A Simple Guide for Strength & Conditioning Coaches, Part 3


As the head strength and conditioning coach, the development of your assistants is a direct reflection of you as a professional. Ensuring that these young professionals aren't only better coaches but better people because of their experience with you should be a point of emphasis and a point of pride. There are a few key steps when developing interns into future assistant coaches. Those steps can be summarized into four specific processes that can include but aren't limited to acclimation, education, evaluation, and placement.


Introduce your interns to your specific policies and procedures. This could include reviewing your emergency action plan, introducing them to the administrative staff and sport coaches, and going over the day to day operations. Make sure they understand the code of conduct for your program, the athletic program, and the university. All interns should also be made aware of your expectations as the head strength and conditioning coach. They should fully comprehend what is acceptable behavior and exactly what their role is going to be within your program.


Teaching your athletes as much about strength & conditioning in general, as well as specifics, to your program is one of the main reasons your intern has chosen your institution in the first place. There is a fine line between ensuring your interns know how you want things done in your program and making sure they learn to think for themselves and start to develop their own coaching philosophy. It is helpful if you choose a few subcategories to focus on then teaching these to your interns. Exercise technique should take up the bulk of instruction when educating your interns. Other areas of knowledge should include, but may not be limited to: program design, speed, agility, landing mechanics, proper warm-up, flexibility, weight room maintenance and scheduling, and energy system development, to name a few. Most interns finishing their undergraduate or graduate degrees will have a rough knowledge of the scientific foundations of our profession such as exercise physiology, and biomechanics. Where most interns will struggle will be the practical application of this knowledge. This is why experience for young coaches is so vital.


Evaluating your interns is an important process in their development that should happen multiple times during their tenure. Communicating the evaluation process at the beginning of the internship can eliminate any misunderstanding or conflicts. The evaluation process can be as formal or informal as you as the head coach would like. Just make sure that it's consistent for all interns and that your praises and critiques are clear. Quantifying your evaluation can assist in ranking, categorizing, and tracking your interns' progress. Comparing interns with one another and with their own past evaluations can help standardize the process. We use three categories with our internship evaluations—knowledge, initiative, and communication (KIC).

Knowledge base: This deals with the intern’s basic knowledge of drill and exercise technique, program design, and weight room maintenance. Any skill competence of your required internship may be included. This is the most objective and testable category. We have instituted three distinct levels for an intern’s knowledge base that will be discussed later.

Taking initiative: As a strength and conditioning coach, there will come a point when you will just need things to be done. Your interns need to transition from a point where they listen to what needs done and accomplish the task at hand to a point where they know what needs done and accomplish those tasks ahead of time without being told. Having the weight room set up for the next group, modifying exercises for injured athletes, and initiating pre-workouts and warm ups are just a few examples. Once you enable your interns to perform as coaches, they must empower themselves to act like coaches. The longer the intern has been working for you, the less you should talk about the day to day operations and the more you can teach young people how to coach. More on coaching coaches will be discussed later.

Communication skills: Young, college-aged people have different communication skills than people of my generation. In this day and age, the written word via text and email is the preferred method for many coaches. The ability to build a positive rapport with student athletes and to effectively communicate what needs done and how it needs done is imperative. Effective communication in a sports performance setting depends on confidence, clarity, and consistency. The ability to communicate is what separates good coaches from average coaches and is a characteristic that young coaches undervalue. Some young coaches may not yet understand this simple fact. Being strong and fast doesn’t make you a good strength coach; helping your athletes become stronger and faster will.

This is what we have referred to as our KIC evaluations. There are a multitude of characteristics you can use to evaluate your interns. You may have noticed that we didn’t include fundamental attributes such as character, trustworthiness, dependability, reliability, or work ethic. In my opinion, if any of these basic attributes aren't present, the internship shouldn’t happen. Don’t allow a young person to intern for you if you can’t trust them, they have questionable character, or you have the impression that they won't work hard.

The level system

Classifying interns and making the evaluation process more objective can help the overall experience. Here's an example of our level system, specifically for the knowledge portion of the KIC evaluation. How you implement the system or what you do with the classification is entirely up to the individual coach.

Level 0: The intern doesn't know basic exercise technique.

Coaches considered to be at Level 0 are unable to teach basic and fundamental movements, conduct a proper warm-up sequence, and don't know basic pre-habilitation circuits. Most strength coaches at the Division I level and higher will never need to hire an intern or graduate assistant at Level 0. If an intern starts in your program at Level 0, he absolutely can't be permitted to continue as an intern without progressing to Level 1 within a week, maybe two at the longest. It's absolutely imperative that interns have the knowledge base and, more importantly, the desire to learn your program’s exercise technique and the teaching progressions associated with them, all your warm ups, and any pre-workout or post-workout circuits.

Level 1: The intern knows basic exercise technique and can explain it thoroughly and demonstrate it proficiently.

The majority of interns that we see achieve Level 1 status relatively quickly, especially if they have the passion for strength and conditioning. Unfortunately, many interns stay at Level 1 for the majority of their internship. Progressing from Level 1 has been a major point of emphasis in our program. Level 1 interns are proficient at explaining and demonstrating exercise technique and often times can lead warm ups and small group teaching progressions if needed.

Level 2: The intern can visually identify proper technique execution and technique discrepancies in an athlete.

Being able to identify a technique discrepancy is an important step in a young coach’s development. He may not know exactly how to address the problem at this point, but acknowledging proper form and identifying improper form is an extremely important step.

Level 3: The intern understands the direct or indirect causes of technique discrepancies and can suggest technique adjustments (for an acute affect) and help formulate corrective strategies (for a cumulative affect) with the strength coach’s approval.

Most technique discrepancies are due to one or a combination of several different factors. Lack of knowledge or experience performing the specific exercise, postural alignment issues, tight or weak muscle groups, and improper loading can all be factors negatively affecting technique. Knowing the cause and initiating a plan to fix it is one of the most important assignments we have as strength coaches. “Fixing” the issue may be addressed immediately or conversely take weeks or months to fix. Regardless, this is the level we want all our interns to get to.


The two main goals of an internship in any profession are to gain valuable experience and to acquire the skills necessary to attain a position in the field. As a head strength and conditioning coach, your ability to find positions for your interns is almost as important as preparing them for those positions. It is important for your interns to understand that successfully completing an internship may not necessarily mean acquiring a full-time position. Strength and conditioning internships may lead to paid internships, graduate assistant positions, or part-time positions in the private sector. A few basic components to placement can keep you and your interns focused on what the overall goals will be.

  1. Set goals at the beginning of the internship. Ensure that the goals are realistic and specific. Remind the intern of the goals he established to keep him on task from a professional development standpoint.
  2. Provide as many professional development and networking opportunities as possible. Introducing your interns to as many professionals in a variety of different fields will be essential for their coaching future. It won't just be about how many contacts your interns have met and know but how many of those professionals know your interns. This goes back to retention and making sure people know who your assistants and interns are.
  3. Be selective and totally honest when recommending your interns. This becomes more than writing a recommendation. This involves helping your interns with the entire process of moving on professionally. Also, make sure your interns know what type of recommendation they will receive from you. One of the worst things that can happen to your reputation as a professional and your program is having a former intern perform poorly in his next position.
  4. Make your interns aware of the differences between your program and the positions in the programs they're applying for. Making the jump from a small school to a large Division I institution will be a culture shock for most. Working for a coach under the pressure of winning provides a much different environment than your interns may be used to.