Interns and Impact, Part Two

The Impression You Make on the Athletes

So you made an impact on some coaches, got a sweet internship, and are headed with your Prowler® from the end zone know as internship to the opposite goal line known as an assistant strength coach. However, before you pass the 50-yard line to get there, you have to tackle one aspect of being an intern known as making an impact on your athletes.

As an intern, this is a tricky situation because you're in a position that doesn't hold any authority, yet you're expected to hold authority over your athletes. Think of this like the first time you did a glute ham raise. You watched others do them and you thought you knew how to get one done. Yet when you hopped up there and tried, it was a completely foreign movement and often times not the success you had hoped it to be. I think that analogy is a good comparison of how first time interns do when it comes to holding authority and making impacts with athletes.

First time interns have seen head coaches interact with their players. They think they'll be able to make that same impact, yet they don't understand how to go about doing so. They often fall flat when it comes time to make an impact. A great coach once told me that as an intern, you know you've made a lasting impression when the week after you leave, your athletes start asking, “Where did (inset your name here) go?”

Winning the trust and respect of your athletes

This has to be one of the most complicated aspects of being an intern. Often times when you come into a program as a young intern, your athletes will see you as just another face without a name who is there to come and go. With athletes, many of whom have trust issues from years of people coming and going from their lives, it will be an uphill battle to win their trust. Thus, if you don’t actually care about them as people, your chance of winning this trust is about as good as my chance of competing as a single heavyweight in the near future.

If you know me, you know that I have a knack for getting along with linemen. They're actually one of the first groups whose trust I win when I get to a program. So you may be wondering, how does a 100-lb girl win the trust of a group of 300-lb polar opposites? This happens for a few reasons. I take the time to find and fix their weakness, ridding them of areas causing them tightness; I take the time to teach them about their nutrition; and I crack the kinds of jokes they can relate to. From there, I find the time to get to know each player from starter to walk on, sandbagger to hard worker, and freshman to veteran. I work hard at this so that when it comes time for me to leave a program, I'm confident that I've helped as many players as possible. If reading that makes it sound like interning and relating to players is a lot of work, guess what? It is. And if you’re thinking that it’s going to get in the way of your life outside of coaching, I’m here to inform you that it probably will. But I’m also going to tell you loud and clear that coaching and winning your athletes' respect is an art. If you don’t have 10,000 hours plus to dedicate to it, you might want to look into personal training or nutritional sales.

In addition, one of the biggest mistakes I see interns make when it comes to athletes is trying to be their friend. This won't make them respect you. Hanging out with them on weekends isn't cool. Lying about a player’s weight that you recorded so he high fives you isn't cool, and letting them off easy so you can be bros really isn't cool. As an intern, all this will get you is a bad name with coaches. You'll also have footprints on your back as a result of the athletes walking all over you. So remember, while jokes and being friendly is the way to get to know someone, we are coaches first, not best buddies.

I’ll never forget the time a close friend of mine decided he would buddy up with the players. At first, he was on his own version of cloud nine, always hanging out and slapping hands with star players. However, when our boss gave him a platform to see how he coached, it was a train wreck. No one listened to a word he said and the lack of respect stank through the air like someone downing one too many muscle milk shakes. Moral of the story? He learned the hard way. With athletes, friendship doesn’t equal respect the way that one plus one equals two.

How to have them view you as a superior and as a person of knowledge

I will never forget my first internship. Without knowledge and experience, it was so hard for my athletes to view me as a superior. As a result of my obvious inexperience, they treated me as an intern. Hell, I don’t blame them. At that time, I think my biggest regret was that I lacked enough knowledge to help any athlete get better from a technical aspect.

At the end of that summer, I walked away learning a lot from that experience but failed to leaving a lasting impression on those athletes in regards to my coaching skills. To be honest, I think the only impression I made on them was that I cared and maybe that I lived at work. It’s funny to look back and then look forward to the coach I am now. I know now that I've made an impact whether it be through soft tissue work to fix issues, coaching cues on the floor to fix technical issues, or extra exercises to fix injuries. There are many nights that I forgo free time to work on projects to help athletes. It isn't uncommon for me to give up a Saturday night to put together nutrition guidelines customized for athletes in need. While this may seem like a way to run yourself ragged, this is also a way to display your knowledge to athletes and have them view you as a superior, not as a sideline.

Also, as an intern, having confidence is king. If you talk with authority, command a presence, give athletes quality eye contact, and throw in a firm handshake, you command authority from your athletes. How should I know? When I was an intern, the first time I got my own racks, I had kids doing tempo and pauses for rows and shrugs while the rest of the weight room was busting through without a care in the world in regards to technique or control. How did I accomplish this? I demanded it, and with confidence comes control. I also had mentally prepared for that day for months, so I’m pretty sure that helped. So remember, when your time comes, kill it. Speak clearly and confidently and look your athletes in the eye. You'll be surprised to find the respect they give you.

The difference between coaching and yelling

One big mistake I see interns make is yelling and not coaching. While I, too, made this mistake (more times in my first year as an intern than I would like to admit), it’s hard to know the difference when you barely know how to fix your own issues. I've witnessed (and once personally experienced) how this can lead to turning players off to you. If you simply yell incorrect coaching cues for the sake of yelling, eventually you will run into an athlete who gets so fed up that he turns off to you completely and maybe even goes off on you. To me, I think it's essential for interns to hop under the bar and understand the errors that athletes make. I believe that if an intern has under the bar experience, they will have the skills and cues when it comes time to coach.

Remember, athletes don’t get what you’re saying until you say it in a way that they understand. Also, don’t stress if you struggle with this at first. It takes 10,000 hours to master a skill, so as an intern, you will have many learning experiences (that you will later cringe at) before you master the art. Don’t laugh at me, but as an intern, I kept track of the hours I worked on the floor coaching (and I still do) so that I can celebrate the day I hit the 10,000-hour mark!

How being a cheerleader can be the same thing as digging your own grave with an athlete

This was one of my first mistakes as an intern. For me, a lack of knowledge came with overzealous motivation, and with that came unnecessary rep counting and “cheerleading.” In the weight room, guys don’t need you to count everything out loud or shout random noises. This isn’t Anchorman. It’s collegiate strength and conditioning. While your athletes do need motivation, they also need quality coaching.

So remember

If this article was too long for you, just take away the following:

  • You're a coach, not a friend.
  • Care about the athletes.
  • Command respect and display confidence.
  • Don’t be an annoying cheerleader.

That about sums it up until next time when I talk about making an impact with the other interns you work with. As a parting word, take this with you—as an intern, you're the product of your experiences, not your environment. So it’s up to you to dictate whether or not those experiences will result in a positive impact.