Strength and conditioning is busting at the seams with people in their early 20s who have come out of some degree programme but haven’t seen the inside of a gym or sports performance facility. I have probably had 30-40 interns in my time as a strength and conditioning coach and I have only been in the field since 2008. If your reading this and want to leave the dream as a full-time strength and conditioning coach the first bit of news I have for you is you better really want to be an S&C coach because full-time jobs are not easy to come by.
You’re not going to get in via the application route either as much as most of these employers want to pretend to be fair and equal opportunity employers the vast majority of people who end up in these roles either have been recommended by someone who the person hiring trusts or they are being promoted from within. It’s not nepotism it’s just the reality of a unregulated and flowing discipline sure we all adhere to the same rules of physiology but one head S&C coach can have a completely different philosophy to another on a whole bunch of issues.
The team dynamic with in a professional sports team is massively important I think the best saying I have ever heard of in professional sport for the team dynamic comes from a quote in Alistair Campbell’s Excellent book “Winners – and how they succeed” – FIFO (Fit In Or Fuck Off) being a key to Burnley FC’s policy. A group without cohesion is not a group that is going to achieve anything in the cut throat world of Professional sport.
Where am I going with this? Realistically you are going to have to work for free to stand any real chance of getting a position within an organisation and not only will you have to work for free for maybe 1-2 years but your also going to have to a great job. I think it is important for students or people looking to switch career that this isn’t an easy field to get into, you’re going to have to make a lot of sacrifices and engage in a lot of self-learning If you even want to just be employed in the field never mind be a good strength and conditioning coach or lead a world class programme.
Now that I think I have expounded upon the realitieis of getting into strength and conditioning as a profession I think we can start to look at how to be a good intern.
Finding an internship.
The first thing you should consider is what kind of strength and conditioning coach you want to be it might not be apparent to most to begin with but learning how to train an athlete for a certain discipline or sport isn’t just plug and play. The dynamics and important aspects of a professional rugby players programme are not even close to being the same as a professional hammer thrower even though both athletes are professional speed and power athletes.
You should single out the sport or kind of organisation you want to specialise in early as it will give you a big leg up getting it clear where you want to end up a few years down the track. Once you have decided upon the sport or type of organisation you want to get your experience in or work in the next thing is getting some connections in the professional teams or institute that are commutable to you or one you can realistically move to or is in close proximity to your location of study.
How to make your connection is the real art in this whole process, sending speculative emails isn’t a lot better than doing nothing but take it from someone who is on the other side of the fence it is also a very quick and easy way to get your email put into the junk mail folder. If you can approach people in an endearing manner you will find it very easy to get into the internship or programme you most desire. The easiest way to get yourself into these positions is to know someone who knows someone, ask around you never know from 2-3 degrees of separation the lead strength and conditioning coach or physio in the performance programme you really want to get into might be your uncle’s best mate.
Outside of knowing someone you might find that the lead coach or assistant coach of the team there are a few ways of courting favour without resorting to cold calling or emailing at random.
- Conferences and open days – if you have the opportunity to attend a support staff or strength and conditioning conference it can be a great way to meet and network with a whole bunch of different coaches. Once you have met and talked to someone you would like to work with just follow it up with a polite email conversation or call chances are you will find this route very easy.
- Courting them on social media – a lot of strength and conditioning coaches are active on social media either twitter (seems to be the big one), linkedin, facebook or youtube. Some even keep blogs and youtube channels (ahem!) it is very easy to reach out to people like this and flattery will normally get you everywhere especially into an intern position! Don’t be a sycophant but a bit of well-meaning discussion and some light complements can open a lot of doors.
How to conduct yourself after you have gotten into an institution.
The most difficult part of this process is finding the right institution or sport that you want to go into. Now you have successfully identified and managed to secure an internship or shadowing opportunity you should be making every pain to try and extract everything you can out of it.
