As many new and upcoming coaches have learned, becoming a strength and conditioning coach can be a very long and tough process. The path for many of us begins with an unpaid internship. Some coaches complete these internships in collegiate settings, while others seek volunteer roles in private training facilities. To be an intern in the strength and conditioning field, an individual must possess certain characteristics and traits. Some of these include:

  1. The desire to be a strength and conditioning professional.
  2. A basic understanding of human anatomy and sport performance.
  3. Punctuality
  4. The ability to work long hours (8-12+)
  5. The ability to be on your feet for hours at a time.
  6. The ability to complete a variety of tasks which includes setting up lifts, weight-room maintenance, etc.

Numerous undergraduate students can intern for a program and successfully display the characteristics that I listed above. But what separates a great intern from the rest? To be a great intern, you must have a more specific set of characteristics. These include:

Be Extremely Punctual

If you want to stand out among your peers, you cannot afford to be the intern who is the last one in the weight room every morning. When you show up every day one minute before being scheduled (or late), you convey to coaches and athletes that you do not really want to be there. On a more personal level, it may signify that you lack the self-discipline needed to succeed in this profession.

RELATED: 6 Steps to Landing An Internship

A great intern has exceptional time management skills. This is also a skill you will need down the road, so an internship is a great place to develop it if you haven’t already. If the first team you are scheduled to work with is coming in at 5 AM, that means you will most likely need to set that alarm for 4 AM or earlier. Building your time management skills will ensure that you get the proper amount of sleep, eat a solid breakfast, and arrive on time.

My biggest piece of advice regarding time management is to create a mental (or physical) to-do list the night before. On this checklist, note everything that will need to be done the next morning when you arrive at your internship. When does the first group start? What setup will they need? Looking at the card, will this be a longer setup process than usual? Will I need to start the weight-room laundry? Will waters need to be filled? Will other coaches need help with anything before their team training session? These are some questions you will have to ask yourself to make sure you arrive when you need to. When you realize about five to ten tasks need to be accomplished before an athlete walks in the door, you will understand why strolling in right before a given time may set the rest of the staff behind.

During my time as an intern at the University of Florida, I would arrive 10-15 minutes early. This was a non-negotiable for me. When you’re the first one in the room and get to work immediately, this will help you build trust and appreciation from the entire strength staff. 

Be Very Aware of Your Surroundings

I understand that being aware of your surroundings is a very vague piece of advice so let me clarify. As an intern, you are going to spend a lot of time observing. During a team lift, you can increase your situational awareness by following along a team training sheet and ensuring that the equipment they will need in the next five to ten minutes is set and ready to go. Also, listen deeply to the conversations between coaches and their athletes. There were many times as an intern that I would see an athlete walk up to a strength and conditioning coach and say something like, “Hey coach, we are out of barbells down on the far side of the room.” Before the conversation was over, I was already sprinting across the room to grab a 35-pound bar that the athlete could use instead. There will be tons of audibles that will be called during any given training session, and when you’re aware of your surroundings, you can make that transition easier on everyone.

Most of us got into this profession because we want to help athletes get better. Use your awareness as an intern to help any athlete that you can. This can be with the simplest of tasks. If you see an athlete struggling to put weight on/off a bar or struggling to move equipment, HELP! Do not just be a statue and wait for someone above you to help. Whenever I began a new internship, my number one priority was helping athletes with tasks. It wasn’t to be the smartest in the room or to impress everybody. I understood I was beginning and had minimal skills, so I had to make myself valuable in my current “rookie” role.

Gain Experience With as Many Sports as Possible

We have already established that interning in this profession will require you to work long hours. But with extended times on the floor, you will most likely be able to gain experience with a wide variety of sports. It may not seem like it right away, but every second you spend on the floor observing and helping with sessions will enhance your development as a strength and conditioning coach. With every team session, you observe or coach, you can gain insight on several things, including:

  1. How coaches communicate with their athletes.
  2. How coaches cue their athletes’ movements.
  3. How each sport trains differently and the same.
  4. How each coach structures their training sessions.
  5. How each session flows logistically.
  6. How to communicate with athletes. 

Now that you know what you can gain from every training session as an intern, imagine if that accumulated with five to ten teams every day for an entire semester. Think about how much further ahead that would put you in your own personal development. This is easier for individuals who intern primarily with Olympic sports. A typical team schedule during my intern days would look something like this:

5:30AM – 6:45AM: Women’s Swim & Dive

7AM – 8:15AM: Men’s Swim & Dive

8:30AM – 9:45AM: Women Volleyball Group #1

10AM – 11:15AM: Women Volleyball Group #2

11:30AM – 12:45PM: Women Volleyball Group #3

1PM – 2PM: Lunch/Sessions with Individual Athletes

2PM – 5PM: Track & Field (Men & Women, Multiple Events)

5:30PM – 6:30PM: Women’s Lacrosse

Every day, I could observe and help train 50-200 athletes, and I made sure to capitalize on each of those. You are not being paid for your work (in most cases), which means you are getting out of this internship what you put into it. Help as many groups as you can and reap the benefits later on in your career.

