Hey there, young aspiring athletic performance physical preparation coach! Let me guess, you've been at this a few years paying your dues, rising and grinding, and dropping knowledge bombs, left and right. Problem is, you know more than all these old dudes, you are training freaks, and still not getting the recognition you deserve. Well, you're not alone. In fact, you are doing exactly what every other exercise graduate has been doing in the same amount of time. 

Do you have a right to be frustrated that you still don't have a full-time position in strength and conditioning?  Depends who you ask. Your mom and fiance' definitely think you should be getting a paycheck for all the work you are doing. The second question: Is it even your fault you are not employed full-time in the field? That also depends how honest you are with yourself.

Most of us understand the frustration of the young coach. Empathy is a quality most coaches in the field have developed. More than almost any other profession, strength coaches acknowledge and even commend authentic humility in their less experienced colleagues. So we get it:

You've listened to every podcast, go to every conference, you follow every sports performance personality with half a brain and a little common sense on social media. You have fully delved into both the art and science of sports performance. Everything from public speaking, motor learning, biomechanics, pedagogy, and motivation have been in your formal and informal course of study. So the question is:

Why after sacrificing so much of your time and money for the last several years are you sill working for free? 

There are a few reasons you are still working for free to pursue the dream you want, in the profession you love, which are outside of your control. Here are some external factors:

1. There are Way More Interns than Coaching Jobs

This is just a simple supply and demand issue. Being a strength and conditioning coach is the best job in the worst profession. There are a number of obvious reasons there are so many people that want to be strength coaches. Keep in mind, wanting to be is much different than willing to be. Regardless, for every job you don't want, wouldn't move across the country to take, or couldn't afford to pay your bills if you accepted it; there are literately hundreds of people who would.

The reasons there are not as many full-time job openings as we in the profession think there could be (especially in small college and most geographic areas of high schools) is a little more complicated. If you would like to open Pandora's box on the issue, please check out my article: What is Really Wrong with Strength and Conditioning? and tell me what you think in the comments section.

2. They Can't Afford You

There are two different connotations to this statement. The first is more obvious in that many schools and private facility simply do not have the budget to add a full-time coach to their staff. As a DIII strength and conditioning coach for 13 out of the 15 years I coached, I fully understood what it meant to train over 20 sports by myself. Strength and conditioning positions are often pushed to the bottom of the priority list due to uneducated administrators or a lack of ambitious advocates. Adding full-time positions for any university, school district, or business takes a great deal of time, meticulous planning, relentless communication, and more funding than most people think. The most important take-away point for young strength coaches is to not get frustrated for failing to get hired for a position that does not currently exist. 

I have been in a few situations where adding a strength and conditioning coach to an athletic department. I wrote an article outlining some basic suggestions a few years ago. You can check it out here: How to Add a Strength Coach to Your Department

The second interpretation of this point has to do with the coaches and administrators who are hiring. The stakes are higher for most head strength coaches and they can't afford to hire coaches with limited experience. I realize that most coaches in our field have figured out how to overcome the "need a job to get experience, need experience to get a job" conundrum. The answer is simply: volunteer. There comes a point, however, where every coach needs to make a decision. Unfortunately, most must answer the question, "How long can I hold on?" As sad as that sounds, all coaches completing internships need to look at it from the head coach's perspective.

There are a multitude of factors that all coaches need to consider when hiring an assistant. I boils down to a few basic components.

  1. How much time have you spent in the field = Experience
  2. How many people have you learned from and worked for = Evaluated Experience
  3. How much time will they have to spend teaching you = Relateable Experience

As my friend JL Holdsworth has said, "Why would I hire someone who I have to teach how to coach?" Most head strength coaches have to answer to a lot of spot coaches and administrators. Most business owners have invested everything into their facility. These people cannot simply afford to hire some they have to spend time training. Acclimating is one thing, but teaching basics to paid coaches means taking time away from other responsibilities. You suffers? Your athletes, then ultimately, your program or business.

There are also some factors in finding your first full-time coaching position that you are in control of. Here are some things you may or may not be doing to hurt your cause. If you are avoiding these pitfalls, that's good, but it will become more difficult to do so as time passes. If you are exhibiting these behaviors, modify them, or you may never be a strength coach (at least one that receives a salary). Here are some internal factors:

1. You Feel You Deserve to be Paid to be a Strength Coach

The questions you need to ask yourself anytime you receive a rejection letter or no response from a job application must be honest and self-reflective.

