Internships, whether paid or unpaid have many benefits. I’ve done my fair share of internships. Here are some benefits.
Develop a System
Unless you’re working alongside one coach, internships will allow you to observe coaches from a variety of departments – performance, skills, technical, rehabilitation, nutrition etc. This is good as coaches have different ways of coaching and communicating with their athletes. This isn’t just verbal communication, but their visual (body language) forms of communicating. Plenty of teams I’ve had the chance to work with had coaches of differing styles – autocratic, democratic, loud, reserved, alpha-male, the list goes on, but it’s how you get to the end result of improved performance and the athletes buying into you as a coach and person, not the programme. The same goes for programming and periodization. Working with many coaches isn’t about who’s right and who’s wrong, but what ideas can you take from all the coaches you work under, and implement them into your own coaching system and methodology going forward.
During my time in Australia and the USA I was fortunate to work with so many sports. This is huge for interns as all sports have their own culture, their own banter, codes of conduct etc. It requires you to adapt your coaching style to fit the needs of the sport and athletes. The more you can adapt and talk their language, whatever their sport, will only improve your chances of coaching it successfully. There is talk that having previous experience in certain sports increases your chances of employment. I can understand that it demonstrates experience of culture, scheduling, etc but nothing will ever replace good coaching and education. I’ve been fortunate to play sport to a pretty decent level, with many team-mates and previous opponents going on to play semi-professionally/professionally, but don’t know the first thing about the needs, demands or how to coach at all. I think it’s the culture the profession has been brought up in, but doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right.
This goes for earning respect from coaches and athletes. It’s pretty likely you’ll go into an internship and do nothing but setup and breakdown equipment for the first month or so. This isn’t because coaches just see you as an extra pair of hands. This is a test of your attention to detail, organization, and initiative. If you can’t follow a set of basic instructions to setup a few cones and equipment in an order so the session flows smoothly, then how can the coach trust you coaching a technical lift with their star player? You have to earn the right to coach those players. Do the small tasks extraordinarily well and you’ll get your chance to coach. The same applies to building the respect between yourself and the athletes. Most interns are too quick to go in correcting technique when they haven’t even introduced themselves or asked the athlete their name. I think the saying is ‘athletes don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care’ and this is true. I heard a podcast recently featuring Jon Gordon who calls it ‘tough love’. Yes we want to be tough on our athletes, hold them accountable to their part of the training process, but before we can be tough we must love the athletes. Coaches need to go deep inside the athlete and find what makes them tick, what motivates them, why they do what they do. In a squad setting, differing personalities exist, and again we need to be adaptable and call on our experiences of working with different coaches, sports, sexes, and cultures.
The two best experiences I’ve had in life were again in Australia and USA. I’ve never worked so many hours on the floor as I did there, but I loved it. Long days, 5:30 am start to get a workout in, 4-6 groups per day, 2-3 groups in the evenings, finishing at 8:30 pm, there is really nothing better in my opinion. This is just session delivery, not accounting for the planning and evaluation, what went well, what didn’t, what needs to change, what can stay. If you are successful in attaining an internship in a big organization (well done), but you’ll also be doing the ugly jobs. Laundry every hour, wet and dry cleaning the gym floor, organizing the equipment storage, prepping pre-and-post workout shakes. All the little jobs which you think you’re above, but you’re not. I’ve witnessed coaches who’ve been in the game for 20+ years still doing laundry, replacing cutlery, picking up trash off the floor. If you think you’re better than those miniature tasks you’re wrong. I heard several Undergraduate students complain when they were handed their Semester 2 timetable because they had lectures everyday. Firstly, lectures everyday means you’re learning more continually, so if you pay attention you should retain more information. Further, lectures are about 2 hours maximum. If you’re complaining about having 2-4 hours of lectures every couple of days then you will be in a big shock upon entering employment. Saying that, you probably won’t get employed for the reasons just mentioned.
Become Part of Something
I’m sure most people look at internships as another step on their ladder to the end goal. That is fine, but don’t get drawn away from the here and now. You should look to leave a trail of success on all your positions, no matter how good or bad they appear to feel at the time. Yes you could be at a prestigious club/company but if you didn’t contribute anything whilst you were there then it’s worthless. The person who’s interning with a less glamorous sport/organization and performs exceptionally well is more equipped when it comes to making that next step than those aim to use the status of their employers, as opposed to their skills and initiative. By truly embracing the experience you’ll definitely get more out of the internship, it’s what you make of it. If you show that you’re willing to learn and want to contribute, coaches will go out of their way to help you. This relates back to earlier points regarding respect and hard work. I’ve been part of staff and intern teams that were incredible. We all had goals we were chasing, but worked for each other and got our rewards as a result. For me it’s all about the people. The athletes, other coaches, interns – how I can help others achieve their goals. If you can surround yourself with the right people it is so important in achieving your mission.