Lessons from a New Strength Coach: From Intern to Coach, Part I

We have all been there at one point in time. Whether it was a mentor from those playing days, or someone who kept those playing days away, something happened that made us all want to be the man running the show in the weight room. The classroom days are done, and the path to becoming the man or woman in charge has officially opened. Pretty much everyone reading this should be reminiscing or realizing by now what comes next. The road to becoming a strength coach almost always makes at least one (usually multiple) stop/s as an intern. Sweeping, mopping, loading, and eventually spotting if you stick it out long enough; these are the tasks every intern knows they have coming their way. However if you look at the internship for what it is really is you will find that every day is an opportunity to watch and learn the art which separates the real practitioners from the pretenders. For the intern who works to become a member of the iron brotherhood, they are observant enough to witness the strength coach practice his true craft on a daily basis (If not then that is an entirely separate subject that will be discussed another day). I have seen a lot of stuff about how to “survive” an internship, or how to get that GA spot or even the treasured assistant job. Well this is not one of those posts. Instead this is a lesson learned by a new strength coach, for the new and hopeful strength coaches out there.

For part one of this discussion let’s talk about the internship itself. The most important thing to understand is that the internship is YOURS, and what you get out of it is on YOU. I get it, sweeping floors sucks, especially when the gym has PLAE flooring (great for the weights and athletes, terrible for the intern with the broom in his/her hands). I also get that you have a four year degree and graduated with honors in your Kinesiology program. Hell you might even already have your Masters! But I can tell you this; the weight room doesn’t give a damn how long you’ve been in school, or how well you did. The weight room does however, care about being clean, so you better get that sense of entitlement out of your head now and get to sweeping. That brings me to my first point of this post, and that point is that you have to look in the mirror and ask yourself this. What am I getting out of this internship? 

Take a second look at that question, and think about it objectively. The question asks what YOU are getting out of the internship. It does not ask what the strength coach is giving you. I am going to tell you right now, there is not a single strength coach on this earth who is worth a damn, who didn’t bust his or her ass to make themselves better. I can promise you the strength coach you respect most was not as clear, organized, or spoke with the same conviction on day one as they are today. I would be willing to bet if you asked them yourself, they would tell you that they were not as good a coach yesterday as they are today. If the best coaches on the planet are working to get better every day even now, then what do you think they were willing to do before they attained their well-deserved respect? 

We as the new generation of professionals are living in a time where information is more easily accessible than ever before. An intern today can gain the information base of an experienced coach without even having to leave the office, and in a much shorter amount of time. Using myself as an example, I read a strength training based book, as well as a non-strength training based book every month from January of 2012 until November of 2016. That is just shy of five straight years, or 58 months of reading. Throw that in with just about every article ever put on Westside Barbell’s site, EliteFTS, and T-Nation, and you’ve got quite a foundation to work with. I say this not to brag about my ability to read, as well as the normal person, or to take in information, but to show how a little bit of consistency and want-to can give you a head start when preparing to be a strength coach. 

Having said all that, there is something worth vastly more than any amount of reading can ever give you. One thing that no book or article can ever teach, and that is the greatest teacher of them all, experience. The best part of being an intern, is that you get all sorts of experience throughout the entire process, and the only thing that really limits yours, is the mindset that you take into it each day. Day in and day out, as an intern you have the ability to learn about the set-up of a facility, from the number of racks and weights, to the setup of sessions for teams and individuals. You can learn why a weight room is set up the way it is, and how the room itself dictates the flow of each session. Even if the head coach did not get to design the room themselves, they still have to use it, and by default organize their sessions based on it.

 One of the greatest benefits of being in the new crop of coaches, is that there are a ton of people at the top of the field who want to push the next generation even further. I have heard plenty of fellow interns talk about how their boss didn’t mentor them, or teach them anything. While I am not denying that some internships are more development friendly than others, I do not know there are a ton of coaches in the field who are willing to help anyone who is actively working to improve themselves. But that phrase is the key component. Strength coaches already work insanely long hours, mostly with pay that does not reflect the magnitude of work they have put in. So why should a coach be willing to time and effort into an individual just because they are in the same building? As an intern, the strength coach does not owe you anything, period. But if you show that this profession means something to you, and that you are serious about being a C O A C H, then you will be rewarded by it. Even if you intern under a coach who doesn’t show any interest in developing you, if you really are working to improve yourself, then you will find somebody to reach out to and they will reach back. The resources are numerous, and the ones giving the resources are generally no more than an email or phone call away. If you don’t believe me give it a try, reach out to anyone on the SCDC and see what happens.

The whole point of the first piece in this series is simple, and it doesn’t just apply to strength and conditioning but to any field, and any position. Working hard and paying your dues is part of the process for almost every professional. But hard work in and of itself is only a piece of the puzzle. Those who have visions of greatness, and want to truly have an impact in this world are the ones who don’t only work hard, but work each and every day with a certain mindset. They approach every day as another opportunity to take a step forward, to improve their skillset. The greatest experience of the internship in my opinion, is that it gives the intern the opportunity to find his or her colleagues for the future. Who you surround yourself with has a massive impact on how you approach each day, so think about that the next time you are ready to throw that broom down or skim through your duties. 

Matt Gilbert

Matt Gilbert came to The Spot Athletics from Georgia where he was working with the Kennesaw State University Football Strength and Conditioning Staff. Under the tutelage of Jim Kiritsy, Matt learned how to coach and lead Division I athletes through the entire athlete development process; from the daily training, to developing a long term plan for an entire program. While at Kennesaw State, Matt became a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the NSCA, the governing body of the Strength and Conditioning community.  Prior to his time at KSU, Matt was a volunteer assistant with the Georgia Southern University Strength and Conditioning Staff, working with the football, baseball, men’s and women’s basketball, and women’s volleyball teams. Matt graduated from Georgia Southern University in 2015, where he also was a member of the Football team. His background as an athlete led him to Strength and Conditioning, where he found his passion for helping athletes prepare for the stresses of being involved in sport. This passion has spread to his wanting to help any individual looking to improve their performance or quality of life, and also to help other coaches who have similar passions. Matt follows the simple philosophy of learning to do the basics, doing the basics, and then doing the basics better. This philosophy carries over to his programming and coaching; where he coaches clients through proper patterns, and then teaches and coaches how to load those patterns through different means to improve physical preparation for sport or life.