There are many excellent professionals out there that young folk can learn from and look up to. These people may demonstrate great technical knowledge, experience, people skills, or all of the above. Are these practitioners born with these qualities? Contrary to common belief, Mike Stone was not discussing the intricate details to rate of force development as a toddler, and Kunle Odetoyinbo failed to demonstrate stoic unflappability when he was first introduced into the world.
Born to squat yes, but born to be a sport scientist?
This is not to say that fine coaches, leaders, businessmen, etc. did not inherit some of their characteristics, I just know for a fact that they worked on them in the morning, at night, and in their sleep. Every single person that I have been fortunate to learn from, put hundreds and thousands of hours into their career for no or very little pay. It is on this note, that we move onto the subject of internships.
Hopefully from the above, you realize that we all can, and should benefit from volunteering our time to better ourselves (and hopefully the organization we are working for). To say that "one HAS to go through this process", or "everyone HAS to jump through this hoop to get ahead" goes against the grain of the ethos of work experience. Yes, it may be a stepping stone, but it shouldn't be a chore. It is a process that can be enjoyed as you (the sponge) soak up everything that you see, hear, or do.
Reading GKs & sport scientists workout
during my internship period
during my internship period
Full Time Internships
If you are in a gap year, live locally, or have other forms of funding, then a full time long term internship (that could be paid or unpaid) could be an option. These tend to be formally advertised and may run for between 4 months to a year.
Tottenham Hotspur offer both paid and unpaid internships starting each December. The English Institute for Sport (EIS) used to offer it's fast track practitioner program in all areas of sport science, and whilst this has been scaled down of late, is still somewhat operational. Karl Halabi at Reading FC offers season long internships starting every preseason. Clive Brewer of the Rugby Football League also has been looking for similar interns.
These kind of internships are without a doubt the best experience to have. Starting out with menial jobs, you may well get given more and more responsibility as you prove your worth. Obviously, it can be hard to afford to go with this option, and would be almost impossible to maintain a full time job whilst interning.
Part Time Internships
If you are someone that could give up 20-30 days a year for continued development, then you have two main ways to go.
A popular option is to visit a facility or club for a week at a time, returning to normal work, before spending another week in the future at the same or different place. These are great to give a wide experience to how different coaches work in different situations.
The second, and perhaps less practiced option is to spend a day every week with a coach or team. I feel strongly that young people new to a profession will get more from this in the long run than the "week snapshot" described above.
When you consistently work with a practitioner and his/her athletes over a period of time you will get a real feeling for the context in which we work, and how things change throughout the training year. You will realize that it is not about a day or a week of "awesome workouts". Developing athletes is a marathon, not a sprint.
Over time you will see how players are keen and willing to run through a wall for you in preseason. Things can change when the winter months (and rain) come in, players are not playing, or the team is not winning. If you merely came in for a week, you would get a very homogenous view of the goings on.
For both of the above options, they may or may not be advertised. Either way, it is best to get on the phone and investigate the possibilities.
Lastly, short snapshots comprising of one or two day visits to a facility are useful if you already have a grounding in how things work in full time sport, and you can get to see more places this way even if you are busy (as we always are).
To a beginner it may still serve as an enjoyable experience, and may help to serve as motivation to explore the profession further. However, a one day visit can also be misleading and/or demotivating if the experience is disappointing, hence it should not be assumed that every day is like the day of the visit.
Lastly, a couple of points I have learnt by my mistakes or other peoples mistakes:
Find out the name of the person you need to be contacting. A letter addressed "to whom it may concern" will end up in the bin faster than a cadbury wrapper on Biggest Loser.
Write a "real" letter, and follow it up with another letter, email, or phone call. Emails are easy to ignore/lose (half may end up in the junk mail folder anyway).
Do not be too quick to judge when you first visit. I have been guilty of this in the past. After some more time at an organization, you get the context in which training occurs and this may help explain why "best practice" is not always followed.
Confidential things about training, player details, medical matters, etc. should not go beyond the training ground gates.
You may be a full time intern, but you are not full time staff, so be careful where, and how you tread both around the team and the town.