Saturday, July 19, 2014

Strength and Conditioning Internships: When Reality Strikes

By: Josh Trammell

Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep!


That's my alarm. It's 4 AM and I’m pissed off. Welcome to the world of the strength and conditioning internship.

5 AM: "I need 24 reds, 12 blues, and 12 yellows outside."

In coach speak, this means the following:
  • 24 reds = 24 45lb plates
  • 12 blues = 12 35lb plates
  • 12 yellows = 12 25lb plates

In total, this is approximately 1800lbs. What you don't know is that by "need"  what Coach really wants is for the interns to carry those plates about a quarter mile out to the practice field (in addition to 6 prowlers). Additionally, we have to:
  • Set up the weight room
  • Make smoothies and protein shakes for the athletes
  • Make sure all water tanks are full
  • Fold and distribute towels to various locations, and
  • Stock the athlete's locker room with a various variety of snacks and food for the day.

And all this is expected to be done prior to the 6 AM football group.

8 AM: “Josh, I need you to stay here and make sure all of the athletes on the special weight gain list come in here and drink 2 shakes and finish off a bag of trail mix before they leave.” Awesome. Baby sitter status achieved. “Man, why I gotta stay?? You ain’t make no otha players stay. Mann…” Berated by the players on the special weight gain list for upholding the rules? Check.

11 AM: Lunch time! But oh wait… I’ve already worked 6 hours, and have about 90 minutes to train and eat before setting up for the 1:30 group. Did I already mention us interns had moved over 1800lbs of weight outside? I REALLY don’t feel like training.

2 PM: Three athletes in one particular group have thrown up, and conditioning has just barely started. One coach jogs up to me and says "Hey man, you look pretty fast, go join that prowler group and help them out." Needless to say, this is not what I had in mind on the first day of my internship.

Here, they have a singular rule: the athletes (and coaches) are forbidden to put their hands on their hips, heads, or bend over at all during conditioning. So, an hour later, after doing my best not to wheeze and keel over after several series of prowler sprints, I took the group through their weight training for the day.

5 PM: The last group has finished up, and it's time to clean up the weight room. This includes disinfecting the bars and dumbbells, wiping down any benches or machines used during the training sessions, cleaning out the blenders, and making sure the weights are where they're supposed to be on each rack. But wait, there's more! Remember those weights we took outside? Now we get to take them ALL inside and put them in their respective spots!

Doesn’t that schedule just sound fantastic?!

Contrary to what the tone of the article may imply, I'm not trying to steer anyone away from interning for collegiate strength and conditioning programs. However, I'm not going to ignore the harsh realities of the internship . At times, there WILL be days like this, or days where you’re in the gym from 5 AM to 7 PM, sweaty and exhausted, and just want to hit the drive thru at McDonald’s and go to sleep. That's just how it is. Is it worth it? I’ll leave that up to you to decide. One thing is for sure: you WILL work 50+ hours a week some weeks, WITHOUT being paid. Here, you have three options: 1) suck it up, 2) quit, or 3) be lucky enough to receive one of the VERY, VERY few paid internships that exist here in the United States. By the way, you have to know people to even hear about some of these.

So here’s the deal. You’ve got a crazy schedule. You’re going to be working extremely hard. You may or may not have a good internship coordinator. If your coordinators suck, here’s what you can expect to encounter: coaches who may or may not berate you in front of the entire sports team; coaches who get pissed off at you for teaching a lift how one of the OTHER coaches taught you how to teach it; coaches who decide to change a lift mid-session and NOT tell you about it; and coaches who simply want to use you for what you are to them - indentured servants disguised as ‘interns’. You will experience the feeling of ecstasy you get when teaching an athlete a difficult lift and it all ‘clicks’ for him or her, as well as experience feelings of tremendous self-doubt when no matter what you do, your athletes continue to suck it up. When you look all around you and see players get injured left and right, and realize the programming is probably responsible for most of these overuse injuries, the cognitive dissonance you will experience while continuing to coach said program will be astounding.

“How in the world do you deal with those issues?”

I’m glad you asked! In the coming weeks, this series of articles will contain several tips:
  • Dealing with a terrible intern coordinator staff
  • Dealing with coaching inconsistencies
  • Being prepared for the worst (when sessions get turned upside-down)
  • How to address self-doubt and cognitive dissonance

And other issues besides. My internship experience has proven to be very successful despite dealing with all of the above issues, and I think my experience can add tremendous value to any potential internships you may have. It’s not all bad, and if you play your cards right, coaches will grant you more and more responsibility, and your network may just explode with potential.

Sounds good right?

Now it’s your turn - what weird, ridiculous, or otherwise crazy stories do you have from your internships?


  1. Where do I begin. I work at the same university that I played football, and for some reason I am at the bottom of the "I like you" list for the head football coach. Aside from the awkward feelings when he comes around it could be worse. But then there is the tennis coach. Deep down inside, he is a good man. On the outside he is the micromanager of the micromanagers. I've spend hours trying to justify programming, and have watched him and other strength coaches get into swearing, screaming, 6 a.m. in the morning fights. That could be the worst, but it isn't.
    During the summer, when the head strength coach is gone I get to run all of the football workouts. Yipee. Nothing has ever made me so angry than when a football player refuses to listen to your authority. "No" is worse than any four letter word they could say. All of my screaming, coercing, and pleading does nothing but make the obedient players cringe. Nothing tops a 12 hour day off like some prideful kid telling you he doesn't give a crap about you.

  2. I can totally commiserate with the athletes refusing to accept your authority. There's nothing you can do about it, and I think a lot of it has to do with the 'intern' label. To put it frankly, athletes don't respect interns. No matter what you do, there will be some athletes who just won't listen to what you say, period. It's sad, but true.

    I also think the culture set up within the university's S&C program in large part dictates how the interns will be treated, so in some ways, this lack of respect is reflected back upon the S&C staff, and ultimately, the head coach of the team.