This post is aimed at those who are working towards a career in athletic preparation, thus are either fresh out of college, at or just finished university or even older and have realised their true calling in life. However, no matter what stage you’re at, you can never have too much experience. Also a lot of S&C coaches will start with part time roles, so if you think you’d benefit from filling your spare time with more coaching hours (who wouldn’t?) this could be for you. Regardless of your situation, if you want a job in professional sport it always pays to have more experience.
If you’re sitting there thinking you’ve tried or that it’s easier said than done, you’ll have to start by changing your attitude. It can be difficult, but it’s certainly possible. If you’re thinking you’ve got some and now you want a job, get more! Keep gaining experience until you’ve got a paid role and then take every opportunity to continue gaining more! I want to help but to be honest I only really want to help the coaches who are the most hungry to succeed.
I love this picture because knowledge is important, but what matters is how you apply it and you learn that through experience!
So here’s how you start, or at least how I did:
Begin with the sport you want to work in and start from the top because who knows, you might get lucky! You could email the head of performance for each professional club asking for work experience or an internship, a lot of people take this approach; if you’re lucky enough to have your email read and it’s a sunny day at the right time of year you might even get a response. Personally I chose to type a letter and send it by post. Furthermore, initially I didn’t even ask for experience, just advise on how to best pursue a role of S&C in professional rugby from the guys who were already there. I sent 14 letters hoping that 1 or 2 would reply; 9 clubs got back to me including the offer of some work experience with Leicester Tigers……I got VERY lucky! The resounding feedback from those letters was that I needed to gain experience, so I started over again following similar steps to below.
Next, be more realistic: To climb the ladder of success, you’ve got to start at the bottom. This is ok, experience is experience and the more you have in coaching and working with people (not just athletes), the better coach you will become.
Let’s start by presuming you play a sport yourself? No worries if not, I’m just guessing that something has got you interested in working in S&C and passions are usually sparked through personal experience. So which sport(s) do you play/participate in?
Rugby? Football? Weightlifting? Trampolining? Whatever it is, you already have contacts of some description. So ask to watch and learn from your coach or others in your club. Depending on your level you could even help with their physical training. Immediately following my experience with Leicester Tigers, I started helping with the rugby club I grew up playing for, whose senior side at the time were playing at level 6.
If you’re not part of a sports club or already help out at yours and want more experience, you could join one and take up a new sport? – A great way to meet people in sport, have fun and learn new skills. Otherwise, the further down the professional scale you go, normally the number of clubs in your region increases and the shorter the queue of people wanting to volunteer for them gets. So LOOK LOCAL:
Swimming…. The list is practically endless, I may as well say sit down and write a list of sports, then search for all your local clubs in each sport, look up their contact details, email a polite letter asking to help out and see what they say. I doubt many lower level clubs receive many requests of this nature, however its always best to meet in person and I’ll give a few tips on how to make that contact at the end of this article.
NB: Athletics/Track & Field and Gymnastics are not on the list. Only because there are generally less clubs and it didn’t quite fit with the above description, but certainly both fantastic areas to gain experience in, so go ahead and contact your local clubs now. Athletics is an area I would still like to gain more experience in and will jump at the opportunity when it next arises.
I said athletics, not aesthetics!
What about junior athletes? Certainly at lower levels, you should find it relatively easy to start helping out. Age group rugby for example, is usually coached by parents; who whilst very passionate, are often more than happy to have an extra pair of hands helping out. Again I was lucky in that I coached junior level rugby for years before I even realised I wanted to be an S&C coach. In fact, I used to work as a coach for a host of sports from football to dodgeball. The more I took an interest in physical preparation, the more those sessions became fitness and movement skill orientated but I was coaching, the kids were playing, we were both learning and the parents were happy.
It’s also worth considering that a lot more openings in professional sport appear in their academies, this is particularly relevant to football in the UK (although there were quite a few jobs available in rugby academies last year too). Maybe because football is slowly taking S&C more seriously starting from the ground up or maybe at the moment it’s the academies which have the biggest room for expansion. Either way its important to gain experience working with young athletes as it will undoubtedly open more doors in the future.
Martial Arts clubs are slightly different but definitely worth pursuing. Boxing, MMA, Kickboxing, Muay Thai, Wrestling, Ju-Jitsu etc. in my experience generally have a fairly old school approach, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a great deal to be learnt and as is the nature of these sports, the athletes will be some of the toughest and fittest guys you ever meet. If you’re already involved in one then great, put your S&C hat on, start thinking about how the conditioning sessions are constructed, movement patterns involved and energy systems used. If you get an opportunity to help out then great, if not, there is still a great deal to be learnt simply through participating and bear in mind, wrestling drills are now commonplace in most rugby clubs and contact sports. Again I am very lucky in that one of my best friends competes in the UFC and we’ve grown up fighting together (admittedly I was mostly beaten up but I learnt how to take a good punch at least). Hence I’ve trained and been involved with various martial arts all my life. If you’ve never been into martial arts, I strongly recommend going to a Muay Thai or wrestling class just to get an idea of the work involved.
So now you’ve got an idea of a few of the opportunities available to you. Safe to say there’s enough to get on with for the moment. Here’s a few tips on how to go about contacting them, first impressions count and all that!
- Meet them in person – this way you guarantee you’re connecting with the right people, you can make a solid introduction that will be remembered, match names with faces and get an immediate answer when you offer to help or shadow the coaching.
- Be confident – you’re a passionate young individual offering to help for free, who wouldn’t want your services. Firm handshake, make eye contact and speak clearly – how you come across will count for more than what you say.
- Exchange contact details so you can follow up the introduction.
- Follow up in relation to what you discussed, hopefully arranging a time to shadow a coaching session.
- If for some reason you can’t meet them in person, obtain the relevant contact details from someone at the club.
- Always address an email in person and don’t be afraid to make a phone call if you can, again it will make more impact and you get an answer straight away.
- Be polite and to the point.
- Don’t be at all disheartened if you don’t get an answer, everyone is busy with their own lives. Just move on to the next option.
- Keep contacting various clubs and sports and you’ll be gaining that vital experience before you know it.
- Realise that every sport, environment, level and athlete will teach you something new and challenge your coaching in different ways. It doesn’t matter if you can’t work at a premiership football/rugby club at this stage, variety on your CV will make you stand out and I certainly never imagined working in Diving or Skiing for that matter, but both sports have been fantastic for a whole bunch of different reasons.
Finally let me just say that I didn’t get lucky in every situation and I still don’t! I haven’t mentioned the countless sports & clubs that I contacted and never came of anything. There are many I never heard back from, several that got my hopes up and then let me down and too many that I was foolish enough to let slip through the net. That goes for volunteering, let alone actual job applications!
I hope this helps inspire a few ways to get out there and gain more valuable experience. There are certainly benefits to experience in elite sport, but until you get that, any form of coaching and working alongside a multidisciplinary team will only benefit you in the long run.
Now get to work and make your own luck! Feel free to leave a comment about your experiences and any other advice you have for those just starting out in this profession.