The Impression You Make on the Coaching Staff

The road to being a strength coach is a long one, and it sure as hell isn’t a yellow brick road. It’s more like a Prowler® pushed up a steep hill that starts with paying your dues as an intern. It’s a good thing I’ve got a serious liking for the Prowler® because I’ve spent the past four years as a collegiate strength and conditioning intern.

Over the course of three articles, I’m going to share with you my experiences on how interns can make impacts on coaches, players, and other interns. Feel free to laugh and learn from my experiences because I know I sure do.

Standing out among other interns

When you’re an intern at a big school, it’s like you’re a 20-kilogram plate in a weight room. You're just another fixture that goes without notice. However, it doesn’t have to be like that. There are good ways to stand out and bad ways to stand out, and it's up to you to determine if you leave your internship as one of many 20-kilogram plates or something much more valuable.

What I’ve learned is that standing out among other interns can be tricky. As an intern, you have to remember that you aren't just trying to stand out among current interns but also among every other intern who has passed through the program before you. Thus, to separate yourself from the rest, it's essential to have the will to be the best and the dedication to the job to back up that will.

I remember working at one Big East school that had 10 interns. We all worked for a head coach who had a great track record of getting interns jobs at later times. On our first day, he talked about the importance of standing out in the crowd, and his words rung true in my heart. I remember I spent that summer battling it out with my now close friend Skylar to be the first to work and the last to leave. This may sound silly, but there were days when I got to work more than an hour before the crack of dawn start time just so that I couldn't only beat Skylar to work but also be the first to start setting up. It’s funny to me now because everything we did that summer was a competition. We competed to see who could write the best articles for the head coach, who could spend the most hours at work, who could get their freshman players to have the best weight room technique, and who could work the most voluntary football camps. However, through that completion and dedication to our internship came more responsibility from the head coach. It was also this responsibility that allowed us to stand out in a group of many.

I still remember sitting at Starbucks one day emailing coaches. We were both waiting for Buddy Morris to email us back with advice on how to excel in coaching. When he did, he suggested that we read Outliers. From there, it become a competition to see who could read the book first. To me, this story is now extremely funny because I recently saw Buddy and he remembered the email.

To get back to the point, as an intern, try to outwork everyone. This will separate you from the rest because there's a very good chance that the majority of head strength coaches today were once that intern who was also filled with will and dedication to be the best. So stay late, come in early, and end the day with the question, “Is there anything else I can do?”

On the flip side, it’s also pretty easy to stand out as a bad intern. An intern’s first job should be to make everyone else’s job around them easier, and there are a few ways this can go wrong. When I was an intern, I always believed that every day on the job was an interview. Actually, to be honest, I still believe this. I constantly find myself worrying if there was anything else I could have done. I constantly feel guilty when I see another graduate assistant cleaning and I'm meeting with a sport coach, working on a project in the office, or coaching a team. But that’s probably just my crazy type A behavior talking.

I've seen many interns who don’t understand that each internship is a test, and you need to bust your butt to make that internship into a job. I knew one intern who came in late, went out for drinks with the staff, and trained while there were athletes on the floor. In case you're wondering, this is the best way to not get a job. If it looks like you don’t care about your athletes, it’s a pretty good chance you don’t and an even better chance everyone else will notice.

Also, as an intern, it's important to know your place. While it’s important for you to begin to put together your views and philosophies, it’s also important to find the appropriate time to share those views. A good friend of mine used to feel the need to share his philosophy with the head coach. And by share, I mean defend. And by defend, I mean disagree with him during staff meetings. While he's my friend for the fact that he defends his views until the very end, it's through this same fact that he has lost many big job openings. Remember, as an intern, no one cares about your opinion, and while it's worth fighting for those beliefs, there are times to share them and many times to keep them to yourself. It's a safe bet that the coach’s greater experience level has helped him form the strategy he now has in place. So be smart. If the head coach has a different philosophy and doesn’t ask for your opinion, keep it to yourself.

