Every year we host 3 Internships - Summer, Fall, and Spring. We typically host between 2-6 interns during these blocks, and in total over the past 3-years have mentored 34 young professionals looking to break into the coaching, fitness, or S&C world.
Having been an intern at a Big 10 school and now managing a ton of interns, I have seen my fair share of the good, bad, and ugly when it comes to internships.
Our goal is to have our internship experience be the most valuable thing these students do in their collegiate career. That and actually coach! During my time spent as an intern, I was mostly a glorified spotter - with most of my duties being set-up, tear down, observation, and cleaning - not a whole lot of actual coaching.
Pair that with my an undergraduate degree that left a TON to be desired in terms of practical information. In fact, I'd go as far to say I didn't learn a shred of practical information during my time as an undergrad, and nor was it emphasized. I learned far more doing my own personal research, talking with coaches, reading for hundreds of hours, and soaking in everything I could during my internship.
I see it with all my interns, their practical knowledge of biomechanics, anatomy and physiology, exercise technique and prescription, and coaching/cueing/communication is extremely poor.
These students come to as juniors and seniors and we have to spend hours talking about exercise technique, communication and cueing, how to spot global movement errors, how a neutral spine looks like, what a good lower leg alignment looks like, and how to actually coach!
It's baffling these things aren't reiterated to death in undergraduate programs - I have high school students who know this stuff by just training with us for a couple of years.
All this is fine and dandy, as we take responsibility to REALLY educate these students on the nuances of S&C. Every intern we've ever had, during our exit interview, states they learned more during the past 4-months then the past 4-years at school! - That's our goal.
We also use our internship to potentially hire or recommend for future positions. We won't hire someone who hasn't interned or volunteered a quality amount of time so we can see first hand how well they interact with the athletes and their ability to coach in our environment. Remember the internship is basically a long interview process.
Second, as our web of contacts continues to grow - we love to see our past interns go on and do great things. Currently we have 3 past interns working with Division 1 schools, 2 working in Division II schools, 3 are High School sport coaches, 2 are in graduate school, and 1 is a health coach for a large business.
We take pride in helping our interns in any manner possible, BUT we also have very high expectations for our interns and as past interns can tell you we are very particular when it comes to work ethic, body language, and attitude.
Here are 6 things, that take NO extreme levels of knowledge, all interns should exhibit if they want to stand out.
1. Don't Be Lazy!
Seriously, there is nothing, I mean NOTHING more frustrating than an intern that just stands there or walks around and doesn't say or do anything. In our environment, interns should have a light sweat going from constantly moving, spotting, stripping weights, demonstrating, coaching, etc.
We don't like lazy athletes as coaches - so don't be a lazy intern!
2. Be There Early, Stay Late
This is an old saying, but it's tremendously true. We take notice who is consistently here first and who stays around asking if there is anything else to do. We also take notice who strolls in at JUST the last second and who is asking if they can leave.
For the latter, please don't ask for a reference because you will not get one.
3. Mirror What The Head Coach Says/Does
We expect our interns to come in with a lack of practical knowledge, but that doesn't mean they can't be effective.
The greatest thing an intern can do is be adaptable and be a keen observer to how the head coach coaches.
It drives me nuts when I lead a couple of groups through a movement practice and I use specific cues, specific mobility exercises, specific rest periods, and demonstrate/coach a specific way with a specific language and when it's the interns time - they don't do the same.
It takes no skill to observe and apply specific coaching that you JUST SAW multiple times. It's called being a student and learning.
I go bonkers when I lead 2-3 groups, and when the intern is up, they look at me and ask what's next, what should I say, what should I be looking for?
Do things and mirror in the manner the head coach wants - it'll make everyones life easier.
4. You're Opinions Don't Matter - On The Floor
Every once in a while we'll get an intern that has read some things or follows blogs or has some actual experience under the bar. This is great - except when they then try to teach something in a manner that we don't want to be taught.
Let's get this clear - you are the intern and you do things OUR way. Eventually you'll put in the time and earn the right to do your own programs/teams, but right now - I don't care what you read in the latest article on T-Nation, this is MY facility and we'll do things MY way.
I would never walk into another coaches environment and start critiquing the way they are coaching or say they should be doing a technique like this - not that.
If you want to piss off a coach in the baddest way - this is a surefire bet.
This doesn't mean you can't have questions - but on the floor, in front of athletes is NOT the place. Especially in a combative or questioning manner. Trust me, I have far more experience and far deeper understanding for the way I coach, and just because you read something doesn't mean you overstep our coaching cues/techniques.
We have weekly staff meetings for this, and that is the appropriate time to bring up questions.
Anticipation is every coaches dream. When I don't have to say something, and I turnaround and see I a drill set-up or a piece of equipment out and ready - it's amazing.
Every program has a specific flow and progression to it. Every program has the training sessions written on either a whiteboard or athlete card - read the training, anticipate when things/equipment will be needed, and have things ready for the head coach.
The head guy has a hundred other things to worry about and having a piece of equipment out and ready without having to tell somebody makes their job soooo much better!
6. Be The Good Guy
Every once in a while we'll get that intern that wants to be a badass and show how much of a tough, meathead he/she is.
Guess what - you're not and the athletes can see right through that.
You're responsibility is to help carry out the head coaches programming, assist in set-up tear down, apply specific coaching cues, spot, and most of all - BE THE GOOD GUY.
I'll be the dick and play mean cop if the athletes need a kick in the ass - that's not your job nor your place.
You should be the supportive, positive coach and do the little things for the athlete. The head coach will provide the discipline and control when needed.
If you do all of these things, you will impact the athletes, impress the coaches, and leave a lasting impression on the environment.
You know how I know if my interns leave a lasting impression... This simple checklist is an easy way I know if my interns impacted the athletes in a positive manner.