An aspiring strength and conditioning coach’s first taste of training athletes usually begins with an internship. While interning, there are many things you can do right and a million things you can do wrong.

Here’s a short list of common errors interns make that could potentially cost them a graduate assistantship or other strength training job once the internship is over.

Not showing up

It sounds so simple—showing up every day and on time. However, it’s surprising how many interns will miss days or take off early to go to another part-time job, home for a weekend, or to watch their high school football team in the playoffs. These are not acceptable excuses. If being a strength coach is your dream, you have to make sacrifices. Some are easy and some are hard, but they must be made.

Almost all internships are unpaid, and you will be seen as free labor much of the time. This should motivate you even more to make every effort to never miss a day of work. Being an intern strength coach is an investment. Relocation, rent, food, gas, and leisure among other things will all come out of your wallet. It is not a smart move to ruin your investment by missing days for whatever reason.

An unpaid internship is a very tough grind, and it is understandable that you may need to find a source of income while interning. However, it is a must that it does not interfere with what you are there to do and that is to be a strength and conditioning coach. If a part-time job gets in the way of your time in the gym, get rid of it. Did you travel across the country and invest thousands of dollars to answer phone calls at LA Fitness or learn how to coach collegiate athletes?

In addition to having a poor rapport with the coaches you are interning for, fellow interns aren’t going to take kindly to you bailing early on them. Your leaving early means extra work for your peers. This includes larger coach to athlete ratios, juggling different training programs in the same group, and extra cleaning at the end of the day. You may not think this is noticeable, but strength interns will quickly turn on you if you leave them with more work. It is important that if you must, absolutely need to, and can’t avoid leaving, you do your part beforehand.

When a strength coach from another school calls for potential graduate assistants, it is very appealing to them to find someone who endured an entire internship while not being paid, never missing a day, and never being late. It reveals character, commitment, and perseverance on the part of the intern to show up every day and give an honest effort, especially during the dog days.

Looking and acting like a professional

Now that you’re showing up to work every day on time, you must make sure you look and act the part of a strength coach. This is not your perception of professionalism. It is your head coach’s perception of professionalism. If he or she wants you tucked in, clean shaven, and wearing shorts half an inch above the knee, that is how you show up to work exactly. You will be judged on your appearance so ensure that you are properly dressed.

In addition to physical appearance, you must act like a professional. It is a good idea to get to know your athletes including their likes, dislikes, where they are from, and what position they play. Developing a good working relationship with the players will build mutual respect and they will respond better to your coaching. However, it is important to know when to draw the line with personal relationships. The athletes’ social lives are none of your business. Do not ask about it. You will be surrounded by a lot of attractive men and women. Keep it professional. Do not refer to anybody as honey, sweetheart, babe, or any cute name you can think of.

Be careful with physical contact as well. Spotting athletes can be tricky with the opposite sex so maintain appropriateness.

I can think of one intern who consistently flirted with female athletes on a daily basis. Although the athletes didn’t mind the attention, the other coaches took notice of his inappropriateness. While I’m not sure what he is doing right now, I can guarantee he is not a strength coach anywhere in this country. Coaches will not put their name behind you if they think you will jeopardize their reputation. When it comes time for a letter of recommendation, they will not help you if you have the inability to act like a professional around your athletes.

Being a cheerleader

It is important to remember that you are now a strength coach. You are not a cheerleader. You are not a clap happy, in-your-face, motivational speaker. It is not acceptable for an athlete to complete a max effort squat with their chest down and knees buckled while you are standing there clapping, shouting with ticklish enthusiasm, “Come on! You got it, push through…” As a strength coach, you need to coach. Yell with ticklish enthusiasm for the athlete to get their chest up and their knees out.

It is perfectly fine to discover new ways of motivating athletes in an attempt to unleash their true potential, but it is critical to coach when coaching is needed. There is absolutely no excuse for injuries in the weight room to occur due to technique errors. Instead of attempting a new PR with horrendous form, take the athlete aside, lower the weight, and correct the problem. The strength will come.

