Internship Commencement Address - 3 Reminders for New Coaches

Last May, nearly 12 years to the day removed from our own graduation ceremony, my college roommate Kevin was tasked with the responsibility of delivering the commencement speech for the undergraduate students graduating from our alma mater, Babson College.  He put on his cap and gown, collected his honorary doctorate, and proceeded to drop some real world knowledge on a couple hundred young professionals who dream of being one of the first ten employees at “the next Facebook.” 

How cool is that?

I realize that I’m unlikely to find myself in the same situation.  I can, however, take it upon myself to brainstorm a commencement speech directed toward a whole different type of program graduate: a Cressey Sports Performance (CSP) Intern. 

We’re about to release our 130th CSP intern into the wild.  If I had to put on a cap and gown and share some insights with each of these coaches who have suddenly become an extension of my brand, these are three important lessons I’d choose to reiterate.

1. Someone is always watching. 

“It is our choices that make us who we are far more than our abilities.” 

 - J. K. Rowling 

A few years back we decided that the time was right to add an additional full-time coach to our staff.  Since it is our policy to only hire through our internship program, we had narrowed down our list of potential candidates without even formally announcing that we were “looking.”  Eric arrived at our staff meeting that week with a list of three candidates he felt might be a fit, and proceeded to announce them to the group.  Almost immediately, multiple team members raised their hand to informally “vote” against one candidate in particular. 

The intern in question was intelligent enough to thrive within our coaching format, assess and design programs for athletes effectively, and put his best foot forward when in front of a client or Eric himself.  What this coach did not concern himself with, however, was making friends with his colleagues.  He never once trained without his headphones in his ears during staff lift, avoided engaging with other team members outside of the facility, and isolated himself from the team during a time when we were developing a staff that would ultimately dictate the entire culture of our gym and the brand that represents it.  He wasn’t a fit.

As an up and coming coach, you should spend more time making friends, and less concerning yourself with making a positive impression on the boss.  You’ll find that you’re far more employable if everyone other than Eric likes you, as opposed to only having him on your side.

2. Choose employment wisely.

“The man who knows how will always have a job. The man who knows why will always be his boss.”

 - Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’d rather see a job applicant with a gap in their resume where they spent a year “finding themselves”, than a collection of short-lived employment scenarios.  There are few things that frustrate me more than seeing a former intern who I vouched for during an interview process quit on a job just weeks after starting because they decided it wasn’t the right fit.  Unless an employer blatantly lied to you during the hiring process, anything less than six months of coaching under their roof before leaving looks to me like not finishing what you started.

If you become a perpetual job hopper, you will forever be a “man who knows how.”  What you will not become is a “man who knows why”, because the truly valuable learning experiences come after an orientation or onboarding process. 

If you take your time with the job search and avoid pouncing on the first opportunity that presents itself, you’re far more likely to settle in to a position that proves to be a good fit. That’s not to say you aren’t allowed to leave a job that is making you miserable – but with proper introspection and diligence in your search, you will inevitably avoid putting yourself in positions where you repeatedly want to leave.

3. You don’t need any more internship experience. Go make some damn money.

“Often the difference between a successful person and a failure is not one has better abilities or ideas, but the courage that one has to bet on one's ideas, to take a calculated risk - and to act.”

-       Andre Malraux

There are two kinds of intern candidates I encounter: those who see how an internship at our gym provides them with the skills they need to dive in to our industry head first and begin making a positive impact almost immediately, and those who see the program as a piece of a puzzle that requires a series of letters of recommendations from names like Boyle, Cressey, Robertson, etc. 

I call the latter group “career interns”, and I strongly encourage you to avoid falling in to that trap.  I am not claiming CSP’s program to be superior to any of those listed above – to the contrary: a couple of hundred hours spent learning under the roof of any one of those fitness facilities will put you in the top 10% of coaches on the staff of just about any gym in the country.  To spend additional months and years accumulating unpaid hours and bullets on your resume only delays you from pushing the industry forward with your own great contributions.

This is a serious responsibility

Training athletes, general fitness population, or even your significant other is a responsibility that requires attention to detail and an appreciation for the risks associated with bad coaching decisions.  While the barrier to entry in our field is painfully low, it doesn’t mean that we can coast along carelessly and embrace the mentality that personal training has to be a temporary fix or some sort of professional mid-life crisis.

In closing, I’ll tell you what Seth Godin had to say on a recent recording of The Tim Ferriss Show.  When asked what insight he would share with graduating students, he said:

"You are more powerful than you think you are.  Act accordingly."