If you are in a situation where you work primarily with one sport (football, basketball, etc.), it would be beneficial for you to seek opportunities with other sports at your institution or facility. Maybe that means observing an Olympic sports lift one to two times per week when you have some downtime in the day or having a conversation with another sports strength and conditioning coach to gain insight on some of the things they do. I’m not saying you need to bounce back and forth between sports for 24 hours a day, but any opportunity to supplement your learning with different groups will pay dividends in the future. I cannot speak for every institution, but as an intern at three different spots, I realized coaches were very open to helping interns who went out of their way to get better.

I focus on this because I see too many interns sitting in the back office, messing around on social media while missing out on great opportunities on the floor. Many interns feel as if after working with one to two teams for the day, they can sit back and relax the rest of the day. If you need to grab a quick snack or sit down for a second, that is fine, but if there is an opportunity for you to get better out on the floor, take advantage of it and rest later.

Practice What They Preach

 If you want to earn the respect of your supervisors and gain the responsibility to coach their athletes, you must understand what they do. I italicize “they” because every program does things differently, and you need to adapt to this, even if it challenges what you have learned in the past. You learn what they do by paying attention to cues and practicing the movements and plans yourself. When you complete the athlete’s training program yourself, it allows you to understand how it feels to push, how to progress weights week to week, and It will probably expose some things that you are unsure of. This can help you develop appropriate questions for your supervisor or your peers.

As an intern, I would learn each team’s warm-up protocols before anything else to give you some direction here. This is what the team starts with each day and can be the foundation of your learning. And I do not just mean a brief overview of each movement. Learn every detail. When they prescribe lunges, how far is the back knee from the ground? Does the front foot stay flat? Does the front knee track over the midfoot or does it matter? What does the torso look like? These are examples of the details you must focus on. These are the details that will matter when you’re called on to lead. I tell you this because I have noticed that as an intern and currently as a GA, many coaches will throw interns “into the fire” first by having them take a team or individual through a warm-up. If you extensively go over the small details and practice them yourself, you will be ready to go when your name is called upon.

Take All Coaching Opportunities

No matter how big or small.

This is an easy one. If a supervisor asks you to coach one of their athletes, you have two answer choices. YES, and YES. These are the experiences that will help develop your coaching abilities the quickest. Understand that you have earned this opportunity through the work you have put in before. A head strength and conditioning coach will not allow an intern to work one-on-one with an athlete without a significant amount of trust for that individual.

You may be asked to train a coach’s child preparing for an upcoming sports season, help an injured athlete work their way through a modified training program, or help an athlete who has already graduated from the program but is looking to continue their training. How these opportunities present themselves are endless, but you should not hesitate to capitalize. It doesn’t matter if you’re working with a coach’s child or an Olympic-level athlete. Train both spectrums as if your life depended on it. Coaches can sense when you’re invested in what you’re doing. More importantly, so can the athlete. And if you don’t give full effort to a smaller coaching project, you may not be given a chance for another.

Throughout previous internship experiences, I’ve had the opportunity to take on some of these projects myself. I would train some of these athletes on my lunch break or at the end of the day. And though it was sometimes exhausting, I knew that I could gain something from each of them. Following each of these sessions, I would ask myself some simple questions. Some of these included:

  • What could I have done better?
  • What went right?
  • What went wrong?
  • What can I learn from this experience to help me in the future?

As you continue to reflect on previous coaching experiences, you will correct your mistakes and put yourself in a position to succeed in bigger team settings.


The goal of this article was to provide you some ways to excel in your current internship role or to help you establish a higher standard for yourself if you are going to begin one in the upcoming future. These are not all the qualities you will need, but it is a great starting point. The bottom line is, you need to refuse to be just “another” intern. Some strength and conditioning coaches will see up to 30 interns per academic year. What will you do to stand out from the rest?

Victor Hoffmann is an assistant strength and conditioning coach at The University of Memphis. He is responsible for the training programs of women’s soccer, men’s tennis, cross country, and T&F Jumpers/ Pole Vaulters. Prior to Memphis, Victor was a volunteer Strength and Conditioning Coach at The University of Florida Olympic Strength and Conditioning department. He is a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association.