Flip the Script: What Is Your Internship Really Teaching You?

TAGS: coaching job, attention to detail, young coaches, graduate assistantship, internship, Coach G, sport coach, strength coach

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This is the time of year aspiring strength coaches are looking for internships, graduate assistantships, and jobs. They, as many have in the last few years, will notice how few jobs there are out there. Everyone wants a bunch of free help to do all the grunt work and make the daily tasks easier for them. This makes sense; everyone has to pay their dues one way or another. The question you have to ask yourself is if these dues you are paying are going to help you get anywhere in the future. I know we all have to do grunt work, but is shelling out hundreds of dollars to live and work for free going to help your career if you make 200 protein shakes a day and clean up the weight room, with the only athlete contact you have being to ask how many scoops of protein they want, and whether they prefer chocolate or vanilla?

The point of being a strength coach is to coach! I know programs that won’t even let their graduate assistants take over and run a team through workouts. This makes no sense to me. With the low number of jobs out there, young “coaches” should have the opportunity to set themselves apart and to show if they can do it or not. As strength coaches, I feel that we have an obligation to this profession, to the athletes, and to future coaches to find and develop talent rather than using people up and then watching them leave because we've burnt them out doing meaningless tasks. Aspiring coaches can’t keep their fires for this profession lit by making shakes and cleaning the field.


RECENT: So You Want to Be A Collegiate Strength Coach: Steps to Earning Your First Coaching Job


I am a firm believer in sink-or-swim trial by fire. Our interns have to do all that trash work, but after a few sessions of just spotting and loading, and then training with us (the staff), they pick up on our coaching cues, technique flaws, and corrections. Once we are comfortable that they can handle it, they get some athletes of their own to train. We give them the workout and they are basically on their own. Of course, we also monitor them and correct them when needed. Following workouts, the staff will tell them what they did right, what they did wrong, and how to correct it. After a few sessions, we will ask the players that they have been training for their opinions. You cannot fool them; they know a good strength coach when they have one. Athletes will put up with a few miscues if they think the person’s heart and mind is in the right place.

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This is when I am really watching not just for coaching but also to see their attention to detail. I think this is the most important attribute of a good strength coach. A lot of strength coaches and sport coaches talk a good game about doing the little things, but for some strange reason don’t do a damn thing about it. I have had coaches come up to me in a drill whispering that so-and-so didn’t touch the line three reps ago. Are you kidding me? You say you want to coach and don’t have the balls to call out a player who does not do a drill correctly? And you think I'm going to pay you $300,000 to coach in the SEC just because you want to and think you can? It is ludicrous.

This is the tipping point for me. If you have attention to detail and are coaching and doing a great job then you will work your way up, getting your own rack. From there it may go to a position group, and then even your own team. I believe in rewarding a job well done and that an intern or graduate assistant should not only have an opportunity to be in charge of their own athletes but should also receive assistance in their own programs. We should be helping them with these things. My interns are also able to meet and work with various sport coaches, which is a huge part of our jobs. I have had undergrads that were not even strength coaching majors who after three years were running their own teams, and could coach circles around 90% of “coaches” that we see. They paid their dues, paid attention to how we did things and had an unreal attention to detail. We also had it worked out so that we had a yearlong paid internship, and the best intern we had each year would get it. It was a tremendous honor, the pay was good, and every single person that earned that spot was eventually hired full time, all over a seven-year span. That is the best-case scenario in how we do things. I think it is our duty to expose young coaches to as much as we can, to really let them see what this profession is all about. Obviously, this is all within reason, but keep giving them a challenge to see what they do with it.


MORE: Collegiate Athlete Essentials: Parameters for Incoming Athletes


The advice of this article for aspiring strength coaches is to make sure that the internship is going to help you prepare how to coach, not to just do grunt work at a big school. If coaches don’t notice or work with you, and you don’t separate yourself from the pack, how are they going to get you a job? I have not met one coach yet who recommended a strength coach to someone they know because they make a great shake. On the flip side, you have to make sure you are one of the interns that stands out when you have the opportunity to coach. I don’t care if a strength coach puts you in charge of the two worst athletes on the planet; it means he trusts you with some of the athletes that he is ultimately responsible for. You better coach your ass off and do things right with an unreal attention to detail. Those who we can trust with a little, we will soon trust with a lot.

For those who don’t step up, don’t worry: there are hundreds of other coaches that are available to take your place. If it is not a deep-seated passion for you to do this and you coach with your hands in your pockets and can’t even set up a field right after being told how to, it is not for you. Remember, you are either the top of the food chain or you are dinner. No one owes you anything but an opportunity, and it is ultimately up to you what you do with it. Go put your best foot forward, get after it, and find and make the best out of the opportunity in front of you. Set yourself apart and don’t ever stop, even when you finally “make it” to the top. The sharks are always circling.

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