Right now it’s around 3 AM and I am up thinking about my first internship experience. The reason I am reminded of this experience at this time of night is due to the fact that for a whole summer, five days a week, I would wake up around 3:10 AM, make breakfast, and make the half an hour drive to the college I was interning at to make sure I was the first person at the door. Once the assistants would arrive to let me in the weight room, I would begin setting up for the day. I would drag weights and sleds onto the field or and make sure all the stations were set up inside and ready to go. Then I would drink my strange concoction of protein powder, chocolate milk and coffee grounds mixed into a shaker to get me ready for the day. I cannot for the life of me tell you why I drank this or how I stumbled upon this strange drink but this was the start of my day for three months. Before every group was done I would hurry to make shakes for the entire group and then rush outside to make sure everything was set up for the next group. At the time this routine was utterly grueling but being the crazy meathead I was (and still am) I loved every second of it. I also worked with three great strength coaches who really made the long days enjoyable.

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I’m sure every coach has an equally fond memory of their first internship. The worst I’ve heard so far is a man that was so determined he walked two miles every day to and from work due to the fact he didn’t have a car. It makes my story seem like a child’s fairy tale. At some point in time we must all pay our dues. But so often I have found myself surrounded by people that become GA’s or assistants who seemingly forget where they came from and how hard it is to be an intern. For instance, many of us can say we had little to no money and probably ate whatever was available. For me it was my concoction of a coffee protein shake; for others I’m sure it’s been snacks out of a nutrition bar or the go to McDonald’s dollar menu. When I became a graduate assistant, my former boss (Coach Matt Gildersleeve) wanted to do something innovative with our internship program. That innovation? Making sure interns left ready to become graduate assistants without having to endure mental torment and unnecessary cruel and unusual punishments.

strength coach monolift

There are coaches that forget that the interns underneath them are working like slaves and often forget to give them the recognition they deserve. Do they screw up? Of course, but it is our responsibility to guide them. They are a direct reflection of ourselves and how they go on to coach and treat others is going to be a direct reflection of how they were treated during their internships. I had great mentors that taught me a lot and expected me to be more than a glorified janitor. Not everyone is so lucky. When I was a graduate assistant, we had Saturday morning punishments. Interns weren’t required to be there but I would buy breakfast for the ones who did come in. This little token of appreciation went a long way. Coach Gildersleeve did a great job of giving our interns small responsibilities to make them feel like they were part of the program because they were. If you work for Coach Gildersleeve you are immediately a part of his family. There was no exception made for interns as they were treated as family as well. I cannot tell you how grateful people are just to get simple tasks to call their own. In turn, these interns worked hard for the program because they had something to call their own. They took pride in the tasks assigned to them because they were their tasks.

We often forget what it was like being an intern. They aren’t just there to clean weights or scrub the weight room. That is something that they should do, but if they are assigned these duties my other coworkers (Coach Matt Clapp and Coach Parker Showers) often did it with them to show them that you are never too big to do the little things. This is something that was taught to us by Coach Gildersleeve.

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There were times when even as graduate assistants we were given busy work directly from Coach Gildersleeve that he would help us complete. Often when we rise to a higher position, we forget what it was like or what it would mean for your superior to take the time to help you clean the weight room or offer you a chance to lift with them. I look at it as paying it forward. I could’ve been a dictator or a tyrant but then somewhere down the line when our interns became coaches and had their own interns they would repeat this behavior. I would be part of some poor intern in the future being mistreated because of how I mistreated someone. That simply wouldn’t be fair nor would it be the right thing to do.

Don’t get me wrong; nothing in this life is given and you have to work for everything you get. But there is nothing wrong with empowering the people who work hard to keep your program a float or doing tasks that you think you’re “too big” to do. I’ve heard such things as far as making interns work for countless hours but not allotting them any university gear. Though this may seem like a case of “you have to earn your keep,” I see it as an embarrassment as well as an insult to the hard work the interns perform on your behalf. I’m not saying that every intern is a godsend for your program. Just like there are bad coaches there are bad interns. But maybe these coaches were just interns that didn’t have someone that cared enough to show them the path. Maybe they were just someone who got handed a mop and broom and told to clean without ever having someone mentor them in the ways of being a professional in this industry. If you are running an internship program, remember these things. How do you want your name to be spread? It takes little to no effort to make someone’s day. A few acts of kindness can go a long way.

Donald Day is currently an assistant strength and conditioning coach at American University. Prior to American, Don had a brief stint at Robert Morris University as well as serving as a graduate assistant with the University of Akron's football strength staff. At American, Don oversees the strength and conditioning program for mens's/women's track as well as the implementation of the speed and agility program for various sports.