I differentiate between a Course (measured in hours to days), Work Experience (measured in days to weeks) and an Internship (measured in months to a year) in time AND in hands on experience (Course: role-play; Work Experience: mainly observing; Internship: making decisions and owning the outcomes).

Typically there are three types of Internships: Unpaid, Paid and Pay-to-Play.

Below are my thoughts on each.

Unpaid Internship

In the Strength & Conditioning world, these are possibly the most common type of Internship. And there’s a reason for this: you probably don’t have many skills that are of much value.

Sure, you might know some theory but your ability to put it altogether isn’t great, hence the Internship.

What to expect: In the beginning you’ll probably just be observing but as soon as possible you should be given tasks (collecting information, loading barbells, filling water bottles, etc.).

As you build trust with your Preceptor and you understand their systems, you should be loaded with more responsibility.

After a few (two to six) weeks you should be given the chance to practice making decisions and giving feedback to the Athletes.

Most of the time the Preceptor should be close enough to observe you and give feedback after sessions.

What to give: Get in early. Be the last to leave. Don’t be a wall-flower. Offer, offer and offer again. Offer to do extra. Offer to help the Athletes. Offer to take on more responsibility.

Pros: You’ll probably be exposed to plenty of practical experiences.

Cons: Between studies, working to make money and your Internship, you probably won’t have much free time.

Interesting: Since you’ll often be in your Preceptor’s vision you have a great chance to impress them.

Paid Internship

This is where the Intern receives financial renumeration that is either inline with market value or is at least a ‘liveable wage’.

An important point to note is for this to occur the Intern must be able to justify their position and earn the Preceptor some income. In other words, there needs to be some value provided by the Intern.

In most internship cases there is an inverse sliding scale between ‘What you Learn’ and ‘What you Earn’: the greater the former, the less the latter. And vice versa.

What to expect: Since your market value is rather low and the Preceptor needs to justify you as an expense, you can expect to do lots of (unsupervised), repetitive work with very low levels of decision making required.

For example, you might perform generic health and wellness assessments in the corporate setting.

What to give: You should be in this to help others so give your all.

Also, this might not be the most stimulating type of introduction into the profession so make sure you’re seeking other opportunities in the field. Example, offer to do the rehabilitation for a sports club.

Pros: It’s probably better than doing the graveyard shift at McDonalds and, while not the most exciting, you’re still getting paid experience in the field.

Cons: It’s highly unlikely you chose this profession to do the type of work usually associated with paid Internships.

Interesting: In my experience, most of those who took the ‘cash option’ have left the health/performance field.


Pay-for-Play Internship

This is an interesting paradigm: the Intern pays the Preceptor.

I understand* it but I am not sure I agree with it: most people offering these seemed to have learned from others at no cost.

*The Preceptor has knowledge and experience that they and the Intern value and a financial transaction takes place.

What most don’t seem to grasp is this turns the tables as the Preceptor is now working for the Intern.

What to expect: If you’re paying for this it’d better be:

  1. great information that can’t be found elsewhere (difficult, when you consider the amounts of information on YouTube, blogs, etc.); and
  2. so well recognised you’ll leap-frog other candidates for most entry-level positions you apply for.

Try this: Ask a few leaders how much they value your Preceptor’s influence before signing up. You might save a truckload of money.

What to give: Your money..?

Pros: The pressure is on the Preceptor to deliver to you.

Cons: There aren’t many of these Internships that are worth it. I can’t think of one.

Interesting: You’re the boss so demand the ‘product’ you’re receiving is worth it.



It’s a Course if:

  • it’s completed in hours/days; and
  • role-play is where most of the ‘experience’ comes in.

It’s Work Experience if:

  • the duration is days/weeks; and
  • you’re mainly observing.

It’s an Internship if:

  • it takes months to a year (anything over a year is slave labour); and
  • you’re many making decisions and facing the consequences of those decisions.

Inverse-sliding scale: There is an inverse relationship between What you Learn and What you Earn.

There is no ‘best’ scenario it all depends on what you can afford to Invest (time, money, etc.) and what you want for your Return on Investment (practical knowledge, money or the Preceptor’s time).

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