So You Wanna Be a Strength Coach? Read This First

   

You want to be a strength coach and you are looking to get your foot in the door. The glamorous life of working with athletes has got you completely seduced and you are chomping at the bit to get a shot at becoming a coach.

Well let me tell you something: it’s not all that it is cracked up to be and the long hours, being on your feet all day and working for next to no pay (if at all) is one of the harsh realities of this business. But if you insist, let me show you the way.

Are You SURE You Want To Be a Strength Coach?

The life of a strength coach is a hard one. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do and who I get to work with, but there is a severe adjustment that has to be made when entering into this profession.

What seems like the most exciting job ever (working with high level athletes, standing on the sidelines of football games, living in a weight room) quickly becomes something dramatically different. What appears to be a profession of nothing but good times turns into 60-80 hours a week, working with many athletes who are not at all motivated, dealing with coaches who think they know everything (including how to do your job), missing your family and burning the candle at both ends.

Waking up at 4am doesn’t sound sexy at all, does it? It becomes a harsh reality. Chasing around athletes practically begging them to give you a good effort on a daily basis, not to mention attempting to get them to simply show up can be a day to day event… you’re still reading aren’t you?

I’m not going to be able to talk you out of this, am I?

Okay. I can’t speak for every head strength coach in the country. And I know I don’t do things that are considered conventional. But I am going to give you some practical expectations when venturing into this profession via an internship.

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Your First Step: Observation

First off, an internship/volunteer job is required. Because of the above mentioned lifestyle changes you will need to make, most of us guys who have been in the business don’t want to spend time, or our budget dollars on people who are wishy-washy about their intentions. When looking to hire an assistant, one of the first things I look for is how much voluntary time they have dedicated to their experience.

If you haven’t worked for free, for a considerable amount of time (up to a year), I’m not going to waste my time interviewing you.

I need to know that you understand the level of time and effort this is going to demand, and if you will do it for free for an extended period of time, I know your heart is in it.

Where I work, I am basically setting my interns up to force me to keep them around. I have two entry points into an internship with my program. First, walking in and asking if you can volunteer. We do not pay for internships in my shop. The second way is to schedule an internship for class credits through our Kinesiology program. This typically means you will be with me for 10 weeks and we will have a few class projects that you will be responsible for. But either way, my approach remains the same.

RELATED: 9 CAREER DEVELOPMENT LESSONS FOR THE UP AND COMING STRENGTH COACH

The first month of your internship is pure observation. Becoming a really good coach starts with developing your eye. That means watching thousands and thousands of reps. You will stand and watch the athletes train, and we will not approach you for anything. No, you won’t have to clean, you won’t have to spot, and you won’t have to interact with a soul if you choose not to. I will not be approaching you for instruction, I won’t be giving insight on what we do and I won’t be volunteering any information. If you have a question for me or for one of my assistants, you need to ask. Yes, I will be friendly and candid with my answers, but I’m not going to beg you to learn.

Believe it or not, this chases 90% of the people I have had “intern” with me away. They walk in with an expectation and quickly leave understanding that they are a low man on the totem pole and I have too many athlete to work with to be chasing them around offering up excess attention to the new guy. In reality, this helps me know if you really want to do this. I truly don’t have time grooming someone for this business and then them leaving to go work at Enterprise Rent-a-Car after it is all said and done.

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Your Second Step: Operations & Housekeeping

After your initial month of observation has come and gone we will begin to show you the ins and outs of the day-to-day. You will be expected to join me on various mornings when we open, usually our earliest mornings. Most of those days start before 5am. This second month will be about operations.

No, not simply working with the kids, but more of housekeeping duties. Printing of sheets, organizing the space and cleaning, taking attendance, setting up drills etc. The jobs that I am tired of doing after almost 20 years in the profession. Yes, you will have more contact with the athletes, but we need to give you a real-time example of the things most people don’t think about when they think about becoming a strength coach.

Your Third Step: More Observing and Some Interaction

In the latter stages of the internship, we will allow you to spot, maybe work with an individual one-on-one on something general, or lead a warm up. We will dive heavily into how I think… how I program… how I approach teaching. This is your opportunity to become a sponge.

I have a two solid coaches on my staff and the three of us have very different experiences. This creates a great learning opportunity for you because of the considerable amount of flexibility we have as a staff when we design programs. The hope is you can walk away from 10-12 weeks and carry on an intelligent conversation with another strength coach. It’s impossible to get you fully equipped in that short time to go out and find a job in the industry, but it is a great way to get the ball rolling.

What I can tell you is, I am one of the nice guys. I have heard horror stories of interns in other programs basically becoming janitors who are not allowed to interact with the athletes whatsoever. Stories of coaches who force interns to open and close, to skip lunches to go grab dry cleaning and run errands.

That’s not me. I don’t want to make you a slave, I just want to you to have a practical experience that will help you make an educated decision if this profession is a right fit for you.

Homecoming games, fireworks, PR’s, sub 4.5 40s are less than 1% of what the day looks like for us. It’s what attracts most of us, but those things happen only a couple times a year.

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I know I mentioned this before, but I think what all of you need to understand is that you don’t deserve to be paid for your internship. In fact, I will never budget money to go towards interns. Your payment is access. Access to me, access to my program, access to my athletes, and perhaps access to a sideline pass if I feel like throwing you a bone. I have worked this very job I have right now alone. 21 sports, over 500 kids, and no one to work with them but little ole me. I don’t need interns. Typically, interns end up being more work than they are worth. So abandon the idea you deserve to be paid.

I have had nearly 50 volunteers/interns in the close to 20 years of doing this job. Of the 50, 4 have made it to actual paid jobs.

4 guys who were serious about being part of the industry, 4 guys who weren’t afraid to sacrifice to get where they wanted, 4 guys who meant what they said.

The remaining 40+ quickly realized that this was not for them. My observational month was enough to keep most people from coming back.

Closing Thoughts

I’m going to leave you with this. My mentor, Mike Kent (Head S&C for Florida Football) took me under his wing my senior year. The only reason he did was because I wouldn’t leave him alone. He’d show up at O-dark-thirty, and there I stood. He would look up in the middle of the day and I was by his side. And, I would hold his stuff for him when he would lock up the facility at closing time. I didn’t give him room to breathe. I was hungry and was willing to do anything it took to get time with him, watch him coach, and absorb whatever I could.

Every day-EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

I would show up and he would say to me, “You don’t want to do this job.”

He’d then list all the reasons why, I would smile and then we would get to work. He said it every day.

And here I am.

RELATED: 9 CAREER DEVELOPMENT LESSONS FOR THE UP AND COMING STRENGTH COACH

About The Author

Chris Holder comes to the TrainHeroic Blog with over thirty years as an athlete and coach. Chris is the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in California. A football player first and then spending his entire professional coaching career at the college level, Holder has been in love with everything weight lifting since he was a little boy.

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