Most athletes on campus have some sort of relationship with Matthew Paja. They know that he’s the strength and conditioning coach for every sport at Grand View — yes, you read that right, every sport. They also know that he holds them to a high standard of training. But few know about his life before Grand View and the time he spent coaching future NFL stars.
Paja’s glory days:
Paja completed his bachelor’s degree in exercise science and strength and conditioning at Central College in Pella. During the whole time he was at Central College he was an intern assistant strength and conditioning coach as well as a student. Paja obtained his master of science in education and sports leadership at Southwest Minnesota State University where he was also a full time, head coach of strength and conditioning.
“I was the head strength and conditioning coach while I was a grad assistant so it was a lot to balance as far as classes and school and dealing with all sports,” Paja said.
After that he spent some time at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan where he was the Associate director of strength and conditioning.
Paja wanted to expand his knowledge and make connections so he went on an internship at the University of Notre Dame while he was still at Central College. During the summer of 2008 he experienced coaching at the highest collegiate level and got the opportunity to work with famous and very successful athletes such as Minnesota Vikings starting safety Harrison Smith while he was a player at the University of Notre Dame.
“I’m really lucky I have spent some time around a bunch of great guys like Kyle Rudolph (starting tight end for the Minnesota Vikings) or Manti Te’o (starting linebacker for the Los Angeles Chargers),” Paja said.
Paja’s time at Notre Dame and elsewhere taught him a lot about what it takes to be a successful coach.
“Coaching is a relationship with a person; they learn from me but I also learn from them,” Paja said.
Paja is now the director of strength and conditioning here at Grand View University. Paja is a Strength and Conditioning Certified Coach (SCCC) with the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association (CSCCA.)
“I’ve coached at every level, Division I, Division II, Division III and NAIA,” Paja said. “No matter where you are, you’re coaching a person. Coaching is developing a relationship with an individual, and this will never change,” Paja said.
As strength and conditioning coach, Paja emphasizes the importance of being flexible. Being able to adapt and constantly learn is key.
“You never stop learning,” he said.
Just because something you’re doing works doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do to make it work even better, Paja said.
Another crucial point for Paja is the athlete’s health. In fact, according to him, performance is a result of being and staying healthy.
“Watching your athletes perform is good, but watching them staying healthy throughout the season is better because performance can’t be achieved when you’re sitting on the bench or staying on the sideline with crutches,” Paja said.
Challenges coach faces every day:
“Sometimes it is hard to show the athletes that what coaches are doing is for them and that you just want them to embrace their full potential,” Paja said.
Athletes not understanding this concept is a problem for coaches at all levels. Because a coach’s primary purpose is to help another individual, Paja said it is difficult to avoid taking what he encounters in the weight room home. If he couldn’t fix an issue with an athlete or a lift he tends to bring it home and think about it for the rest of the day.
“When I come home I’m always thinking about what I can do to make this lift or this athlete better, and I always have a notebook in-hand when I watch TV,” Paja said.”I also sleep with a notebook next to my bed so I can write anything that comes to my mind and use it to improve what I’m doing.”
Favorite moment at Grand View:
“Coaching is about the relationship you build with the athletes, so anytime I see one of them be successful — whether it’s in the weight room, in their sport or in their life — it’s a huge accomplishment for me,”Paja said. “Watching our 2013 football team having an undefeated season and win the National Championship was pretty awesome. I also really enjoy taking trips with the teams. Going to Florida with softball or men’s volleyball to Puerto Rico were all great experiences.”
“When you perform a heavy squat and you fail you will still get back up, and this has to transition into every aspect of your life,”Paja said.