3 Reasons to Build a Robust Internship Program at Your Gym

Every. Single. One.

That’s the answer to the question: “How many of your coaches are a product of the Cressey Sports Performance internship program?”

While they didn’t all complete internships here in our Massachusetts facility, every coach we employ is a proud alum of our system in either this space, or in our Florida location. I want to help you to understand where and how we draw the most value from these programs so that you can make strides toward doing so yourself in your own gym.

Spoiler alert: The value we extract has nothing to do with keeping payroll costs down. This is about delivering a mutually beneficial product and experience for the intern and the business.

These are the three biggest ways both parties win:

1. We don’t miss on hires.

According to RecruiterBox, making a hire in the service industry will cost you as little as $1,000, and can potentially run its way on up to as much as $5,000. With this in mind, small gyms on tight budgets aren’t in a position to swing and miss consistently on coaching selections. Between the cost of acquisition, and the optics of consistent turnover, we need to do everything we can to vet out our candidates prior to making a big decision of this nature.

Which is where the internship program comes into play…

With the benefit of experiencing anywhere from 300-500 hours of work alongside a CSP intern, we can safely make a call as to whether or not someone is a cultural fit within our operation before extending an offer. I emphasize cultural because 99.9% of the coaches who complete our program walk away with high scores on the competency front, while only a small segment of this population possesses the personality-types we are in need of to round out our team at any given moment in time.


I’m at peace with making the occasional bad intern hire, but cannot accept us missing the mark on evaluating employability by the conclusion of a multi-month program. In the end, our cost of acquisition lies in the cost of delivering a quality internship program to not one, but as many as 20+ interns over the course of a year in which we may only make a single hire. When you look at it that way, taking man-hours into consideration from a training and instruction standpoint, we invest considerably more than $5,000 per hire to ensure that we have a 100% success rate in securing team members who stay with us for a minimum of two years.

2. Curriculum design requires continuous discussion.

As mentioned above, delivering a quality internship experience eats up a great deal of time and resources often not seen by clients or observers outside of our business. One aspect of this resource allocation is taking the time to get the team together and discuss the evolution of our training model to ensure that the message that is being conveyed to interns is in line with where each coach’s head is at from the perspective of programming philosophy.

With a team of 6 full-time strength coaches continuously learning both inside of our gym and outside of it (reading & seminars), it is careless to assume that an internship curriculum from a year ago today is perfect for that which we need in this moment in time. Goals change, philosophies change, and skills change over time. Our approach to coaching up the interns should reflect that.

These discussions can feel tedious over time, but are a necessity to ensure that we don’t end up with six dramatic variations of one model floating around the training floor on a day-to-day basis.

Inside look at a CSP staff programming meeting.

Inside look at a CSP staff programming meeting.

3. New blood on the training floor keeps things fresh.

I’m fond of saying that you can’t install a gym culture that is consistent from one facility or business to the next, and this is because great culture is a moving target. If you want to deliver an authentic training experience to clients, you need to allow for unique personalities to impact the environment in the gym. Here at CSP, the unique personalities I speak of include those that come from our internship program.

Every time we bring a fresh batch of 6 interns to the gym for a new “season,” we plug 6 dramatically different backgrounds, personalities, and areas of interest to the many conversations that take place on the training floor. While I understand why new clients might be turned off by the title “intern,” I can say with certainty that our long-term clients have an appreciation for the skill set and passion required to secure a spot in our internship program. They appreciate the seasonal infusion of new blood in the space, and look forward to seeing the vibe in the gym twist and turn over time, ensuring that the experience in the weight room almost never feels stale.

Instead of fearing change in your staff because clients might be turned off, I’d encourage you to consider how the adjustment might positively impact the overall service experience.

This will take time.

It took our internship program 12+ years to get to where it is today, and it was roughly a half-decade before we realized how important it was to systemize things like the on-boarding and continuing education process. We learned by doing, and you should as well. Just make sure to temper your expectations as it relates to program growth.

Start with the objective of brining in a single intern, and make sure that your intention is to deliver more value to that coach than your business could ever extract from her. If your intent is to create the industry’s next great coach, the field as a whole will improve, and you’ll be the one who gets the first and best shot at hiring that individual following her learning experience with you.


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