Once good technique and understanding of the program’s goals are achieved, you can motivate, push your athletes, and cheer them on. Just don’t annoy people!

Thinking that being there is enough

Showing up on time and looking professional is great, but you also have to apply yourself and make an honest effort to get better. Simply going through the motions every day won’t help you as a coach. When there is downtime, don’t sit on the computer and check your fantasy league. See if the coaches need anything, pick up around the weight room, talk training, and go train. If you think that being there is enough, you won’t succeed. You may sincerely want to progress in the field of strength and conditioning, but if you don’t show it, the coaches will think you’re just another worker. Stand out from the rest of the interns. Their opinion of you doesn’t matter. The coaches’ opinion is what you should be concerned about.

It is also important not to get too comfortable while working. Once you begin to relax, the risk of injuries to athletes goes up. Make sure you always continue to spot out potential problems during training sessions. Remember to always be on your guard. Division I athletics is a business, and if a star athlete gets injured in the weight room, that could mean millions lost for both the athlete and the program. Injuries can happen in the blink of an eye, so make sure you are always looking out for your athletes and never get complacent.

Answering criticism with “I know, I was just…”

Nothing angers me more than an intern who carries the ‘know it all’ attitude. The truth is you are a nobody much like I am still a nobody. If you don’t take criticism and guidance well, you will remain a nobody in this field. You have to remember that your superiors have had more experience, carry more knowledge, and see more in the weight room than you do. Never answer criticism with, “I know, I was just…” If you’re spotting an athlete wrong and get corrected, take the advice and change what you’re doing.

Ask questions and learn the system that is being used and why it is being used. Take in everything you can while interning. You will learn a lot about how you would operate your program. Your internship is going to shape you as a coach, manager, and planner. Write down what you like about the program that you’re working under as well as things you would do differently.

There are a ton of useful resources for athletic performance training information. Find them and read the articles, logs, posts, and everything. Always expand your knowledge base. You will never stop learning in this field. If you don’t research and read outside of work, you will find yourself left behind.

Be thankful for the advice and knowledge your superiors have. They are passing on priceless intelligence that is gained from years of experience in the gym. Each coach you work for will provide you with something different.

I am thankful to have interned with some very bright minds in this field. The following are people I am honored to call friends and think of every day while training my athletes: Frank Wintrich is one of the smartest strength coaches I have ever had the pleasure to work under. His coaching style and endless knowledge of effectively training athletes is one that I would like to one day emulate. He is an outstanding mind in strength and conditioning, and I take pride in calling him a mentor of mine. Aaron Quarberg is another coach who I have the utmost respect for. He is the best floor coach and motivator I have seen. He has the ability to relate with any athlete and maximize their potential in the weight room. Finally, I owe thanks to Brandon Sneed for the hours of conversation regarding training. His strength training knowledge was a major influence in everything I implement in my programs today. These three men have each helped me in different ways and will always be the reason for any success I have in this field. Enough ass kissing. Let’s move on.

Not training on location

You earn so much credibility as a coach if your athletes (and coaches for that matter) see you training hard and making gains.

Recently, a handful of my athletes saw me pushing the Prowler outside on a Sunday afternoon. The next day they came in to train and the effort they gave was the best I have seen this season. Could be coincidence, but I believe they understand that I practice what I preach and believe in the system that is being implemented.  How can you tell your athletes to perform Prowler suicides if you can’t do them yourself? The same holds true for any sport coach. A football coach would not get the respect of the players if he or she had never played a down of football in their lives. Be credible and get under the bar.

Lifting on site will also go a long way with your superiors. You will earn the respect of the other coaches if you’re training intensely. Don’t tell them you know what you’re doing in the gym. Show them!

There are a number of other mistakes that are made by aspiring strength and conditioning coaches. Different situations and experiences will definitely influence the relevance of some of these mistakes. Make sure you don’t waste your opportunity to make a great first impression in this field. Carry the right attitude, respect your coaches, respect your athletes, and check your ego at the door. I guarantee coaches will respond better to interns who are eager to learn and do the little things right, not the ones who think being there is enough and always have an eye on the clock.