I have been lucky enough to speak at several conferences about A strength & Conditioning Internship Program including the 2011 Central Ohio Strength & Conditioning Clinic and the 2013 NSCA Coaches Conference. One of my proudest professional moments was when my four part article series on internships was published on

I am in no way an expert, but I can usually provide some insight due to the number of interns (five of whom have written for this site), the number of institutional obstacles we had to overcome, and the number of mistakes I had to learn from. The first part of this is an excerpt from one of the articles concerning the mistakes I learned as a coach. The next three  are how I would do things differently.

The three biggest mistakes coaches make when taking on strength and conditioning interns:

Not having the time to train and develop the interns.

The more assistants you have, the more work it will be for you to delegate and train the interns on how you need things done. This is why retaining interns for multiple semesters or having them volunteer as graduates after an internship can assist you with the development process.

Not treating your interns like coaches.

If you treat these young aspiring strength coaches as gophers and only let them observe, wipe down benches, and perform menial tasks, they won’t learn to act like coaches. In the short term, this may not negatively affect your program directly, but over time this will cause problems. A good portion of your interns will move on to other positions. Their knowledge base (or lack thereof) is a direct reflection of your program.

Allowing interns that aren’t meeting your expectations to continue the internship.

You, as the head strength coach, need to have the courage to fire volunteers. Too many young coaches feel like they’re “doing you a favor” by working for you for free. Oftentimes, a strength coach may find himself in a position where he may even need those volunteers because of a lack in staffing. It is imperative as the head strength and conditioning coach to not allow inappropriate behavior or below average performance for very long.

The three things I would do differently when taking on strength and conditioning interns:

Have a minimum hourly requirement.

I really don’t believe you can even scratch the surface on what it takes to be a strength & conditioning coach with an internship that is less than 600 hours for a semester. 600/15=40 hours per week. I realize this is not feasible for undergraduate interns, so develop a level system and be creative with your terminology.

Undergraduate Interns

  • Strength & Conditioning Student Assistant–10 hours
  • Strength & Conditioning Student Coach–20 hours

Graduate or Graduated Interns

  • Strength & Conditioning Coaching Assistant–30 Hours
  • Strength & Conditioning Assistant Coach–40 hours

The problem happens when you have young men or women that are a part of your program and average 10 hours per week. You have had limited time to teach them, mentor them, and accurately evaluate their strengths and weaknesses and what they need to improve on. You really can’t help them.

I would have been better off not accepting an intern if they couldn’t be there for a minimum required time. I should have set this, not the host institution. I took on too many interns so I could cover teams and not to give them a learning opportunity. They got experience without demonstrating proficiency at coaching.

Incorporate all three phases of the internship experience and evaluate all three.

I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Brian Thompson who is a professor at the Springfield College in Massachusetts. Springfield is a collegiate strength & conditioning factory and the mecca of developing S&C coaches. A lot of this has to do with their academic reputation for multifaceted development of coaches. Dr. Thompson was one of the first professors to explain a third characteristic of their program in addition to the scientific foundation and the practical application. That skill would include coaching education, which is a different skill set that knowing how and why to perform a specific exercise.

Mandatory lectures, presentations, research, along with the most valuable of all learning; informal discussion between training sessions.

Although it is difficult to gauge specific curriculum requirements because you will have athletes from different academic backgrounds and experiences, it is important not to overlook any aspect of the basic knowledge they should have.

This reminds me of a chart that Amy Wattles shared a while back:

Make the interns train together and with me.

This is undoubtedly the most important lesson I learned and the biggest mistake I made. I talked with JL Holdsworth about how he makes all of his coaches and interns train together and coach each other. My old boss at Army and one of my greatest mentors, Scott Swanson had me train with him when I first started at West Point. This was extremely valuable to me because he was able to expose some of my weak points and we got to know each other. The best way to really know someone is to see them struggle. Better yet, to struggle together. Whether physical or mental, it is still a microcosm of what life may bring.

I had a great group of interns. Most were very passionate about strength training. Some had to realize that being strong and getting others strong are two different skill sets. The first will feed your ego, the second will feed your family.

Even if these guys were competing in different sports, we tried to train together. There was an effort to coach each other, but there was still a missing element. The interns who were not competing in strongman, Olympic Lifting or Powerlifting did not get an opportunity to perform all of those disciplines.

It is especially regretful that even the interns that were not competing in anything were dead set on their training programs. Why did I let them do their own thing and I never made them perform a hang snatch, a tire flip, a trap bar deadlift, etc. I should have made everyone train at some point with me and show me they could perform every single lift we had our athletes perform!

How can I ask my interns to teach athletes to perform a lift when I had not seen them perform it?

Training together and getting your intern out of their comfort zone will better prepare them. The biggest compliment anyone can ever give me is a positive sentiment about my former interns. I should have demanded more from them. I would rather them hate me back then for being to hard on them than hate me now for being to easy.

Just my thoughts.