I get a lot of questions from exercise and sports science graduates who want to break into the USA collegiate system and become an intern. I agree it’s a fantastic idea and is a logical step in your career progression. What I’m beginning to see is that most of the graduates that call me and have little to no information about how everything works over there, neither did i. So I’ve written this blog post to shine a bit of light on how the USA collegiate system works. I may miss some things but here’s the crux of it.
When I was at Arizona they were apart of PAC-12, obvious made up of twelve schools scattered along the west coast of the USA. It’s a big conference, maybe the biggest along with SEC. These conferences all compete against one another in the relevant collegiate sports, some schools compete in more sports than others. Lets take Stanford, I’m not sure of the actual number but they compete in the most sports. My tip would be to ideally look for a school in a big conference or a big name and also. UofA> ASU.
University of Arizona vs. Arizona State University
Basically when I got there it took a little bit of time to realize that most states have a university of “the state” and a “the state” state university. This can be super confusing. Know the difference before you start searching.
DIV 1, DIV 2, DIV 3
Schools are ranked, there are a lot of D1 schools that in terms of facilities will generally be better and have higher quality athletes to work with. It goes without saying you’ll want to get a D1 over a D2.
Getting An Internship.
Its not easy, maybe its getting harder and harder. When I was applying for internships I’d say I emailed at least 60-70 colleges scattered across the USA. I had three interviews and was accepted into all three, I chose UofA because my friends had done exchange programs there and mentioned good things about Tucson, it was really a perfect fit as I don’t know if I could handle the extremely cold temperatures of some other regions. Arizona was hot, really hot, really really hot. It’s a grind, it has to be done. Be prepared for a 2am interview, or multiple interviews. Be prepared to answer some big questions and learn a lot about the school/coaches. #beardown
Don’t ask me for a reference or to “hook you up” with an internship if I don’t know you. My referral is my name and I wont refer anybody I don’t know personally.
Olympic sport vs. football vs. basketball
Basically each of these departments has there own strength & conditioning coaches. Football always takes preferences over the other two, closely followed by basketball and then Olympic sport. I was an Olympic sport intern and I would highly recommend my experience to anybody, its good to learn how the football and basketball S&C operates, but the repetition of the same sport for months on end throughout an internship wouldn’t be ideal when compared with learning multiple sports.
It might shock you but not every S&C coach at collegiate level has a degree in a related field. It’s changing but don’t expect everyone to lay knowledge bombs on you daily. I had fantastic coaches and mentors who I could pick their brains daily but I’ve heard stories from other interns quite the contrary.
At most D1 schools the facilities will be mind boggling, more racks, platforms and bars than your local fitness supplier. Its an embarrassment of riches which honestly shames Australia. I’d comfortably say most collegiate teams have a better set up than pro teams in Australia. Americans do it big. Really BIG.
Whatever the timeline of your internship, it will be expensive. I was in the states for 7 months this included ALOT of travel and I would have easily invested 30k into the trip. See what I did there, INVESTED not SPENT, it was an investment into myself and becoming the best coach I can be as well as gaining life experience. I had 11 weeks to prepare for the trip after I was accepted, I couldn’t afford it, who could with 11 weeks to save? I made it work, it was the best thing I’ve ever done. Get it done people, however you have to! By the way there’s a 95% chance you wont get paid throughout your internship. Working on the side after a 14 hour day blows, don’t do it.
It’s a HUGE time commitment, wake up at 4-4.30 AM, 5 days a week and work until 7-8PM with a break in the middle. Regardless its still a long day, Saturdays you might need to help out with some other stuff or Sunday even. Its draining, its tough and oh so worth it. You’ll be thrown in the deep end and you’ll be coaching your ass off.
They’ve got a great system for total athlete development, it works. It has done for a long time, respect that, embrace it and learn from it. A very good coach once told me “the best coach is the best copy cat” Ill leave you with that.
Here’s the tough one, what VISA do I get? How do I get one? What do I need? This was a mad panic for me, I really didn’t have much time before I left, I had absolutely no idea about VISA’s. I was lucky enough to get a work travel VISA for 12 months, others haven’t been so lucky and have to go on a tourist VISA, fly out of the states and fly back in hoping they wont get caught by immigration. Its risky, its stressful but once again oh so worth it.
Your Opinion Is Invalid
To start with, you’ll quickly learn that you have no say. Nobody listens to you and you get little respect. Don’t coach outside the set program, don’t question the program and don’t suggest to an athlete there’s a better way to do it. You’re an intern, not a head S&C coach, learn your place. Many interns have found the hard way in the past by trying to take a collegiate athlete off the side for some agility work. The head coach knows what’s beneficial let him do his job and enjoy the experience. When you’re asked for your opinion, give it. Gain respect when its deserved, put in the hours and the rest will follow.
Learn As Much As You Can Before You Go
The private sector in Australia is 10 years behind, at least. The whole world of speed, agility, quickness, power training, plyo’s etc etc was completely new. I’m not talking the basics of ladders, jumps etc I’m talking the real deal not what you see your local footy team doing on a Tuesday night. Learn the most you can before you go, find a reputable coach to learn off and not some bodybuilder down the gym who has a 5-day split. There’s so much to S&C, more than just lifting weight or Crossfit.
Are very good, I was blown away when I had a coach approach me saying: “WOW you have a Masters from ECU, That’s amazing, How was it?”. I was completely flabbergasted that they knew what ECU was, let alone respected it to the extent they did. American coaches view Australian exercise/sport science degrees highly, you’re being taught well, chin up and revel in it.
It’s a massive commitment, it’s hard to obtain and even more challenging to do. Is it worth it? 100% but you need to be the right kind of person, even when you’re back in Australia to keep moving forwards. A USA internship is a starting point for a good career but you’re still not over the hill, what next? How are you going to break into a pro sporting team? Or will you join the private sector and start changing things for the better.
Connections are everything, its all about who you know…
Tim Frey MS.c