Attending clinics, visiting other schools, and standing out among others in the room

As an intern, you should aim to attend as many clinics and visit as many schools as possible. Take those opportunities to share your views, build relationships, and ask the right kind of questions.

I’ll never forget my first strength and conditioning clinic. It was my first year of college when I went to the University of Florida (UF) Strength Clinic. I sat in the first row and wrote down every word. I’m not kidding—every word. At the end of the conference, the head strength coach at UF was making closing comments. Within his remarks, he commented, “I hope you all learned a lot like the young lady in the front who had been vigorously writing and will leave here today with carpal tunnel syndrome.” Everyone started laughing, but I’ll tell you what. I didn’t care if he remembered me as Jenny or as carpal tunnel girl. All I cared about was the fact that I had made a lasting impression.

To make you guys laugh some more, I’ll let you in on another secret. Before every conference I attend, I type up a background list on every speaker. I also try to show up prepared and really tune into what the speakers are saying. I also follow up every conference with emails to the coaches I've met. This might seem like a hassle to most, but I think of this hassle as more of an opportunity to make impressions with the people who may later be involved in shaping your future! Remember, there isn't any point in going to clinics if you aren't actually going to show up!

In the same token, after conferences, you will have many opportunities to ask coaches questions. Use this to your advantage and ask intelligent ones, not ones that you already know the answer to. I hate to admit it, but when I first started out as an intern, I had a bad habit of asking questions that I already knew how to answer. I’m not kidding. I’m cringing now as I write this. While asking questions you know the answer to might seem like a way for you to display your knowledge, this is actually a way to display that you're extremely annoying. I was lucky enough to have a mentor alert me to this bad habit and put an end to it. However, now when I see interns do this, I cringe for them as well. While there isn't anything better than an intern who asks questions that either promotes the staff to think outside the box or allows them to better understand a concept, there isn't anything worse than one who asks questions just so he can show off.

Enough of the negative though. Let’s get back to another positive way that you can make an impact as an intern. I can't stress this enough. If you want to make a positive impact as an intern, you have to get yourself out there and network. You should be visiting every school within driving distance from you and emailing all the coaches that you have ever talked to so that you can develop relationships. On my wall at home, I have a list of all the coaches I know. I make sure to shoot each one one or two emails a year just to stay in contact. While this might seem like a hassle to most, remember out of sight means out of mind, and in a field based on connections, out of mind means out of work.

How to interview for a position, not get it, and then change the coach’s opinion of you (so you do get the job next time)

I’ll never forget three summers ago. I was up for an internship at a huge college football powerhouse, made it to the final round of interviews, and then didn’t get the job. I’m not going to lie—I was crushed. But I’ll let you guys in on a little secret. I’m also pretty stubborn, and when I don’t get something, I keep going after it like Dick Butkis continuously running through a brick wall. So what did I do? I traveled across country and went to meet the coaches in person. I spent the day talking training philosophies and life with one of the assistants and came back another day and crushed weights with a few of the guys on staff. Anyways, to make a long story short, I ended up building a relationship with the staff down there. By the time summer rolled around the following year, I got a phone call and an offer to come down as an intern. Moral of the story? If you want an internship, make it happen. Also, if you get turned down the first time, keep coming back until you've convinced them that you're the perfect candidate or until they hire you so that they can get you to stop bugging them!

True story—I got my internship at a big ACC football university after knocking on the head coach’s door constantly for a year straight. We joke now that he took me on just to get me to leave him alone.

In all, I hope I didn’t kill you with my never ending story about how as an intern there are many ways for you to leave an impact, but for those who want the short version:

  • Work your butt off and pay your dues
  • Network
  • Don’t be lazy
  • Restlessly pursue your goal

In the next article, I'll cover making an impact on your athletes. But until then, get to work busting your butt and start climbing that ladder from the bottom to the top!