By Mike McCullough BS, USAW-1, ACSM-CPT
This past summer I experienced a taste of my dream job working in the NFL as a temporary employee in the strength and conditioning department for the Oakland Raiders. I had several roles for the staff and the team, as the Raiders strength and conditioning staff are fully committed to facilitating a high performance environment. My roles were emphasized and deemphasized according to the changing training periods. We were in organized team activities in the early summer, which was the height of off-season training. I started off with the typical intern duties; setting up the weight room for lifting sessions and cleaning after, but quickly picked up on the expectations for all of our responsibilities. Early I was in charge of the performance nutrition program, making sure every player had access to our performance snacks at optimal nutrient timing windows.
As soon as I learned the names of all 90 players, I progressed to getting real NFL coaching experience in the weight room. I helped improve their technique in weightlifting derivatives, warm-ups, and movement sessions, and explained their importance whenever possible. The middle of the summer was somewhat slower. During this time I had several small research projects that looked into the potential effectiveness of different training and monitoring devices.
Towards the end of the internship we were in training camp, where the intensity of the whole organization picked up as the season drew closer. I balanced the responsibilities I had been gaining over the internship, while adding new ones. I started to run several of the team’s athlete monitoring programs, including GPS tracking, body composition trends, and hydration status. Running a GPS system for 90 men during 2-a-day practices, 5-6 days a week, with 2 lifting days on top proved to be an exciting challenge. It was all worth it, because as a team we built a database combining all of our training load data and physiological markers into one file that will allow the Raiders to track trends, and get a better idea how each player’s stress affects their ability to perform. The staff can track and analyze this data in a clear and timely manner, so they can share it with the football coaches and change how the team conducts practices and training to truly maximize effectiveness.
I felt very prepared to excel in the internship thanks to what I had learned in only two short semesters at ETSU. I understood that we needed to promote an atmosphere that allows every player every chance of being the most successful. Whether it was lifting instruction, or education on proper sleep and nutrition habits, we were there to do anything possible to help the athlete reach their peak. What I learned most was how to apply my skills among a group of outspoken, big, and strong, grown men. I learned to sell how our training and monitoring, and how it would help each individual perform their best on the field. My tactics varied with each individual, but it was a fun challenge building relationships with the team and trying to individualize my communication to be most effective with each of them.
When I graduate, I want to work in a very similar setting with a highly competitive college or professional football team. Working with such a large group in my favorite sport, with all the pressure as well as all the support, was an amazing experience and really brought the best out of me.