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In my last post, I talked about some of the ways that you might bring a new coach on to your staff. The most common process we see for adding coaches to the fold is by taking athletes currently at the gym and putting them through an internship program. In this post, I’ll expand on the idea of such a program by helping you flesh out some of the considerations that should go into hiring and training an intern for your box.


How to start an internship program

  1. Decide what it’s for and how often it runs
  2. Develop an application process
  3. Create an outline to structure the program
  4. Make a plan to develop and assess your interns
  5. Make expectations and outcomes clear
  6. Plan to assess your interns


1. Decide what it’s for and how often it runs

Internship programs might be created for a variety of reasons. In many cases, there might need for additional coaching staff at the gym. In other cases, the program could run with regular start dates to create more interest from athletes, with multiple athletes doing the program at a time. Just as some athletes take the L1 course for their own education and information, there might be athletes at your gym who are not necessarily interested in coaching as a career, but just want to know more about Crossfit and your gym.


Deciding on the desired outcome of your program is an important initial step. It will help you frame the process that interns are going through, it will help you measure their progress, as well as set clear guidelines and benchmarks for what you want them to know. For example, if this is a general, informational process open to anyone, you’re likely to be less concerned with the nitty gritty of coaching and correcting than you would be if you need everyone who comes out of the program to be able to step in and lead a class solo.


2. Develop an application process

Just as it’s important to decide the purpose of your program, you’re also going to want to figure out how to decide who you’re going to bring on as an intern. In many gyms, this process tends to be informal, with athletes who are interested reaching out to a coach or the owner.


Even if that’s the case, and you don’t set up a formal application process, it’s still important to be clear about who you take on as an intern, and why. If you have the resources, you might make the process open to essentially anyone with the time and interest. But it’s more likely that you’re already crunched for time, in which case it’s better not to invest your already limited energy into interns who don’t seem like a good fit, or who don’t intend to coach when they’re done.


There are any number of considerations that can go into choosing interns, and you’ll have to decide what the most important criteria are for you and for your box. Some things you might consider are:

  • Is their schedule compatible with what you need in terms of covering classes and open gym time?
  • Is their personality a fit for your gym? Will they present the face to the world that you want?
  • As an athlete at your gym, do they uphold high standards (for example, not shaving reps, cheering on other athletes, give each workout their best, etc.)?
  • Are they reliable (for example, do they show up on time for class)?


Ultimately, you’ll have to decide what you think the most important features for an intern are, and who you decide who to take on as an intern. But it’s worth sitting down and brainstorming what the most important features are for you personally before you start so that the process has a clear direction from the outset.


3. Create an outline to structure the program

In addition to having clear ideas about who you want to bring on, you’re going to want to develop an outline of what’s involved in the program before you get started. CrossFit HQ has provided a wealth of free, online reading materials to help in this process. The L1 manual is a great place to start, as are the L2 manual and the CrossFit Journal. For example, at JP CrossFit, we use the L2’s discussion of the six foundations of effective training as a framework for each unit of our internship program.


There’s also plenty to read outside of what HQ provides. Find articles and videos from content experts in Olympic weightlifting, gymnastics, etc., to flesh out the program. Encourage interns to drop in at other boxes to see how they run classes, watch videos of HQ seminar staff on YouTube, and generally learn more about health, fitness, anatomy, physiology, and nutrition to help build them into a broad base for being an effective trainer. HQ also has a number of inexpensive, online courses that touch on these areas.


Although it’s important to have a general structure in place for your internship program, it’s also important not to be too closely tied to that structure. Everyone you bring on as an intern is going to have unique strengths, weaknesses, and previous experiences. A school teacher might not need as much help with lesson planning and class management, for example. Or someone with a sports and fitness background might easily spot flaws in people’s movement, but struggle to control the flow of a class and keep things running on time and effectively. Ensure that your program is flexible enough to accommodate the different strengths and weaknesses that each intern brings.


4. Make expectations and outcomes clear

After you’ve pegged down the content you want to cover, you’ll want to decide what’s going to be expected of your interns at each stage of the process, and what the focus is for each unit. Whether it’s class management, identifying flaws, or effective cueing, providing interns with a specific focus will both improve their learning and your ability to provide feedback to them.


You’ll also want to come up with specific drills and activities for interns to work through at each stage of the process. At JP CrossFit, for example, one of the tasks to that interns do early on is to shadow a class and take notes, reconstructing the lesson plan that the coach used. This lets them see how the lesson plan on paper and what actually happens in class are linked, consider timing and class management issues, and help bring to light the minutiae of class management that might otherwise be lost (like instructing athletes on how to set up their gear in the space).


Another expectation that you’ll want to make clear from the beginning is the time commitment you need from your interns, and how that time is spent—whether it’s shadowing classes, attending classes, cleaning the facility, or doing other business activities. In terms of cleaning and other activities, I would strongly recommend that you lean on your intern’s previous experience and find tasks that fit their skills, abilities, and interests—someone with design experience can make a new t-shirt design as part of their internship, someone with marketing experience could help you understand online ad buys, etc. Treat this portion of the internship as a skillshare to help bolster your business and your skills as well.


5. Plan to assess your interns

You wouldn’t tell your athletes to go snatch and then not check in with them and give them feedback. The same thing goes for your interns. After every activity you have them do, whether it’s constructing a lesson plan or leading a whole class, make sure that you have time afterwards to sit down with them and discuss what went well and what they could improve on. This regular, engaged feedback develops virtuosity in both athletes and coaches, and is an essential component of the creating effective coaches.


Hopefully the above has given you a rough outline of what to think about when you’re developing an internship program. The specifics will obviously vary from gym to gym, but if you sit down and develop a clear plan, your interns will be ready to lead classes in no time. If you feel like you don’t have time to train interns because of all your other responsibilities, look into how gym growth software can save you both time and money so you can focus more of your time on building a solid team and community at your gym.


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About the author:

Jennifer Mcdade