Sunday, 31 May 2015

My Internship Year

My Internship Year

Ok, so in June 2014 I was lucky enough to be accepted as a Strength and Conditioning intern (technically a volunteer but intern sounds better) for Harlequins Rugby for 2014/15 season. I was absolutely over the moon when I found out, because I had originally applied for this position in 2011, straight out of university, but didn’t get it.

When I didn’t get it first time round it was tough, I thought I had everything one would need to be suitable for this role. But after visiting the club shortly after, and even more so looking back 3 years down the line, I had absolutely no clue about Strength and Conditioning as an industry, no experience worthy of noting, and was duly told this.

So I was sent away with simple messages:
1.     Get some experience coaching S&C
2.     Start off down the UKSCA or CSCS/NSCA path
3.     Build a knowledge base through your own trial and error

So that’s what I did. I worked with the University of Worcester Men’s Rugby team, Men’s American Football team, Malvern College rugby, worked privately out of City Gym Worcester and Hill Performance Centre, started training for strength rather than the regular bodybuilder type training, and I researched the UKSCA.

Now I am fully UKSCA Accredited, have a year of experience in Elite Level Rugby Union, started my own business, am a personal trainer in London, and am off to New Zealand in June to be the Assistant S&C Coach for Northland in the ITM Cup.

So the internship – is it worth it?
I hear this all the time, and I read about it all the time online with people out of uni saying “I couldn’t get a job, but I’ve got a degree, should I do an internship even though I don’t get paid…”
My response would be “Yes.” Simple. This internship has been absolutely invaluable to me, it’s hard to really explain it but I’ll try.

What I’ve learnt throughout this process hasn’t necessarily been new information; I already had an understanding of physiology etc due to university, but it has been eye opening in terms of application and starting to realize the complications that arise in elite level sport.

Even now, one year on working within this structure, I feel like it would be a big step to head up an S&C Program because of how much of this information was new. How to piece together the programming for weights, speed, conditioning, recovery etc. Then the inclusion of rugby, how to cater for injuries, different fixture dates and how to adjust the training week.

So many small things you don’t even think about when you’re new, but that hit you and you suddenly realize how in depth it can all be.

A lot of people then go off talking about the role of an intern; will I just be there to do all the crappy jobs that the coaches don’t want, will I ever work with the first team, will the players like me, what happens if they don’t?

Now, I have heard some horror stories of “internships” where people basically just did all the bitch duties. Cleaning, setting up and clearing away etc.
Don’t get me wrong; we’ve had our fair share of those duties this year too. But with the bad comes the good.

This internship has been incredible for hands on experience, and that’s largely down to the fact that all bar one of the S&C team at Quins have previously been an intern at the same club. They know how it works, and know how it feels to be in that position.

On day one – our first job was to clear out a massive container of crap. This was to be expected. I should note that day one was 3 days before pre-season started.

On day two (day one of pre-season) – we were given athletes to coach. Just like that, straight in to the club, still learning names, and we’re in charge of a group of professional athletes.

A few weeks later, the England squad members came back from New Zealand and were training – they were given to us to coach. The highest profile players in the club, and the interns were in charge of them straight off. That is responsibility right there.

Things continued in that way all year. We had crappy roles to do like protein shakes, setting up therapy every damn day, clearing up therapy every damn day, cleaning and filling ice baths, running water on for rugby etc.

But as I already said, it was balanced out with good stuff. Coaching groups of players in the gym, running warm ups for speed and rugby, getting involved on Premiership and European match days, being mic’d up running water for the A-League getting coaches messages out to the players, working at stadiums like Franklin’s Gardens, The Stoop, The Rec, The Aviva Stadium, and the Holy Grail that is Twickenham.

With the players you have to get an understanding of the situation; these guys see new interns come in year on year, like a conveyor belt of over eager rugby and gym nauses trying to make their way in a new industry. One piece of advice I was told beforehand was – know your place. Don’t go in trying to tell them some new magic formula, because you don’t have it. And even if you did, why should they believe you? You’re an intern. They have a head S&C for a reason.

Some players accept you in straight away, some it takes time to earn their trust and respect. That’s just the way it’s going to be – so if you can’t handle that, then don’t do an internship. You’ll disappear half way through the year and your reference won’t come through next time you try to claim you worked at that club.

Another piece of advice I was given – make the most of it. Sounds simple doesn’t it, but being in a setting like this is something not a lot of people have the chance to do. So if you do one, ask questions, learn as much as you can to make you more employable at the end of your time. Network – use your contacts to make more, get in touch with people at other clubs, from other sports etc and ask if you can spend time with them. You’re more likely to get accepted this chance by already being in a good position, so reach out to people and get as much information and experience under your belt as you can.

It can sometimes be a little frustrating, especially when you are working a large amount of hours with no income, but the reward is worth it. For me the best way around these situations was to think about the amount of people who I beat to the role, those people who weren’t fortunate enough to land this opportunity, and to really recognize the fantastic structure I was a part of.

Internship or degree? Personally I would say do both. Neither of them individually will give you the total package, but together they could. So I would say do your degree, potentially try to find somewhere to work in your summers off that makes your CV look better by the time you leave, build up some qualifications and experience whilst you’re there, and then try to slot in to an internship wherever possible.

The degree will give you the knowledge, and the internship will piece together how to apply that in the most appropriate ways. You will arrive with gaps in your knowledge and your application, whether you think you do or not – you will, but you’ll leave a much more complete coach.

Another reason I think internships are a good option is because it allows you to see if it is really something you want to pursue. Some people may think they want to work in a team atmosphere, but when it comes down to it their coaching style may be more suitable for one-to-one work. This is one reason I tried so hard to get onto this internship, because I wanted to be sure that this was the career I wanted to pursue, and it has definitely confirmed that to me.

One other piece of advice I would give though, especially if you are a student reading this, is to make the most of your time! Try to fill your spare time with activities that will make you a better potential employee, this way you will be more likely to find something immediately out of uni. I had some coaching experience during university, but it took me another 2 years until I had enough relevant work experience under my belt to be considered for the position. So get some coaching qualifications, and more importantly – work your ass off to get experience doing the job you want to do.

I think that’s about all I have to say, I think I’ve covered everything I normally hear spoken about online or frequently get asked. To summarize, internships are definitely worth doing, be prepared to work hard – its not all about the glory of being involved but you have to show you are willing to do the hard yards to reap the rewards, your application knowledge will increase dramatically and you’ll start to think of things in a new way, and you will find out 100% if this is the career choice for you.

Thank you for reading, and if you have any questions regarding internships or anything else feel free to contact me.

Rob Nitman. BSc. ASCC.
Twitter – @nitman89        |        Instagram – @rob_nitman

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