Monday, May 23, 2011

Gaining Early Professional Experience

In any field of work there is a progression that takes place from learning the trade to operating independently. As strength and conditioning coaches we are very familiar with this process, having navigated our early careers as volunteer and interns before earning any compensation for our work with athletes. I have been very fortunate this season to have an intern working with me and my team for the first time. My goal in taking on an intern has been to make the experience beneficial for both of us. I can accomplish more with an assistant than I can alone. He can learn the duties and responsibilities of the field and gain experience working with high-level athletes. In becoming a mentor, I have realized quickly that mentorship is just as important a part of my career as were the times when I was volunteering to gain early professional experience. Looking back on some of the key points taken from my mentors has helped me in providing further perspective to my intern this season.

Professionalism- First and foremost, professionalism is a given requirement of any coaching position. The media is filled with examples of coaches who have overstepped their bounds or have acted inappropriately and have lost their jobs. However, the basis of professionalism is presentation. As an intern, present yourself as clean, organized, and on-time and you will be viewed as reliable. Your co-workers and athletes will assume you know the plan for the day and that you can assist them. The majority of internships in strength and conditioning will require you to tuck your shirt in. This can be a little strange at first when your work attire is shorts and a t-shirt. Get used to it. You will be the best looking one in the room!

Drills and Skills- Young coaches rely on their education to implement the drills they know, while veteran coaches rely on their experience to determine which drills work best for the team. As an intern, having an open mind is key in the progression from the text book to the field. Remember that not all drills work well in a team setting or are possible (or safe) due to equipment limitations. When given a choice of what drill to implement, ask first, “What skill am I aiming to improve?” and second, “How does this drill fit in the overall training plan?” Transition time and set-up are primary factors in determining which drill fits when.

General Career Advising- I first learned about what it took to become a strength and conditioning coach by searching for job postings in the field that I was interested in. Ultimately, this searching led me towards obtaining CSCS and USA Weightlifting credentials and a graduate degree. As a mentor, I try to look back on my educational experience and remember why I made the decisions I did. The process would seem black and white ‒ I was taking the next step towards my career with each college class, certification, personal training position, internship, and coaching position. At the time, however, there was definitely some grey. I took my first fitness position during my college summers, so that I would get a free gym membership to train for my upcoming football season. I took my first anatomy class because I thought I wanted to go to medical school. I performed an internship in cardiac rehabilitation before I decided that I wanted to work with athletes. Sometimes the professional choices we make are not on a career track, but rather a life track. As I have gotten older this has become more and more true. Focusing on your interests and skills is the best place to begin any career.

Eric McMahon, MEd, CSCS
Minor League Strength and Conditioning Coach
Texas Rangers

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