A Simple Guide for Strength & Conditioning Coaches, Part 1

Organizing and implementing a quality internship program can enhance the overall goals of your strength and conditioning program, which has limited budgets and resources. Nowadays in our profession, if you look at any strength and conditioning job board on the internet, most, if not all, of the positions listed are for unpaid internships. Some young aspiring strength coaches can be a little unrealistic with their career paths. Very rarely will someone get hired out of college in a full-time position without any experience. Internships are essential for any young strength and conditioning coach. A quality internship program can assist your university while also helping our profession.

In this article, we will discuss some of the mistakes a strength and conditioning coach can make when deciding to implement an internship program. We will also introduce three distinct phases when organizing an internship program including recruiting quality interns, retaining those interns, and the overall development during the course of the internship. Lastly, we will introduce specific steps in order to help interns become better coaches.


Finding good, quality interns to help your program takes careful planning and diligent follow-up. Attaining young coaches will consist of more than posting an internship on a few websites. Strength coaches must ensure that they can accommodate an internship program, provide the resources, and actively recruit the best possible candidates for the internship.

Generating positions

The first step with incorporating an internship program at your school or company is to make sure all your bases are covered when dealing with liability. Make certain you are permitted to have volunteer assistants and that you're permitted to serve as an internship site supervisor. You may need to sign a contract for the intern’s host institution or a release from liability for any assistants. If your university or company requires a background check, criminal record check, Act 34, or something else, you will need to find out how that will be funded.

Generating revenue

Even an unpaid internship will require you to use resources from your athletic department. If you are advertising an unpaid internship, you can find some ways to raise money to help your volunteers with day to day living expenses or professional development opportunities. Opportunities will be different for every college or university.

  1. Professional development money: Using unused funds from your professional development fund (if you have one) may be used to help with the intern’s professional development. Paying for conferences, clinics, or certifications for your interns out of this budget can provide adequate compensation to interns.
  2. Money from academic programs: At some small colleges, strength coaches will be required to teach lectures or activity classes. Funds from the exercise science program or physical education major may be used for conferences, clinics, guest speakers, and similar opportunities.
  3. Student governed organizations: By serving as an advisor for the “exercise science club” or “barbell club,” or other organizations, you can tap into money from the university student organizations. The students themselves will need to do the necessary paperwork, create a constitution, and handle other formalities. That money can help some of the student assistants and subsequently the volunteer assistants with such things as travel expenses, gear, and clinics. Anything that can enhance your strength and conditioning program will positively affect your interns.
  4. College or university apparel: It is amazing what college kids will do for T-shirts. Giving T-shirts (even old ones) to your interns can serve as a reward for their work and also help athletes and sport coaches know who they are. Having strength and conditioning T-shirts is optimal, but if you don't have the means to purchase T-shirts, simply ask every head coach of the teams you work with to order a few extra for your interns. It will be a positive thing when your athletes see the support of strength and conditioning coaches wearing their team’s shirts.
  5. Hosting a clinic: Coaches get bombarded with emails promoting every clinic that occurs. However, hosting a small clinic that makes a small profit can benefit the interns. Unless you need the money from clinics for major equipment, use that money for the current or future interns. There are many strategies for having a successful clinic. One strategy is to encourage your interns to take ownership of the clinic. Make sure they know where the money is going and that it would benefit them to help with all aspects of the clinic including promoting it beforehand.
  6. Competitions: If you have the facilities and equipment to host a powerlifting, push-pull, Strongman, Olympic lifting, or CrossFit competition, it may not be a bad idea. Although it will be a lot of work, you may end up with a decent profit. Also, exposure for your program can also help with recruiting student athletes and volunteers and creating networking opportunities outside of your usual circle of colleagues.
  7. Camps: Depending on your college or university, having speed and agility camps over winter or summer break can not only supplement your budget but also provide additional experience for your volunteers.

Overall, there are numerous ways to help fund the intern positions. Be creative and any amount can help in recruiting and in the development of young coaches starting out in the profession.

Generating a staff

Finding young quality coaches will require more than just advertising your internship opening. Recruiting interns that fit your program and match your philosophy will take a little more planning.

Here are some steps that will help ensure this:

  • Set a limit to how many interns you will have.
  • Create an application date.
  • Conduct a formal interview process.
  • Set a schedule before agreeing to take on the intern.
  • Communicate all expectations up front.

What can separate your internship program from others could be simple and cost effective.  Assuming you will not be paying your interns, there are plenty of ways you can compensate their time and dedication to your program. Strength and conditioning coaches need to be creative when compensating interns for their time and effort. Sure, the two most important rewards from completing an internship are receiving required credits for graduation and a positive recommendation. That in itself should be the top priority of any young aspiring coach at the conclusion of his internship. But there are ways that you can separate your program from others. Just like internships are competitive from the applicants’ perspective, you as a coach should be competing for the best, qualified young coaches you can find.

Five ways to make your unpaid internship more appealing

  1. Housing: If you can offer housing for your interns, you will automatically be one of the more desirable internships posted. Housing can simply be a vacant dorm room, a shared room with another assistant, or rent assistance. Contact the university housing department or any reputable landlords in the surrounding area.
  2. Meals: Working with your campus dining facilities to secure a meal plan for interns can make a world of difference for a young aspiring coach. Convincing the university to “give” you meal plans may be much easier said than done. It may, in fact, need to come from the athletic department’s budget. But finding a way to offer fourteen, ten, or even five meals per week can make an internship “doable” for someone.
  3. Part-time job: Assisting your volunteer coaches with a continuous campus or local job can also be a positive for your program. Of course, you as a strength coach will have to find jobs that coordinate hours with your busiest lifting times.  You will need to have some flexibility, and you must make sure the volunteer coach understands the importance of his performance and reliability at this part-time job.  Again, there are a multitude of young people already working part-time or full-time just for the opportunity to volunteer and someday become a strength coach. Many of the applicant's reservations may be eliminated if he knows he has a part-time job in addition to the internship. Partnering with a local pizza shop or campus maintenance crew can be a win-win situation for all parties involved.
  4. Certifications: Being certified from any organization will not guarantee you a job in strength and conditioning. However, not being certified may prevent that person from getting a job. Young coaches with limited experience probably need to get certified to keep them in the hunt to take the next step professionally. Paying for a certification test at the conclusion of the internship can be a great incentive for a young coach.
  5. Professional development opportunities: A few ways to enrich the internship may include bringing in guest speakers or clinicians to the university, paying for admission to clinics or conferences, or taking professional development trips to other college strength and conditioning facilities.