JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Each Sunday during the 2017-18 school year, the Carson-Newman athletic communications department will shine a spotlight on a current or former Carson-Newman student athlete to tell a tale of life outside of his or her respective sport. This is Duncan Foster's story.
Almost every child in England dreams of being a professional soccer player. Duncan Foster was no exception.
As early as the age of four, he was kicking a ball around the house, playing soccer at the youth level where he was mainly coached up by his father and ended up coming to the U.S. to pursue higher education while also continuing his playing career. That playing career included two seasons (and an NCAA tournament appearance) with Carson-Newman's men's soccer program.
Living under the same roof as a coach in his early years led to constant discussions of how to improve individually and with a team. It was in those conversations that Foster found his true passion: challenging others to be the best version of themselves.
"I actually started voluntarily coaching when I was about 14, so alongside playing for various teams, I started coaching and thought, 'I quite enjoy this,'" Foster said. "But it was more than just the soccer side of things, it was everything else that had to do with it."
Becoming more of an assistant coach in just six months' time at 14 allowed him to move onto higher levels of soccer while pursuing a bachelor's degree in Sports Science from Brunel University in London. He started by leading sessions with community-based Fulham FC, moving to the Wycombe Wanderers development center for academy players before making his way to the Premier League as a member of the Reading FC's sports science staff that focused on strength and conditioning upon graduating in 2012.
In the lower ranks, his work tended to have a player development focus, honing strengths of athletes at a mixed-talent level. His time with Reading was different than anything else he had experienced, especially in the outlooks for the team and his role as a member of the staff.
"You learn that the environment is ruthless, high-pressure and full of high expectations so it was less about development and player optimization but more about how the players are going to be in their best place for the game on Saturday. There's no real room for any mistakes at all," Foster asserted. "One thing that really highlighted my time with Reading was learning how you can motivate each player, each personality, when you can talk to them and when it's best to let them do their own thing."
Foster spent one season as a staff member with Reading before working to obtain his MBA at C-N. He was a member of the national finalist team and a Capital One CoSIDA Academic All-District selection in 2013. Going into the following season. He received South Atlantic Conference Preseason All-Conference Second Team honors in 2014 before the season took a turn due to a knee injury.
The injury sparked a mindset that Foster had never had before. Doctors told him recovery would take five months but there was one problem: a combine he had signed up for that was three months away.
"In my mind, I was doing all I could to make it back. I had never really had that mentality before where I wanted to get back," Foster said. "It was a different level of motivation that I tapped into and ended up coming back before that three months and played in the all-star game and combine still two months ahead of schedule."
His newfound self-motivation from the recovery paired with his experience in strength and conditioning encouraged him to help the team off the field. In the spring of 2015, Foster decided to take everything he had learned while working with Reading and use it to help rejuvenate his Eagle teammates through strength and conditioning sessions. He planned out a monthly schedule of what the team would do on a daily basis in order to become stronger and better as a whole. With the initiative set by Foster and other returning players, the goal was to help the team to get back to winning the conference.
"2014 wasn't the best season for our team," Foster mentioned. "We implemented that conditioning stuff and won the conference in 2015. I'm not saying it was because of me but because of the mentality that the returning lads and seniors brought through the spring and grew through the fall as well."
After his time was finished with Carson-Newman, Foster joined the Myrtle Beach Mutiny as an assistant coaching position. He helped coach the squad to becoming regular season champions and national quarterfinalists. In 2016, he returned to playing, this time as a captain for the Knoxville Force where they team went from not winning a league game in consecutive seasons to qualifying for the conference playoffs. Staying with the team this year, an injury pushed him to take on another coaching role as the squad was names the regular season division champions.
This year, Foster found himself making his way back to Mossy Creek to be a part of the men's soccer team yet again but this time as an assistant coach.
"When Stephen (Lyons) got the job in December, I sent him a text because I had worked with him at Tenn. Olympic Development Program. I liked his instructions, communication and interaction with the players," Foster said. "Initially, it was all about how I could help his transition to a new place, team, administration. He agreed to me coming in last spring for four or five sessions to just observe and be around the guys."
Those few outings were what helped him to be named a volunteer assistant coach for the men's soccer program in September. In his new position with the team, he works with the players and coaches in observing strength and conditioning sessions and practices in order to help the team maximize their potential.
"He has experience, not just coaching but sports management and exercise science side of things with sports psychology in other aspects of the game that are important to being successful," head coach Stephen Lyons said of the newest addition to the staff. "I think it says a lot that he and Kavi (Luchowa) are both on the staff as alums not just of their commitment to the team but also how much this program means of them.
"Having Duncan on the team adds to the balance between the players and coaches, and I think that is very important."
Foster echoed Lyons' sentiments on the staff.
"We all work really well and it helps being able to give your opinions and be on the same page because we, as a coaching staff, push each other to be better and in turn that pushes the players to be better," Foster said. "Through the sessions and conversations, I like to plant the seed and let them figure out where to go and guide them on that process. It's just trying to get the best out of people.
"Just simply, I love it. It's not an obligation to come up here at all, not in the slightest," Foster said. "It's like, if the opportunity is there for me to add value to the players, then it's completely worth it."
Foster uses the time he spends with C-N as a way to put what he's learning in his Master of Science from the University of Tennessee into action. He also works as a graduate research assistant at UT while coaching a 15U girls' soccer team.
With all of this real-world application of his Sport Psychology and Motor Behavior classes, he found a way to share his knowledge with people beyond the teams he is involved with. He started a blog (commit2better.com) to put everything he is reading and learning in a place where other can find information and hopefully be inspired to better themselves by providing challenges for readers to do, putting what they read into action.
While he would love for his blog to turn into a business that consults teams and individuals on growing, he knows that the future in uncertain. The one thing he is certain about is his plan to keep motivating others, whether on or off the field.
"I want to be in a position to help me and challenge them to perform at their best, whether it's in life, sport, arts, military. Wherever it is, I just want the opportunity to help people.
"I don't know what it looks like yet, but I'll get there and it will be great."