  1. How are you more qualified for a full-time position than the hundreds of other exercises science gradates applying for the same jobs?
  2.  Have you really put in the time and effort compared to your peers to secure a position? Is your resume reflective of your passion? Is your reference list reflective of your loyalty?
  3. Are you trying to become a strength and conditioning coach for the right reasons? Are you trying to make a difference in the lives of others or are you trying to make a name for yourself? There is no such thing as a celebrity strength coach.

2. You Really Aren't Meant to be a Strength Coach Anyway

One of the first pieces I wrote when I started at elitefts was Tough Questions for Aspiring Strength Coaches. It was just a list of some self-reflection exercises coaches could do as they were pursuing their journey. Here's the cliff notes of what you need to know.

  1. You can count the men and women who have retired from a career in strength and conditioning on one hand. Almost everyone quits or gets fired.
  2. It is extremely difficult to pick your geographic location. Your chances of finding a job is dependent on your ability to move around the country.
  3. Most strength coaches have numerous people to answer to. As Joe Kenn says, you are everyone's assistant even as a head coach.
  4. It sounds cliche' but the long hours and low pay reinforce your "love" for the profession. It's just the love of your family sometimes gets in the way of your professional dreams.

At the sake of not sounding like a hypocrite, I fully understand the dilemma and I, myself have walked away from a progressions that I absolutely loved.

3. You are Getting the Wrong Experience to be a Strength Coach

The field of strength and conditioning has become hyper-competitive and most young coaches understand they will have to "pay dues" in order to even have a chance at becoming a full-time coach. The question is then, "Are you paying the right dues to the right people?"

The competition for some unpaid internships have driven the minimum requirements and raised the standards. There are Division I internships that require certifications and a Master's degree for consideration.

An intern also needs to make the best decision possible when choosing the internship they accept.  Choosing the wrong mentor can literally waste hundreds of hours of experience and drive even the best young coaches out of the industry. I have been lucky to have outstanding mentors in my careers who were honest, empathetic, and loyal to their assistants and interns. When applying for an internship, always ask?

  1. Do they have a comprehensive curriculum associated with the practical hours?
  2. Will I be allowed to coach athletes and experience team sessions or will my role be strictly observation?
  3. How will I be evaluated during my internship and will my feedback be constructive, timely, and actionable?

Some of these questions will be difficult to answer, unwise to ask, and almost all are rhetorical. Just keep those in mind before accepting and even during the internship.

Lastly, the addition of sports performance facilities have provided multiple opportunities for strength and conditioning coaches. Many facilities have implemented an internship program modeled after a major college internship program. The intention is great, but the day-to-day operation and the dynamics of the culture and environment do not match up well. Any experience is valuable, but just because you paid dues and volunteered your time does not mean they will open any other doors for you.

There are young men and women in the industry that have completed 3-4 unpaid internships in an attempt to break through. The reason some interns catch a break and some don't is impossible to answer. My best advise?

  1. Understand the culture of the profession
  2. Be completely honest with yourself
  3. Have a back-up plan

Sports Performance Coach Education Series

The elitefts™ Sports Performance Coach Education Series is a comprehensive educational resource for coaches in the collegiate, high school, professional, and private settings. This series will take a fundamental approach to various topics that will enable coaches the additional skills to enhance their coaching abilities, improve marketability in the industry, and drastically increase the impact they have upon their athletes.

  1. WATCH: How to Find a Strength and Conditioning Job
  2. WATCH: Becoming a Mentor to Young Coaches
  3. WATCH: The Four-Step Coaching Process
  4. WATCH: 5 Strategies to Perform More Work in Less Time
  5. WATCH: Why Communication is Key to a Better Coaching Career
  6. WATCH: A Better Way to Train High School Athletes
  7. WATCH: How to Implement Auto-Regulatory Training in a Team Setting
  8. WATCH: Pre-Workout Circuits to Optimize Training Time and Maximize Performance
  9. WATCH: Hypertrophy Circuits for Athletes in a Team Setting

Coaches Clinics 

  1. WATCH: Two Bench Press Mechanical Drop-Sets for Hypertrophy
  2. WATCH: Two Lateral Speed Drills with Bands to Improve Change of Direction
  3. WATCH: Adjusting the Glute-Ham Raise to Optimize Your Training
  4. WATCH: Basic Linear Speed Acceleration Drills in a Team Setting
  5. WATCH: Kettlebell Training for Team Sports
  6. WATCH: Three Dumbbell Press Variations

 Mark Watts' Articles and Coaching Log



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