- Tread the line between curious and annoying. Every strength and conditioning coach I have ever met loves to talk about their programme or to expunge at great length their own opinions or display their knowledge in theory or practice of strength and conditioning. You can easily use this to indulge their egos and learn from them as they talk. What you don’t want to do is to become like an annoying 5-year-old child who wants a why for everything and asks it at any opportunity. Push the boundaries initially with questions but note the tell-tale signs of when someone is getting annoyed or agitated (clenched jaw, deliberate aloofness, lack of eye contact etc) and back off at this point. When you know their limit when it comes to questions you know your boundaries, stay within them and you will not only stroke their ego but also keep them onside.
- You have two ears listen twice as much as you talk. You are here because you want to learn either from their experience or you want to gather your own experience, by far the best thing to do in this position is to allow your mentors or seniors to drive the conversation not only will you be more likely to get more out of your interactions as you will be exposed to new opinions and experiences but you will leave a pleasant taste in the mouth. Nothing is better for making friends then letting people talk about themselves.
- Don’t be a silent recluse. There are more than two ways of social interaction whilst it might be better on the balance to be seen and not heard one of the worst things you can do as an intern especially in a team sport is to not interact with coaching, support or playing staff. You don’t have to be the life and soul of the party but being able to hold polite conversation and even show some genuine interest in what others have to say will go a long way to endearing you to the staff.
- The ability to work on your own devices is a godsend from an intern once you have been given a task if you can ownership of it and even over deliver you will become a very useful addition to the team and in some instances you could even make yourself indispensable. You should still seek help when you are stuck but try using some problem solving first it will be great for your development and will save your head coach a lot of headache.
- Be humble and competent. No better mixture of character traits will get you further in life than being humble enough to take advice or come across well in social interaction but also backing this up with a high level of competency will see you go far anywhere in life not only your internship.
How to ensure you get the most you can out of your internship.
You know how to make an outstanding impression and how to secure your position now you have ensured that you are going to be of great use to your lead coach you need to ensure you’re not wasting your own valuable time.
Be clear from the outset what your learning and experience goals are from the internship and communicate them. Sit down with your mentor and lay out what you would want to be able to achieve at the end of your tenure as an intern if that is being able to run an excel data set or if you want to be employable as a strength and conditioning coach in the area you need to make this clear. Once you have the headline or the end goal set out you need to come up with stepping stone goals and put into action how you are going to achieve these stepping stone goals and the time lines you need to achieve them.
You will need to drive these aspects of the programme unless you are in an academy situation or in a very well organised intern programme these elements are almost always ad-hoc and can often fail to materialise if your not forthright in securing them. Strength and conditioning departments are incredibly busy places there is a lot to be done so you shouldn’t be insensitive in your requests but you are due some time investment especially if you are doing the internship as a voluntary position.
You will no doubt get a lot of hands-on time with the sports science side of things if you work with in a professional set up which is good if you want to work as a sports scientist or data analyst but here are a few things you probably won’t get as an intern that you can learn from your mentors.
- Putting exercise physiology into practice
- Planning conditioning programmes
- Planning strength programmes
- Integrating strength and power into game or sport specific transfer activities.
- Man management and relationships.
- Building a repor with those you work with.
- How to interact with the physiotherapy staff.
- Planning an integrating the elements of the programme.
- Prioritising the important things.
- Where to decide when to compromise and for what reasons.
- Exercise technique and coaching.
- Gait analysis and coaching.
- Return to play or reintroducing injured athletes into training.
- How to sequence training correctly.
- Utilising sport science and monitoring to make informed and accurate decisions.
- Statistics and interpreting data.
- Data management.
- Culture creation and how to drive top down and bottom up initiatives.
- How to create an environment where only the optimal outcome is acceptable.
Etc – strength and conditioning is a very deep and nuanced field one where science and practice can aid each other or hinder each other. As an intern you will get time in a professional environment probably with some very talented and astute people. Hopefully this article can tool you up to not only secure the internship you want but also to get the most out of it.