At SAPT we've been pretty fortunate to have some wonderful interns since we began taking them only a couple years ago. One who completed his time with us in the spring, Tadashi, has now had a fairly complete look at athletic performance training from three separate sources. Here are his thoughts: I can now proclaim I have been an intern at three different strength and conditioning sites. While this accomplishment is a great addition to slap on my resume, I actually learned a thing or two in the process and gained a lot of experience. What’s special about my cumulative experience in particular is that I have had the chance to work in three distinctly different environments: A D1 school in a mid-major conference, a D1 school in a major conference, and SAPT (a privately owned training facility). Although these are all programs with similar goals of making people big, strong, fast, and athletic, I found that there are some pretty significant differences between the sites.
At the college level, both major and mid-major, time is always a critical factor. A common mantra in the collegiate field of strength and conditioning is “get in, get out.” There are typically multiple lifting groups per day so scheduling and timeliness are crucial. Also, the athletes have class, practice, meetings, homework, and oftentimes jobs, and they simply cannot afford to spend hours in the weight room every day. This means training sessions need to be quick and efficient. In a collegiate team setting there simply is not enough time to go from athlete to athlete and break down exercise technique in intricate detail. Instead, it becomes necessary to choose your battles and address faults that seem to occur across the board. It would be awesome to pull an athlete aside during squats and go over belly-breathing techniques because he/she isn’t bracing correctly, but in a collegiate setting the team might be on their next set and the athlete falls behind.
This was especially true at the major level because the absolute number of athletes was higher, resulting in a disadvantageous coach:athlete ratio per session. We are always maintaining supervision across the weight room floor and keeping a close eye on those we might feel are at a higher risk, such as those coming back from injury, but we can’t catch everything. For example, as I make sure an athlete with shoulder issues is performing dumbbell rows correctly, out of the corner of my eye I might see an athlete on the other side of the room pulling cleans from the floor with a rounded back (and I die a little inside…).
What I found with my experience in the private sector is that quality control and attention to detail become the priority over most other factors. With a better coach to client ratio and much higher standards in terms of execution of movement, very seldom do technique flaws go unnoticed and uncorrected. Well respected strength coaches like Mike Boyle have advised having only one “coaching intensive” movement (think squats/deadlifts/Olympic lifts) per training session, but at a facility like SAPT even a push-up position plank becomes coaching intensive.
I believe a lot of the differences boils down to the fact that in a collegiate setting we are training teams, whereas in the private sector we are training individuals. I feel that there is a level of responsibility for a collegiate athlete to keep up with the program laid out for the team, while in the private sector clients are paying for an individualized program fit for their personal needs. You’re a D1 athlete and your shoulder feels funky? Well, the team is bench pressing tomorrow so let’s hope you’re ready. You train at SAPT and your shoulder feels funky? Time to take a look at your program and see if we need to make some modifications.
There were many other differences I could talk about such as style of programming, exercise selection, testing methods, warm-ups, conditioning work, and so on, but these differences were more a result of the individual coaches’ preferences and not inherently due to the nature of the program (i.e. D1 major conference vs private sector). My experience with these three internships reinforced the fact that this field really isn’t black and white. When I have a question I turn to the experts, but what happens when the experts disagree? Olympic lifts? Linear periodization? Westside? Kettlebells? Barefoot training? Foam rolling? The beauty of having experience in multiple environments was that I could actually see these methods applied firsthand, and come to my own conclusion of what I thought was effective.
For those of you interested in strength and conditioning I highly recommend going out there and gaining some experience with many areas of the field. Whether your interest currently lies in working with elite level athletes, collegiate athletics, children and young athletes, strength sports, endurance sports, etc., jump on every opportunity to work with anyone. You will learn something from every experience, and you might even find your interests shift as you are exposed to different population groups and programs. Even an experience in what you feel might be a “bad” program will teach you what not to do, and will help mold you into a better professional.