Congratulations! You made it. You sent in your resume, aced the phone interview, and earned a spot on a big-time strength and conditioning program for the next few months. It’s about time all those three-hour lectures, Bruce protocols, and APA referencing paid off.
Now, it’s time to get after it! If you’re like me, you’re going to want to do everything you can to make the most of what you have in front of you. Your first priority should be to think about how much you’re going to sacrifice to take a step in advancing your career. You probably just moved across country, and you’re going to be missing out on your last semester of college. Maybe your fiancé called it quits because she can’t handle you leaving to coach all the time.
Let me be the first one to tell you, it’s worth it! Getting this squared away now will only keep you above the others when it’s time to apply for those full-time positions. Graduating college and having real in-the-trenches strength and conditioning experiences is what gets you a job. It’s not how well you did in class or how many times you read the strength and conditioning journals. It’s the places you’ve been, the people you’ve met, and the countless hours you’ve put into mold yourself into a great coach. How bad do you want it?
So, what do you do when you get there? Here are fifteen tips on what to do when you throw on that new T-shirt and start your journey:
1. Expect the unexpected.
Make sure you have a meeting with your internship supervisor (if you have one) as soon as you get there. Hopefully, the program has everything in writing so you can visibly see what is expected of you while you’re there. If not, you just have to roll with it. A solid internship program (and there are many out there) will have everything laid out on a master schedule with presentations, discussions, and opportunities to coach first hand. But if it’s your job to make the shake every morning, make it. If you need to have the room set up and broken down every day, do it. Regardless of what your responsibilities are, get them done quickly and efficiently and with a high level of pride.
2. Ask questions.
You won’t learn unless you ask questions. When there is downtime during the day (usually mornings), ask one of the coaches if he/she has a few minutes (not during a max effort squat session) to talk. Ask them why their program is set up the way it is or why they picked certain exercises for certain phases. Maybe it’s something you read off the internet that needs clarification. Try to meet with ALL of the members of the staff throughout your tenure there. You’ll soon find a coach who you’ll want to model yourself after and email questions to when you’re done.
3. Be proactive.
You may not be the only intern. There could be many other kids and adults who are chasing the same dream as you. Befriend them, work with them, but look out for yourself. As my last internship supervisor told me, “If you want to go rip beers with them on the weekends, that’s fine. When you’re here, get out and coach. Everybody can clean…what are you here to do?”
Don’t wait for someone else to help you with something. Start on your own. Go to the coaches yourself and get the instructions. Take an active role by leading everyone else. Forget about everybody’s age or qualifications. Right now, you’re doing whatever it takes to get a graduate assistantship, job, or another great reference. Don’t make enemies, but remember why you’re here and who you have to impress. Who knows? You may end up hiring one of the kids you interned with.
4. Continue your own education.
You may not know everything, but you should be doing everything you can to know it all! Read everything you can get your hands on during your downtime. I’m not talking about John Grisham novels and Dan Brown thrillers. I’m talking about authors whose last names you can’t even pronounce. You want anything to do with training, programming, nutrition, flexibility, injury prevention, and physical therapy. Read through the university’s old programs, exercise databases, and testing sheets. If they’ve got stuff in the storage closet, ask to take a look. If you’re not coaching or cleaning, you should be reading!
Remember that learning isn’t just hitting the books. Take advantage of the facility you’re working at and use all the resources available. I’ve been at facilities with power plates, vibration platforms, and every single barbell and its variation sold on elitefts. There have been collections of chains, bands, boards, proprioceptive equipment, Dartfish® software, and a multitude of other training tools. Get after it! Try them all out. They want to see you train. Don’t be the intern who just reads and tries to answer every question with, “According to Siff (2003)…” Lace up the Chucks, chalk up the back, and get in the rack.
5. Take it to the edge.
This goes along with tip three about being pro-active. If a coach gives you the opportunity to coach, take advantage of it! You can’t become a better coach if you’re cleaning all day. If you’ve been given three platform assignments, give it everything you have, even if it’s the injured kids who can’t do any overhead pressing or axial loading. Don’t give up on them. Give them a reason why they’re still important to the team. Let them know you’re not letting up on them just because they can’t squat, bench, or clean. If you’ve got to lead a group through their warm-up, make yourself stand out! Do you want athletes to call you by your first name or by coach?
