In the last article in the ‘how to become a strength and conditioning coach’ series, I looked at how to get the knowledge, qualifications and competence-base required for the entry-level strength and conditioning coach. Click here to read it if you missed this post! Before I get into this let’s remember why we do what we do. This is about helping others to achieve their version of success, whatever that looks like.
Getting Experience as a strength and conditioning coach
So this post is all about the key element that every strength and conditioning coach needs in abundance, experience.
I guess it’s a bit like money in that once you have some, you’ll find it easier to get more of it (so I’ve heard)! But getting that initial experience is the initial challenge so this post will focus on that.
Experience is the key to developing into a great strength and conditioning coach. Simply getting your hands on bodies day after day for hours on end will improve your coaching and your confidence in training people no end. It will also highlight the areas of your knowledge that you need to improve on which then should guide your reading and continuing education.
There is more to strength and conditioning than standing in the weight room and designing strength programmes. You need to actually coach people. In that you must take them from point A to point B. This takes human interaction and coaching skill.
In addition to that you need to get out on the field and deliver group conditioning sessions, you need to write the programmes, you need to coach plyometrics and movement drills to different sports and learn the intricacies of each sport, and you need to work with hundreds of different bodies in all shapes and sizes. This is only ever going to come with time, effort, commitment and hard work!
Starting your journey into strength and conditioning
There are a couple of crucial character traits that you need in abundance before you start you journey into strength and conditioning.
The first thing you need to look at is your work ethic! Are you a hard working person willing to go that extra mile to put yourself in front of other ambitious people? I say it all the time to the interns that work with me, this job is manual labour! Stripping bars down, putting them back up, shouting across the room at people to get them to do what you want them to do, does that sound like you cup of tea? If not, I strongly suggest you look at other avenues for a career as it really is not for shrinking violets!
The second thing to address is attention to detail, do you let things go when times get hard, do you let standards slip? If so it’s going to be a difficult job for you and you’ll struggle to get results. Of course nearly everyone who reads this post will say “Nope that’s not me, I’m super hard working and have a high attention to detail”, but do you really? I see it all the time with new interns and I know my peers running gyms and working in performance sport do too.
Many are just not able to achieve that standard.
If you’ve read any of my articles on developing skills under fatigue you’ll know I talk about TUF, SUF and DUF which is taken from Kelvin Giles work. Technique, Skills and decision-making under fatigue. Well there is also another one that is the catalyst for all three of the ones listed and that is CUF, which stands for Coaching Under Fatigue! Maintaining your standards of coaching at 7pm when you’ve been coaching for 10 hours is hugely important in this role. Of course you need to have that attention to detail when your fresh and then build on the endurance just like you would do strength, power etc….Its all so simple really!!
Okay, so hopefully you haven’t been put off this and are raring to go and get some experience in the industry so lets examine how to get that all important first opportunity.
The best place in the UK to look for internships and opportunities in strength and conditioning is the UK Sport Job site. This site lists everything going on (in this country anyway). My advice, go for these opportunities!
They give you great exposure to elite athletes, much more so than if you were getting paid to do a job somewhere else. Who’s going to trust their athletes in the hands of someone with no experience? It doesn’t make sense!
You’ve got to put your ego to one side and accept that you need to start at the bottom of the ladder! This is not dependant on age either, it’s all about experience. I’ve worked with interns in there late 30’s/early 40’s who’ve changed career and decided to go into strength and conditioning, as well as undergraduates with no life experience whatsoever, and pretty much everything in between! Everyone brings different strengths to the table but the search for that experience is the key!
Even though there are quite a few voluntary opportunities out there, the demand still far outweighs the supply making the job market very competitive. In short, to get that all important first opportunity whether it be internship, observation of sessions, paid work etc, you need to demonstrate to whoever it is that is potentially offering you a role how committed you are to the field before you even get in to the interview situation. I remember sending out emails to strength and conditioning coaches asking them questions, going and meeting people off my own back, with nothing guaranteed at the end just to make connections and get some gems of wisdom from people who have been doing it a lot longer then me!
Show that commitment up front and people will value it.
By doing this when that internship comes up with that person or organisation, they will know who you are when your CV and cover letter gets through which bumps you up to the top of the list straight away! Then when you get the interview you know what that person is about so you can prepare for it better. When you’re in the interview you know a bit about the environment you’ll be working in and that will serve you well. I’m not saying that it will guarantee you the job, but it’ll probably find more opportunities come your way than if you don’t prepare in this way!
Have patience with this, keep applying along with meeting people and you will get a chance. It might not come straight away but it will come! Take each attempt as an opportunity to re-evaluate your gameplan and adjust things if required.
Ask for feedback from the organisation if you didn’t get the position, you might need to change the approach you’ve taken, or you might just need to keep trying the same approach, this is your call but have faith in your own game and don’t doubt yourself.
SAY YES TO EVERYTHING!!
Any little bit of experience is worth something to begin with, so seize every opportunity that comes your way and break through the doors rather than waiting for them to open. It is a competitive market place and the ones that get the jobs are the ones with the most experience. Your CV will stand out if you have a few years of working in a strength and conditioning environment under your belt when you apply for the jobs, along with that all important connection with the person who makes the decisions which comes from your meetings that you’ve arranged for a few years beforehand.
To go from finishing your Level 4 course to getting a full time paid job may take some time. Most people will leave and find something else in this time because they don’t have the desire (or the patience) required. Do you have it? You can shorten this journey by saying yes to everything that comes your way. You need to earn the right to turn an opportunity down and you’ll know when this time comes. Don’t be in a rush to go from voluntary to paid work either. Internships allow you to make mistakes without being held accountable! This will only happen once during your career most probably! Take advantage of it by learning from these mistakes so you don’t make them in the real world.
I worked as a door superviser when I was trying to get work. I wanted to have my days free both to train and to spend as much time in the gym as I could. I also wanted to be able to do courses in the day and learn as much as I could, and be able to get on a train to go to meet someone whenever the opportunity arose. I did this for a few years. It was hard but well worth it as the experience and knowledge I gained was invaluable.
Most strength and conditioning coaches are quite open and happy to help when people ask them questions. It can be hard to arrange meetings, but a word of advice that has served me well is be a pest! I don’t mean on a night out with the opposite sex, I mean with strength and conditioning coaches and people that you want to meet! Don’t send them one email and when you don’t get a reply accept it and move on, follow it up with another email, a phone call, visit their gym and put yourself in their life so they cannot ignore you! This is the way to make connections when you’re first starting out, don’t take no for an answer!
When you do eventually get to find a time to meet someone, turn up with a list full of questions you want answering! Don’t turn up and mope about the gym, think of every meeting as a potential job in a few years time! It’s amazing how things come around full circle in this industry and that meeting produces something in the future.
Developing into a strength and conditioning coach
Once you’ve got your internship or that first job in the industry, make sure you hold on to it by being the best trainer you can be! And this will be covered in part 3 of the series. So that’s it for part 2, that’s how to get experience. The next part of the series will look at how to develop into the strength and conditioning coach you really want to be once you have that first opportunity.
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To your strength and success,
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