5 Innovative Assignments for Strength & Conditioning Interns

In the past, I have talked about what I would have done a little differently in a past log post. But, here are a few intern assignment that I feel helped them with comprehension and was a more creative way to assess them.

The Spiderweb
This is a team teaching method I learned from student teaching at the elementary level. If you are in a situation where you have interns that have an unrelated degree or major, it is important gauge an general understanding of the scientific foundations.

I always liked the team teaching method for interns because of a few reasons.

1. Internship curricula will have considerably less time than lecture courses.
2. Team teaching require interns to spend time outside the weight room,
3. Teaching is the absolute best way to learn a topic.

Here's how it works. Designate the basic foundational principles you feel are most important and assign 2-3 interns for each one. This is largely dependent on class size but you can have assistants or yourself take a few topics yourself. Not saying this is a comprehensive list, but this is what I have used in the past.

1. Bioenergetics
2. Basic Biomechanics
3. Basic Nutrition
4. Endocrine Responses
5. Psychology

Basically there were from the first few chapters of The NSCA's Essentials of Strength Training & Conditioning. Eah group would have to teach the rest of the group one of the concepts.

Who's the Best Player in This Room?
This was always important for me to ask the interns. Especially at a small school and they were not students at the host institution. It is amazing how many interns have no clue who the all conference players are or even the team captains.

Guessing who the best players on the field or court by only observing a weight training session is extremely difficult.

Why is this important? It shows that strength training is just a small piece of the big picture. It is important to illustrate a few points after asking the questions. It doesn't matter if they get the answer correct or not.

1.) It proves the inters need to invest more interest in their athletes. The athletes don't care about your extensive knowledge of Eastern Bloc methodologies or how you can regurgitate bioenergetic system. They will care if you come to their game.

2.) It reinforces the fact that the number one factor in determining success on the field or court is the athlete's ability to play their sport. Talent and ability and skill area all inter-related but different. Yes, your job as a coach is to enhance the performance and decrease injury. Your interns must believe that what they do every day will make a difference with their athletes. Interns just need to know that no matter how much they increase their athlete's hang clean; they still can't help them make a foul shot.

3.) Too many times, we as strength coaches gravitate toward our best lifters. There are instances where our best lifters are our best players. This varies and I am sure everywhere is different. Reminds me what one of my mentors Jack Hatem has told me about successful teams. When your best leaders are your best players, you got a shot. I realize it is imperative to treat all of our athletes equally, but your athletes are not all equal. Understanding the players on the field can help you coach them more effectively under the bar.

The 5 Exercise Assignment
One of the assignment I used to give our interns was the 5 exercise drill. It is a common question that most coaches and lifter have done before, but it is still a great exercise to do because:

1.) You can adjust it for any sport
2.) Most coach's answers are always evolving.

Here's how we did it. The assignment is you must pick 5 and only 5 exercises or drills that you can used to train all of the Universities sports (this would vary) for all of the seasons. You would not need to chose warm-up, flexibility or mobility drills. You can also leave out pre-hab exercises like 5-way neck, rotator cuff, etc. There are a few limitations:

1.) You cannot use any combination lifts like Clean & Press.
2.) You cannot use general variations i.e. squat variations.
3.) Your exercises need to be equipment specific i.e. barbell lunge vs. db lunge.
4.) You cannot use circuits.
5.) Speed, plyometric and conditioning drill count toward your 5. Prowler Pushes, Box Jumps, 5-10-5s all count.

The most important part of this assignment wasn't the 5 exercises themselves, but whether the interns could explain why they chose the exercise over other variations.

Here are mine. This changes all the time:
1.) Barbell Box Squat w/ Chains
2.) Glute Ham Raise w/ Med Ball
3.) Trap Bar Deadlift
4.) Standing Barbell Military Press
5.) Chin-up

I wouldn't add conditioning drills because of the chance the athlete was in-season. For the same reason I chose the box squat over other variations. I also thing the trap bar deadlift is very simple to teach to large groups. They are also inexpensive.

You can change this assignment up to pit for powerliting or Olympic lifting by asking the same questions and not allow any answer being the traditional lifts themselves.

