This article was originally published on DougBerninger.com on February 8, 2015.
I took over the intern education curriculum at the NSCA about three years ago. Since then I’ve been searching for the best information on how exactly the curriculum should be run. At the NSCA we have a very unique situation because we have many members on staff with specialized areas of interest that you don’t often see in the traditional strength and conditioning setting. Even before I took over the program, we had been using this to our advantage.
I also have a unique setting in that I am at the central hub of strength coaches, so I can use that to my advantage as well. I have contacted a few coaches on what they are doing with their interns so I have some options for our program. It should be noted that not everything will work for each program. We all have different athletes, schedules, and situations, which make every intern location a unique experience.
Why is This Important?
I wrote awhile back on how I believe that your interns should ultimately become better coaches than you. I still hold true to that belief. If our younger coaches are who we will hand the profession off to, shouldn’t we prepare them accordingly? I think every internship should have a formal curriculum with both hands-on and lecture material. Unfortunately this is not the case, but it needs to happen. That is, as long as the coaches teaching the information have the best interests for the interns. This is one of the ways that the quality of our profession can improve.
We have it set so that we cover at least one topic each week. There may be two sessions for one topic, depending on the topic. One example is for weightlifting. We have a lecture and a hands-on session. The order of the weeks is constructed so that they learn the most important information for our setting in the initial weeks. Our interns have the opportunity to start coaching almost immediately and, with this, they need to know some main components of our program; warm-ups, testing and evaluation, and program design.
The content of each topic is pulled mainly from, you guessed it, NSCA journals. This is mostly because I have free access to them. We have just gained access to the ASCA journal as well, so I will begin to look for resources there, too. I try to find the best information for each topic and, if the topic is controversial, I’ll find resources for both sides. This way we can open up for discussion and get them thinking. The “real world” of programming and coaching is never as black and white as most research would have us believe. I want to show them that and have them think for themselves and react to their situations, not just take each for face value. Dig deeper, think deeper, question everything.
The topics we cover are basic, for the most part, but I get feedback that one was not well-received, I may switch it out. Here are some of them; warm-ups, testing and evaluation, program design, weightlifting, basic barbell movements, Movement assessment (FMS), energy systems development, and correctives for the strength coach. These are just a few topics out of the many we cover.
Sources of Content
As I mentioned, we get many of our articles from the NSCA journals. We also get some from trusted authors on websites such as EliteFTS, Catalyst Athletics, and Breaking Muscle. Podcasts have also allowed us new avenues of learning for the interns.
We give the interns a few types of assignments, either on a weekly or monthly basis.
Every week on Friday they each turn in an article that we all have to read and then discuss the following Thursday. This gives them about a week to read three articles. Not too bad.
Each week, depending on the topic, I have the interns listen to a specific, related podcast. This could be anything from Coach McKeefery’s Iron Game Chalk Talk to EliteFTS’ Sports Performance Podcast. We discuss the podcast in the same session that we discuss their articles on Thursday afternoons.
Something new we’ve started recently is having them read a book that is seemingly unrelated to strength and conditioning; but they have to find a deeper relationship and meaning that leads them back to the profession. An easy example would be a book on psychology. A harder example may be a book of philosophy on life.
What would an internship be without having to learn program design? We have the interns design certain blocks of training, depending on specific details with give them about the “pretend athlete.” We also give each of them non-traditional sports like judo instead of using the stereotypical football athlete. Football is much easier because everyone is familiar with it. We want them to think more; learn to analyze new movements and energy system demands. After they submit their programs, the full-time staff members review them and then we all meet and discuss. Each intern has to “defend” their programs and justify why they designed them the way they did.
We have the interns present on an approved topic of their choice at the end of the semester. They must submit a paper with peer-reviewed references and present a Power Point based off of their research. This is also a great way for them to practice presenting in front of superiors, which can help them gain confidence in their speaking abilities for the future. The full-time staff members will give them tips on their presentation and speaking skills and what needs work. Overall, this is a great way to end the semester and their internship.
I hope this gives you some new ideas to improve your intern program at your facility. What are some of the things you do with your staff? Please share with everyone in the comments section below!
Update: I am currently (as of April 2016) working on an article on this very topic, including the culture of having interns, which will be submitted to the Strength and Conditioning Journal as soon as it is completed.