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It's Time to Pay Your Interns

Harrison Elias
Jan 11, 2024

If you’re a full time strength and conditioning coach today, chances are you had to do more than a couple internships to even get your foot in the door. Especially if you are a full time college strength and conditioning coach. Personally, I had to do 3 internships before getting paid as a strength coach…and that was at a private facility. Then I had to do 2 more internships before I could become a GA. Then after being a GA I had to do a “professional internship” before I could even be considered for a full time college coaching job, which I eventually was offered. By the way, in that paid internship, I made $18k for the year while being in charge of 4 D1 teams and assisting with football. 

When I talk to friends outside of the coaching industry, they tell me that they do 1 paid internship (a lot more than $18k) and then they are typically hired either at that company, or one just like it. I get it, schools and private facilities are much different than big multimillion dollar corporations, well, at least private facilities are… but we need to do better. Do we need less steps aka less education for coaches? No, not necessarily. I learned a lot at each of my internships. But there are a few things we need to stop doing with interns, and other things we need to start doing with interns immediately.

Now, why do I think I’m uniquely qualified to tackle this problem? I’ve seen every single angle of the coaching/fitness industry. I have my Masters in Exercise Science from Springfield College where I was a GA in charge of 2 teams, while I taught a couple undergrad courses. I was a full time strength coach at both URI and Boston College. I’ve worked in private facilities that you’ve never heard of working with kids as young as 8, and elderly women as old as 80. I’ve also worked in private facilities you have heard of like Mike Boyles S&C working with current and future pro’s and Olympians. Now, I own and operate my own private facility in Connecticut that specializes in youth sports performance for ages 10+ and adults 40+. I took over this facility while it was going under and turned it profitable in less than a year with over 130 members and counting. The facility is now called Elias Sports Performance (shameless plug). All this to say, I’ve seen some things and done some things. 

Some of the things I’ve seen in my past internships were pretty bad. Borderline abusive. 80+ hour weeks, being forced to pay for parking on campuses and pay for meals; if we even had time to eat, eating and working out of broom closets, all while not getting paid a dime because we all signed papers that had the magic word “Volunteer” on them. In some cases, when a full time coach or director sees the word volunteer, they basically take that as, I can run this person into the ground and all they can say is thank you sir may I have another. To them, it’s free labor, after which the only thing you get from them is a letter of recommendation to be able to go to another school or gym and do it all over again for free. I’m genuinely curious how many good coaches and trainers we’ve lost to this system simply because they couldn’t afford to do all of this for free, and didn’t have time to work a second and third job because if they weren’t in the weight room 24/7 they were seen as undedicated. 

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If this has ever happened to you, or you know someone this has happened to, raise your hand. Good, now that we’re all raising our hands, let’s solve the problem instead of saying “well we had to go through it so now everybody does, cause it builds character”.  Are we going to fix every problem with the system all at once right away? No. However there are two problems that bother me the most that can be solved immediately. 

Problem number 1: Interns should be coaching, not cleaning. I’ve done internships where I think I did just as much mopping and wiping as I did coaching. This drives me nuts. Here is a list of things my interns don’t do. Clean bathrooms, mop floors, vacuum, organize weights, shovel snow. Now here’s a thing my interns do every minute they are at the gym. COACH! Whether it's a 90 hour or a 400 hour intern, they start coaching Day 1. Part of the reason we are able to do this is because with our youth athletes especially, everything we do is very basic. Assuming the classroom didn’t completely fail them, it shouldn’t take more than 10-20 min to break down the lift and teach interns basic form, cues and coaching tips. If you’re wondering how the cleaning gets done, the answer is we pay people for that. I have people who come in a couple times a week to clean bathrooms and mop the gym floors and vacuum the turf, etc. If someone does a job for you, pay them. Which leads us to problem number 2… that’s so easy to solve it hurts. 

PAY YOUR INTERNS! Here’s the deal I made with all my interns; as soon as they finish their hours for school, however many there may be, I will pay them for every hour that they continue to work after that. Like many of you, I would finish my 90 or 400 hours and then continue to work for no pay, because if I didn’t, I sure wouldn’t get a good recommendation. So I’m paying it forward, literally. No intern will work for me unless they are counting it as hours, or getting paid. It’s not a lot of money. It’s $10 an hour. Far below minimum wage, but 10x more what any coach or school in the past was willing to do for me. 

So here’s my challenge to all private facilities and multimillion dollar college athletic departments. Get interns coaching day 1, stop making them clean or “pay their dues”, and for the love of god, pay them! These two simple and immediately applicable steps could completely change the course of an intern's career path for the better.

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