Interning is an important part of any future coach’s career. It’s where you learn important aspects of being a coach and figure out if this is the right career path for you. As a previous intern, I want to share my tips to all the current and future interns that made a difference in my journey to becoming a full-time coach.
1. Show Up Early
This should be an easy one. Wake up, shower, eat some breakfast, and get your ass to the weight room. Be the person who waits in their car or outside the door for someone to unlock it. When I was at Kentucky Football, me and one other intern had a secret competition on who would get to the facility first. We all got to the facility early as hell, much earlier than we should’ve, but for us to be great and help the full-time staff out, we knew we had to get in early and be ready to coach.
By getting in early, this allows you to write in your notebook, look over what exercises you’ll be doing today along with getting whatever you need to set up. If there’s one thing I know, it’s that when you get in early and get everything set up, the full-time staff will notice these things. I firmly believe that by showing up early and doing what we did that summer, it’s a small piece of the pie as to why all of us got jobs after the internship.
2. Bring a Whistle, Watch, and Pen
Coach Chris Ronald put this in our welcome email and I’ll be damned if, at first, I thought why the hell do I need a whistle? I’m just the dumb intern. That’s the beauty of learning. You see, by having a whistle every day, I was a part of something and, lucky for me, everywhere I interned I got the opportunity to coach as if I was full-time. This meant I needed that whistle. It’s something to this day I find to be a tool in getting players ready to go and start the workout. So break out the fox 40 and whistle your ass off.
A watch, something every coach should have on, is important for setting up rest periods and giving the full-time staff the time if they need it. This is a very basic and easy one. Go buy a damn watch. Also, by having a pen, you can always take down notes while in session. I would write down so many quick notes on something I liked or a question I had afterwards. Thanks to Coach Chris, all of these are something I always have on me and have made me a better coach.
3. Take Notes
Okay, I kind of talked about this in the last one, but I don’t see enough people doing this. Matt Rhodes of Morehead State University and I had this discussion early last year on how important note taking is. Rhodes has 27 years of training and had all of his notebooks to reflect and look back upon. Those are invaluable. I tend to reflect back on some of my old notebooks and workout sheets that I would write on when I was an intern. By doing this, it brings back some of those old ideas that I had, or something that I can try now that I’ve got some experience under my belt.
Note taking helps you establish a better base and helps you build knowledge. By taking these notes and asking questions, you can have an answer when some punk ass intern or sport coach asks you why you do things a certain way. I keep a notebook with me at all times to this day. It’s in my car, desk, or gym bag, ready to keep track.
4. Do the Program
I’ll be the first to admit this one hurt me a lot and was the toughest thing for me as an intern to grasp. I remember Coach Chris at Kentucky was leaving for another position and I asked him what he thought I should work on. He told me that I needed to run the program the coaches had written. It hit me like a ton of bricks. The next day, I asked Will (another intern), who was an Olympic lifter to help me with my Olympic lifts, specifically the snatch. Thanks to Will being a good friend and fellow intern, he taught me how to properly snatch and thus this helped me understand what my athletes felt when doing the exercise.
We’re all meatheads who love the weight room and whether you’re a powerlifter, Olympic lifter, bodybuilder, or whatever, do what your coaches have programmed for the athletes. Hell, the workouts are all made for you ahead of time. This is also a time where you can help the full-time staff out on some stuff they didn’t account for or something that should be tweaked. This is where you, as an intern, can bring some added value into play for the full-time staff by giving them feedback. You can also help coach the way they want the players to be coached.
An internship is where you learn to really coach and how much you love to coach; this is why you got into strength — because you love to coach. This can also be the point where you realize this is not the profession for you. Do the program. It's already written for you and you can bring more to the table for your staff and athletes if you just do it.
5. Shut Up and Listen
When you’re fresh out of college or still in school, I bet you thought you knew everything when, in fact, you didn’t know anything. This is true to all interns. You’re an idiot, so shut up and listen to the coaches around you. Listen to the cues they give out and understand why that cue is being given, so that in the future you can coach up that same cue.
Listen and write down what the full-time staff says so you can learn how they coach. Don’t speak in a meeting unless you’re told to. You’re the intern, your job is to make the full-time staff’s job easier and also to learn. Too many times I’ve seen, myself included, interns who think they’re above what the coach is saying or who disagree with what the coach is saying. WHO CARES. Again, you’re the intern. They can fire you at any moment and bring in someone else who is hungrier, more motivated, and willing to listen and grow as a coach.
By listening to conversations and learning the “why” behind things, you get a better understanding on what it takes to be great in this profession. I’ve made this mistake by not listening enough and it’s something I now know would’ve made me a better coach had I checked my ego and listened to the great minds around me. Shut up and listen.
These are the things I have learned in my journey to becoming a coach. It’s important to remember that you don’t know it all and that every day is filled with valuable knowledge. Take it all in and use it to grow so that you can become a great coach someday.
Matthew Smith is a former graduate assistant from Northwest Missouri State University. He has interned with the University of Central Missouri, University of Kentucky Football, Coastal Carolina University, and Mid-America Nazarene University. He is a former head physical preparation football coach for Mid-America Nazarene University and currently coaches in the private sector. Matthew is also a competitive powerlifter and host of the Strength Talk and Shop podcast. He can be reached at email@example.com.