Are we expecting too much experience to enter the S&C industry?
Updated: Apr 24
The battle of paid vs unpaid internships is rife in a number of industries, however, nowhere is it more apparent than in the world of sport. It’s a saturated market, with many young people fighting to gain enough experience to work with the top teams, but what about those that aren’t able to volunteer for internships?
The industry is missing out on the potential to develop many talented Strength and Conditioning coaches because of the constrained entry requirements and the sheer amount of experience necessary to even enter an internship or graduate role.
Currently in my second of three years studying my masters in Strength and Conditioning at St Mary’s Twickenham, I am feeling a little stuck. I chose this masters because I wanted to develop my skills and knowledge and transition from the world of fitness to sport. I love being a Personal Trainer, however I also want to be able to work with athletes as well as the general populations. However, it seems the S&C world doesn’t want me to. Everytime I look for a job I am left feeling deflated about my chances of a career in the industry because experience is vital for every role, including internships.
I am in a particularly unique situation, doing a degree in English Literature and French, I became a Personal Trainer and then went on to a science based masters. As a result of this, I don’t even qualify for graduate coaching roles because my degree isn’t relevant. Despite the fact I’m doing a masters in the subject. Surely my +5 years experience working as a coach in some form should be enough? Even if it isn’t with elite athletes. So I tried applying for some paid internships and still no luck, I kept getting the same response, not enough experience.
So, it seems like we’re stuck in a chicken and egg situation. You can’t get a job/internship without relevant experience, but the experience is the job/internship. This might be okay for younger candidates that are in a more financially stable situation to take on voluntary work because they live with parents or have few outgoings, or maybe even older adults with partners that can support them, but what about the rest of us? As a self employed Personal Trainer, living alone I am not able to commit to an internship of more than a week or two of unpaid work, otherwise how am I able to pay the bills? And I'm still way out of the competition compared to someone that’s done a 6 month internship with a team.
How does the industry expect to broaden its horizons and begin to draw in coaches from different backgrounds if the entry requirements are so difficult and targeted to a specific type of person? Young men from a privileged background. If I am qualified enough to be accepted into a masters in the subject (In one of the best Universities for the subject) then how am I not qualified enough for even an internship?
In a discussion with a semi-professional rugby player, he was discussing the different options available to me. He told me that I shouldn’t offer to shadow because I might potentially be a hindrance to the coach and the team. Instead of being focused on the training, they would be too busy teaching me. And that’s a completely valid point, but again leaves people looking for experience at a dead end. Instead I was told I could offer to help out with GPS tracking and data collection, but do you think I've got any relevant experience doing so?
The main question here is, what determines experience? And are companies and teams setting their experience level too high? Before I delve into the topic I want to make it very clear that I know there are several distinct differences between a Personal Trainer and a Strength and Conditioning coach. That being said, there are several similarities, for example a good Trainer should have the ability to:
Write periodised, goal specific programmes
Teach correct lifting technique
Give appropriate cues
Work with a wide variety of people
Be a personable coach
Surely it’s not completely bizarre to see how the experience that a Personal Trainer builds could be relevant to Strength and Conditioning coaching. However, the industry is making it particularly difficult for a person to transition from one to the other.
One way to tackle the issue would be to offer paid internships, not as well paid as an experienced role, but enough that people from different walks of life are able to take on an internship and still support their cost of living. This would allow more people the chance to break into the industry and gain relevant experience before applying for more senior positions. Another possibility would be to broaden what our definition of experience is. Not everyone has the opportunity to work with athletes, and therefore maybe coaching the general population should also be taken as some form in experience that can be carried over to training athletes.
It’s time to stop making the entry into this career path so difficult and make it more accessible for a wider group of people.