Being a full-time strength coach requires a lot of time, energy, and TIME! Being a full-time intern requires even more time and energy. Make sure you understand the little things like time management, scheduling, and attention to detail. My first ever college strength coach told me to always arrive early and stay late. You should be getting to the weight room before all the other coaches and interns and then you should be the last one to leave. If your boss gets there at 6:00 am, you need to get there at 5:45 am. If there are workouts on the weekends or on your day off, show up and help. Just because coaches tell you that you don’t need to come in, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. “You don’t have to come in” actually means “If you want a good recommendation kid, you’ll be here.” Get used to getting less than six hours of sleep a night, too. After a 16-hour day, you’re not going to want to come home and cook for tomorrow. Take one day out of the week to pre-pack your snacks and food. Bring a cooler if there’s no room in the office. Don’t forget to bring some cash. Chances are you’ll be making a run to the convenience store to get everyone sugar-free Hogan Energy drinks (highly recommended).
7. Present yourself accordingly.
One thing that my boss has drilled into my head is, “Act in the position you want to be in, not the one you’re currently in now.” What does that really mean? If I’m an intern, I shouldn’t be acting like one. What do I want to be eventually? For most, it’s to be a head strength coach. So, it comes down to looking, talking, and acting like a professional. Don’t be the intern who the coaches refer to as “coach hands-on-hips," "coach arms crossed," or "coach pocket pool.” Your body language can send off all the wrong signals. Get rid of the “Like, so…” and the “yo," "dude," and "man.” Keep your gear tied up, wrinkle-free, and tucked in. Cover up the tattoos and earrings if they ask you to. Do you want to go out with your boys the night before an all-day speed and lift session with football? No problem. Just don’t show up with hair gel still in your “new haircut” smelling like Yager-bombs. It may only take one slip-up for them to say, “See you later.”
You are easily replaceable. Remember, you were probably one of many, many interns who applied for the position. Great coaches won’t give a recommendation just because you worked for him or her. You have to earn it. If you want to be a coach, you need to start acting like one!
This is pretty self-explanatory and applies to the little things that we have to do as “volunteer coaches.” Don’t spend five hours cleaning up the weight room just because there is nothing else to do. Don’t sit around until the next group. (They can see every angle of the weight room through the mirrors). Often times, coaches need equipment changes and readjustments to the program on the fly. Be ready to go. I’m not telling you to sprint from one end to another, but don’t loaf around complaining about all of the BS work you may have to do. It’s part of the job description, remember?
9. Don’t be annoying.
Flat out, don’t be that guy or girl. Don’t bombard the staff with stupid questions or antics because they’ll get sick of you real quick, and you’ll soon have a nickname that you won’t be able to stand. Keep your space from the staff because you are just an intern. Don’t go crazy on them when you run out of cleaning solution in one bottle or you can’t find a safety clip. Take some initiative and get it done. You are not a full-time staff member, but you should be acting like one. Problems will arise and it will be your job to find the solutions. That’s what happens in the real world.
10. Just keep grinding.
It’s going to be tough. You’re going to wake up some days at 4:00 am and wonder why you are doing this. You’re going to ask if it’s worth it to come home with back pain, sore feet, a splitting headache, and a never-ending desire to sleep. You’ll be strapped for cash, exhausted from coaching all day, and upset you have to work weekends. Maybe it’s not for you. Maybe this was the wake-up call you needed, though I sincerely hope not.
As I stated in my first article, you have to remember all the sacrifices you’ve made and continue to make. If you need any inspiration, just ask the coaches around you. Ask them why they still walk the walk… Hopefully, that will help you out a bit. But what happens when you show up to what was supposed to be the “promised land” of internships and it’s really not what you expected? Remember these few things and you’ll still make out on top.
11. Take advantage of what you have.
If you’re working in one of the best facilities in the nation, you better be enjoying it! Train when you get the chance and then train some more. You’ll miss it when you get back to your campus fitness center and the weight room monitor revokes your privileges for dropping the weights too loudly. Try out all those fancy pieces of equipment where you need three people to get hooked up to and a second look at the operators’ manual. Not really allowed to coach? Read everything you can get your hands on in your downtime.
