I have been a CrossFit coach for nearly 5 years at the time of this writing, but have been involved in the fitness industry for longer than that, having spent years as a personal trainer. I started out working for the Man in a globo gym, and after that, I teamed up with another trainer friend of mine in his small training studio. Each step along that path has served to sharpen my skill and specify my understanding of the role I play in the lives of the people I work with.
But what is a coach? Who am I? Who am I supposed to be at any given time? What difference does it make anyway?
This originally was meant to be directed only to my team of coaches here at CrossFit Regeneration as a way of helping them develop, but I feel that it’s necessary for not only them, but our athletes and clients as well to know what makes a good coach, and to maybe understand a little of the difficulty that comes with the job.
I won’t spend an overwhelming amount of time with this. I don’t think that much can prepare you for the onslaught of hats that you’ll be wearing more than experience. However, two things are required before the conversation can even start and neither of them have anything to do with education.
– Happy – It’s difficult to teach someone how to be fun, or how to liven up a room, but it’s evident when this is missing. If your aren’t happy to be here, not happy to see your athletes, not happy to help them improve, and a general grump, then you probably won’t work out here anyway.
– Empathetic – Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, to understand their struggles and pain and to respond in an appropriate manner. Empathy recognizes intimidation, or embarrassment for what they are, and adjusts so that the athlete is put at ease. Anybody can yell, and our coaches do that, but it takes a special person to have the ability to climb into the heart of individuals and understand them.
I was officially “educated” in 2007 when I received my first Certification from the International Sports Science Association. I could name the muscles and bones, and explain how a body’s metabolism works. Blah, Blah, Blah… Who cares? The important thing is that I can move the information stored in my brain into my athletes brains in a way that makes sense to them. In a way that is not only accurate and true, but also compelling and appropriate to their needs.
A good coach must be able to explain the “Why” behind the workout. If you don’t know what that is; figure it out! Buy books, read journals (and not just CrossFit ones), attend seminars etc. Become a master of the information and learn how to simplify it down to the essentials so that it can be consumed in small bites. You must be constantly learning so that you can be constantly teaching.
Everyone is motivated differently. What gets one person fired up, discourages the next, and has absolutely zero impact on the third. An effective coach knows how to distinguish the difference between the various ways individuals are motivated and can shift tactics back and forth from person to person.
Drive comes from the inside. Drill Sergeants motivate by intimidation, threats, and noise, but as soon as their backs are turned, the “motivation” has vanished. Conversely, a good coach can get inside someone’s head and fish out their real Drive and Passion. A good coach speaks to their athletes emotions, and if you are doing your job, before long, that athlete is compelled from within. They’ll put in the work of what’s required to accomplish their goals, even when your back is turned.
Sometimes managing a class or session feels more like herding cats than organizing people for a task. It’s your job to show up with a plan. It can be an easy temptation to walk in and “wing it”, thinking, “I’ve been through this before, it’s a piece of cake.” But reject that notion! Have a plan. Adjust based on the group. And leave room for people to connect.
Your job is not to be a clock manager, but it’s not, not to be one either. People need some direction and structure, and if you’re just winging it, things can feel disorganized and unprofessional. If we’re seeking to give someone the best hour of their day, then we need to put a little thought into it!
A good coach eventually becomes their athletes Counselor. You see them at their worst and it doesn’t put you off. You see them in their weakness and failure and then enable them to walk toward achievement. You see their self-deception and tell them the hard truths. You have a special responsibility to care about them. Do not squander this privilege! Do not abuse this trust!
If this is something you struggle with, consider this part of your education. Read books, listen to podcasts, talk to a counselor yourself. Become an expert at handling the human heart.
We’ve walked through a myriad of roles that a good coach must carry. Every day you will wear most, if not, all of these hats. And your effectiveness as a coach will come down how well you juggle the hats.
At the end of the day, your effectiveness as a coach will come down to whether you love your athletes or not. If you do, you have the opportunity to be the catalyst toward transforming their lives for the better. Take that responsibility seriously.