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5 Steps to Building a Successful Internship Program

Ryan Metzger
Aug 25, 2022

Interning in the strength and conditioning field has evolved; it has become extremely competitive. Gone are the days of emailing a strength and conditioning professional asking to be part of the program but so are the days of interns only being allowed to clean, set up, and breakdown. In order for a facility to appeal to young professionals, a logo and name will no longer cut it. Having a robust internship curriculum will set your organization apart from others and draw in a higher talent level due to the desire to learn among these individuals. I have been fortunate enough to be the Intern Director at Virginia Commonwealth University, Clemson University and now the University of Tennessee. Although the role may be similar, the curriculum and needs of the program have changed based on the philosophies of those involved in the education of the interns. Curriculum will differ based on the program, but a few key elements should remain the same.

1. Define your Program Philosophy

Whether you are building an internship curriculum from scratch, taking over an internship curriculum that is already in place, or looking to revamp a current curriculum, it will be important to start with defining the philosophy of your program.

  • What are the written principles of which your program operates when training athletes?
  • Does every coach on staff follow a similar process or does everyone have their own area of expertise?
  • What are the main ideas and concepts aligned with your program’s philosophy that you want each intern to understand at the completion of their internship?

Once these questions have been answered, you will have a template on which you can begin building your umbrella topics.

Sample Power Program

2. Identify Umbrella Topics

Once your program philosophy has been defined, choosing umbrella topics for your curriculum will start to take shape. Umbrella topics are overarching themes that you want to use to educate interns.

These may include things like:

Umbrella topics should be general in nature, and it is important to keep the number of umbrella topics to a minimum. Choosing too many umbrella topics can potentially overwhelm your interns and water down your ability to properly educate interns in these areas. I have found that choosing four to five umbrella topics is ideal; this allows you the ability to spend a few weeks in each area, expand on certain topics and still give your curriculum variety while providing a general knowledge base.

3. Break it Down

After deciding on your umbrella topics, begin to break down each area further; here is where you can start to specialize in your curriculum. If you chose resistance training as one of your topics, what specifically about resistance training do you want your interns to learn?

  • Proper warmups before a lifting session?
  • Annual cycles and periodization?
  • Staple movements in your program?
  • Modifications?
  • Exercise selection and order?

These are all great areas to explore, and we can dive down rabbit holes on them all but before doing that, keep a couple things in mind when deciding how far to breakdown your umbrella topics; the length of time your internship group will be spending with your facility and the general knowledge base of your group. Both of these factors will dictate how much you can and should breakdown your topics. Being too specific or spending too much time in one area may potentially mean the material is too in-depth for your interns to comprehend at this point in their career, and you will then need to spend less time in one of your other topics in order to cover all the material you have planned.

4. Address Additional Content 

Much of this article has focused on teaching the principles of strength and conditioning which can be done through reading material but what other areas are important to teach a young professional how to become a successful strength and conditioning coach? The act of coaching is practical and therefore your curriculum should include opportunities for practical application. Give your interns the opportunity to learn on the floor as a coach. Ask them to take you through a movement in your lift, ask them to spot technical errors. Include discussions on body language, proper use of cues and how to approach athletes based on their sport and training age. Include programming projects, presentations, and open discussions. Ask others connected to your department to get involved. Set up a meeting with the nutrition staff so they can discuss their role in athletics, ask the sports medicine team to discuss their philosophy behind injury risk reduction and the necessary collaboration with strength and conditioning professionals, get a sport coach to interview an intern if they are getting ready to make the next step in their career. Finally, a personal favorite of mine to include, training! Have your interns train in your facility. This will give them an opportunity to write up their own programs, experiment and learn. These are all valuable areas that coaches need to excel in or at least be exposed to in order to be successful as a young professional.

5. Build Relationships

Lastly, this field is a service industry. Often when that is said, it is assumed I am only speaking in reference to athletes; this extends to interns as well. If you are part of a program that runs an internship, it is important for you to provide the best service you can for those who choose to learn from you and your staff. Spending time with your interns and building relationships with them is extremely valuable. Since interning has become so competitive, many of these young professionals are moving to new cities and states, living with roommates they’ve never met until move-in day and are spending the majority of their day in your facility. Treat them to a lunch, plan a staff activity on a weekend, ask them how their day is going or if they have any feedback on the session they just helped you coach. Making the experience as positive and enjoyable for them as possible is mutually beneficial. Having great reviews of your internship will only continue to grow the name of your facility and the desire of others to be there but it will also allow you to make lasting connections with these individuals who will hopefully become rockstars in the field.

Building an internship curriculum can be overwhelming and it is a task that shouldn’t be taken lightly. This is just a general guideline to building and refining a curriculum, but each facility should have a curriculum that is unique to them and may be constantly changing. As you begin to implement your curriculum you may find certain areas need more exploring while others need to be cut out. Auditing your internship curriculum from time to time is also helpful to avoid becoming stale. If nothing else, remember to treat your interns well and have some fun along the way.

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