If you’ve got access to a computer, check these sites out every day:
Check out the blogs of Jason Ferruggia, Alwyn Cosgrove, Eric Cressey, Joel Marion, Tony Gentilcore, Coach Dos, Bill Hartman, and Mike Robertson (just to name a few). What about a staff library? Does the strength and conditioning staff have books and videos you can take a look at? If so, see if you can borrow them. Remember, authors whose names you can’t pronounce and end in “ski” or “ey” should be the ones you’re reading. Ask if you can make a copy of the manuals and articles that they have lying around. This will help fill in the slow times during the day as well as assist in your professional resource collection.
12. Make friends with the staff.
So the coaches get on your case a bit? Big deal. Unfortunately, you can’t get along with everyone, but just make sure it’s not your fault things are shaky. You’re going to get along with certain coaches more than others. Embrace that. By working with a few coaches more often, they will be able to trust you when a big project needs to get done. Sometimes they’ll let you run their warm-ups, stretching stations, or the entire session. A better relationship with the staff equals a better night's sleep! Do what you have to do to get more responsibility. Aim to run that speed station, train those junior college transfer players, and run the dynamic warm-up. Don’t let negativity ruin your experience.
13. Keep a log.
This is the biggest mistake I made while interning. I only kept track of my hours worked, not what happened during the day. As monotonous as the days may become, each day is different. Take ten to twenty minutes at the end of each night and write down the day’s events. Look back on what you got yelled at for to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Write down setup notes to make things run smoother in the mornings. If a coach gets on you for something, keep note of it. Make sure you always know what’s going on because when you get a head job someday you’re going to want to remember what went on while you were learning. Could groups be better organized? What about staff meetings? What would you do differently?
14. Focus on YOU.
Becoming a strength and conditioning coach isn’t just about filling in sets and reps and blowing a whistle. It’s about developing quality skills and fulfilling individual goals that define a person. What do you need work on? Is it platform coaching? Talking to athletes? What about self-esteem? Being pulled in so many directions during your internship can throw you off. Remember to stay grounded. What is your purpose here? What do you need to do to become a better student, coach, and person? Regardless of the environment you fall into, you can always fall back on your foundation. What will make you happy? Mike Boyle told me the story of a professor and an empty jar—if you fill the jar with golf balls, it becomes full. If you then fill it with pebbles, it becomes full. Lastly, if you fill it with sand, the jar becomes completely full. The golf balls are the important things: family, friends, health, and happiness. The pebbles represent your house, the car, and your job. The sand is all the little things. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Don’t worry about if you forgot to re-rack those weights or pick-up the mini-band that was left on the ground. Tomorrow is another day.
15. Enjoy everything else.
If all else fails and there’s nothing you can do to change what’s going on, enjoy the surroundings. Check out the scenery, visit the area, or do some sightseeing. In the end, at least you got a great reference, some sweet gear, and all the post-workout shakes you could handle! Hopefully, you’ve been able to pick up a few things along this series that might make your experiences a little bit smoother and worthwhile. As a graduate assistant strength coach, I know how hard it is to get your foot in the door. Frankly, if I didn’t walk the path I did, I wouldn’t be where I am today. For that, I want to thank all of my family and friends, former football/strength coaches, professors, advisors, other strength coaches in the field, and former supervisors (Springfield, University of Connecticut, Olympics, Arizona State, Louisville, and the Citadel) for all that you have done and continue to do for me. I owe everything to you and the field of strength and conditioning. And for the reader, I hope I catch you at the next conference. Good luck!
Adam Feit is Precision Nutrition’s head strength and sport psychology coach. Dr. Feit earned his PhD in Sport and Exercise Psychology from Springfield College. He also holds a master’s degree in Exercise Science and Health Promotion from the California University of Pennsylvania and a bachelor’s degree in Applied Exercise Science from Springfield College.
Prior to his work at Precision Nutrition, Dr. Feit worked as a strength and conditioning coach and nutrition coordinator for athletes and sports teams. His clients included the Carolina Panthers, Eastern Michigan University, University of Louisville, and The Citadel. He also co-founded and directed a fitness facility for young athletes.