise to the challenge. And when I fail, I try harder the next time. We all have negative thoughts. But I also heard once that fear is your body getting ready for a fight.

Also, read books. A book, more than any other medium, will give you insight into the experiences, adversities, and challenges someone has gone through, and will give you access to their inner thoughts — things that you may have felt as well.

What would you have done differently if you could do it all over again? Any parting advice?

I truly have no regrets. But if I could do this all over again, knowing what I know now, I would have worked even harder as a young athlete.

I also would have tried all sorts of sports in addition to football, which relates to what we were talking about previously: if you are just in one field you limit yourself to that field and never get exposure to influences or great tools from other fields.

As for parting advice: in college I was studying communications, I was working in a bar, and I was a varsity athlete. The bar work led to event management and a very good income, which allowed me to pay for my degree. Football gave me the skills that I have now to be a coach anywhere in Europe. And we already talked about me working in the communication field.

So start slow, if you’re into a specific field of study, are there courses you can take? Are there books you can read? Are there internships you can do alongside your degree? Sometimes your internship might lead to more than just your degree itself.

I fall in love with new things every year and keep pursuing them if my finances allow it. Coaching football right now is so much fun that I don’t even feel like it’s work.

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