KIC Self Evaluations
It was always interesting comparing the self evals fro the KIC evals I used to do. I am no saying that Knowledge, Initiative and Communication are the only characteristics needed to be a strength coach. In fact, they aren't even the most important. But, if I had to score an intern's loyalty, trustworthiness, or work ethic; the internship would be terminated. Those are non-negotiables and prerequsites. Here is how they were asked to grade themselves:

Knowledge Base
Level 0 - The intern does not know basic exercise technique
Level 1 - The intern know basic exercise technique and can a.) explain it thoroughly and b.) demonstrate it proficiently
Level 2 - The intern can visually identify proper technique execution and technique discrepancies of an athlete
Level 3 - The intern understands the direct or indirect causes of technique discrepancies and can suggest technique adjustments (for an acute affect) and help formulate corrective strategies (for a cumulative affect) with the strength coaches approval.

Taking Initiative
Level 0 - The intern does not interact with student athletes during training sessions
Level 1 - The intern will occasionally interact with student athletes or prepare for the next training group mostly when asked to by another coach and with set up
Level 2 – The intern will interact with student athletes most of the time and occasionally prepares for the next training group mostly when asked to by another coach and with set up
Level 3- The intern coaches athletes at every opportunity and consistently organizes equipment and starts training sessions without being asked to

Communication Skills
Level 0 - The intern has NOT built a positive rapport any student athletes
Level 1 - The intern has built a positive rapport with some student athletes base on social circumstances
Level 2 - The intern has built a positive rapport with most student athletes based on respect for the S&C program
Level 3 – The intern has built a positive rapport with all student athletes based on trust and respect for the student coach

Program Design
To say that this area of development is lacking for most interns is an understatement. Anyone can copy and past a program but when they need to justify it is where the issues come it. That is why I think it is imperative for an intern to create a program from scratch. Sometimes provided a template and making them fill it in helps keep original thoughts flowing (or at least make them work harder to copy and paste). Another great way is to have them verbally tell you and you fill it in the template. This requires one-on-one interaction and it is time consuming, but you will identify comprehension and the intern will benefit from a more interactive learning experience. Here are a few points that will enable this assignment to better prepare the intern.

1. Give them the sport and time of year
2. Limit the time to no longer than 8 weeks. In fact, we would always start with a week to start.
3. Give them the parameters to follow - sets, reps, load, rest intervals, etc.
4. Make them do and follow a Needs Analysis first as a seperate assignment.

Be lenient in this phase. You will be more harsh during your feedback during the next phase. Just because the intern's program is different, doesn't make it wrong. Evaluate for basic and glaring discrepancies like:
1. Specificity of Sport
2. Imbalances (push vs pull, etc.)
3. Time constraints

Program Defense:
After you have given the program back to the intern with areas of concerns or things to think about (they are not corrections), it is time to set up a meeting to talk about the program officially for a grade. It is always cool (but maybe not feasible) to create a panel that the interns need to present to. This could be other strength coaches, sport coaches, or athletic trainers. Now the intern is engaging in the most important part of the program design assignment. The Why. Here are some questions that will help you determine comprehension. Ask about:
Exercise Selection
Exercise Order
Speed work
Injured Athletes

For example, the most important factor is NOT whether the intern puts box jumps in his program or not. The point it can he/she tell you:

Why they are in their program
Why they are on the days they are
Why they are in that order in a session
Why the volume is where it's at
How do you modify for injured athletes

You get my point. This is where interns start to act less like robots and more like coaches.

I hope this helped.


Mark Watts is a fifth grade school teacher and U8 Girls Soccer Coach in Columbus, Ohio. Formerly, Watts was the Director of Education at elitefts.com and the host of the Elitefts Sports Performance Podcast. He has a Masters Degree in Exercise Science & Health Promotion from California University of PA and a Masters Degree in Elementary Education from Clarion University of PA. He has held professional certifications through the NSCA, CSCCa, NASM, and USAW. Watts has worked with college athletes in over 20 different sports at the Division I, II & III levels for over 15 years as a strength & conditioning and/or football coach at institutions such as Denison University, The United States Military Academy at West Point, Allegheny College and Clarion University. He has also completed internships at The Ohio State University and the University of Tulsa. Watts played college football at Clarion University and has competed in powerlifting, strongman, and Olympic Weightlifting. He is originally from Pittsburgh, PA and is a United States Marine Corps veteran.

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