"Coming up" in this industry (the " " are because I am still a young coach in this industry), I struggled to find a true mentor for the first 5 years of my coaching career. I was lucky there after to have lunch with Steve Leo (Parisi Sparta, Head of Education for Parisi Franchise System) during an on-site education clinic at our Parisi location and was fortunate that our paths have kept crossing since.
That left a serious void from ages 20-24. I have made a point to help any young coach who reaches out, answer as many questions as people will ask, and present at any educational institution that will let me- something Matt Ibrahim spoke about on the latest episode of the 3 Things Podcast).
My own experience has definitely played a bias in how I answer these questions- specifically "What should I be doing in my first year out of college". After talking with a few coaches last week, all three informed me that acquiring certifications post-graduation was on the top of their list...which sparked this amazing debate on Facebook last weekend...
I am extremely grateful that so many people (this comment thread went 30+ deep) felt comfortable sharing their experiences...I am always grateful when social media chalks up a W and people can have a healthy discussion and not be total assholes. Again, a huge thank you to everyone!
Back on topic now...
Long story short, this sparked a question in my brain about what I would change or 're-do' about my first few years post-graduation.
Keep in mind that his is 100% hindsight...when people ask their peers for advice, isn't it typically for their experiences, though?
1) I would have spent each winter break in college (~4 weeks) shadowing and networking at a new and different training facility.
With things like AirBnB, connections you make in college, and low cost hotels, short term lodging is super easy and relatively affordable for most. I spent my winter breaks taking online classes but I wish I spent that time and money gaining hands on experience, observing people actually DOING it, and networking my ass off to make as many friends in the industry as I can. I don't think I would take the entire 4 week break to shadow but I would absolutely look to spend a week at a facility, wiping down machines, buying the coaches and owner coffee, and talking to them about their time in this field. Full internships are great, but a great first impression and a willingness to learn will get the job done as well.
2) I would get a Personal Training Certification from the NSCA
Specifically the NSCA for two reasons - 1) they have great student priced memberships 2) those student priced memberships make their Certified Personal Trainer certification about $250 - one of the lower priced certifications relative to its NASM and ACSM counterparts.
Secret third reason- you only need to be 18 to obtain a CPT certification and no completion of a bachelors degree required.
College kids have little funds. To spend $500 plus dollars on a certification that has a fairly high fail rate early in your career will yield minimal return. Again- I am a certification guy- BUT- I would be cost effective as a 21 year old about to take on the debt of college.
A Personal Training certification will allow you start coaching while in college, allow you to be covered by facilities insurance during internships, and for most facilities looking for intern's, very few come in with certifications, you WILL stand out (and maybe get paid?).
Yes, get the CSCS, but COACH and NETWORK for at least a year before sitting for it. Make some money, learn what it takes to make it in this hard AF industry, and THEN level up your certification...
3) I would actively seek a mentor OR join a professional development group.
My career growth took an exponential spike after linking up with Steve Leo and then took another spike with I joined Strength Faction. Both are not a coincidence. When you surround yourself with people doing it, you don't have to reinvent the wheel when you do it. You have an opportunity to ask questions, learn about the business of fitness, network with professionals in public and private sectors (being a friend of a friend is a great introductory sentence), and acquire practical education with out spending a lot of money.
side note- the money you spend on these people or to be a part of these groups will be the best money you spend on yourself.
Over the last decade I have personally worked with over a dozen Personal Trainers and Strength Coaches who have left the industry. It's hard. The work hours are crazy. The pay is rough when you first start out.
It's all worth it.
In your first few years in the industry, look to spend time, not money. Yes, some cash may need to be spent to get you to other gyms, on your cell phone bill with the phone calls you make, and hopefully all the cups of coffee you're buying your mentor. Look to surround yourself with industry professionals and soak it up, these are the people who will open 'career doors' and help you when you need it most.