Simple steps to being a better trainer or coach

In my training/coaching career I’ve worked with a wide variety of demographics. I have coached junior varsity football, little league baseball and basketball, rugby, worked with athletes from age 10 up to the professional ranks, competitive bodybuilders and lifters and worked with people who just want to get in better shape.

When I started out in this business, there wasn’t a book or an online resource available for me to refer to for help along the way. In fact, almost EVERYTHING I learned was from word of mouth, trial and error and watching others.

In my opinion, that is the best way to learn. Books and blogs only teach you so much, you have to find your style, find your groove and figure out what works best with your personality.

  • Treat each person as an individual and find their drive

If you are coaching a team, you cannot treat the star player and the average player the same. The star playing may need minimal coaching and just a small prod to get what you are coaching, the average player is average for a reason. When I was an assistant FB coach for a JV team in the late 1990’s, we had a starting center on the team who was a beast of a kid. He really only had the starting role because he was absolutely enormous. He could play half-assed and still block 2 kids, but he lacked aggression. He lacked that killer instinct to flat out dominate.

At that time I was training for a professional FB workout so I was strong, fast (for my size) and in shape. I always had this soft spot for kids who don’t realize their potential in sports so I kind of took him under my wing. After several days of practice, a few games and watching him block kids with weak arms and no drive, I had enough. I said to him “this practice you are going to block ME. I want to see you get aggressive and move me around.”

Every single play I lined up as a DT and forced him to work to move me. I wasn’t wearing any pads and he was in full gear. Of course I didn’t manhandle him, but I wasn’t making it easy for him either. One play he decided to really get aggressive. He fired off the ball so hard his helmet drove into my nose, breaking it and blood was gushing out of my face.

He said, “coach I am sorry!!”.

I looked at him and said/yelled (paraphrasing), “Sorry? Don’t you ever say you are sorry to me for hitting me like that! That is what I want to see every single play! You fire off the ball and hit that kid across the line just like you hit me!”

I got a towel, cleaned up the blood and he went on to do that the rest of the season.

By the time he was a senior he was a co-captain of the team.

Unorthodox, perhaps, but effective. Its football, not tennis.

If you have a client who is getting mediocre results you have to try to find a way to motivate them. Not every client is going to be a dream one where you just put the weight on the bar and they push themselves to the brink of their physical limitations. Some people really don’t want to be there, but they feel they need it. Some need to be gently talked to, some need to be talked to sternly and some need external motivation in order to tap into that internal motivation which will propel them to excel the best way they can.

You have to find that. If you treat everyone the same, you will have a slew of dissatisfied clients who don’t get results.

  • Planning, progression, teaching

From day one you have to develop an organized plan. Whether its in practice, training system, progression of exercises or simple to complex forms of drills/exercises.

This may seem obvious to some, but its more common than you think.

Novices and seasoned vets do not need the same program. Novices often have to start off with bodyweight exercises to learn how to move with proper form before they can progress to a  barbell. They have to learn how to control weight, build up a base of using their own body and develop it first.

People with experience sometimes just need form tweaks, different training styles or a different motivational method to get them to their goals.

With any of them, you have to have set in place a plan of attack. From day your system needs to be set up. You need to know what you will teach, how you will help them progress and how you will go about dealing with any issues that pop up along the way.

You are the professional, they are the client. If you show them you aren’t adequately equipped to do the job, or your system looks haphazard to them, they will leave and find someone who is meeting their needs.

  • Communication

This isn’t talking to them about your day. This is telling them what, why and how. Why they are doing said exercise/drill, what it helps with and how to do it. People love to know what they are doing. Don’t think that your clients/athletes are just hamsters on a wheel, they often have the desire to know what exactly they are doing and how it will help them.

You don’t have to enter into a 30 minute dissertation, but you should know exactly what each part of your system does to help them achieve their goals.

For example:

Client: “I hate squatting, why do we have to do this”

You: “Because squats are the kings of exercise and everyone needs to”

Wrong…

That isn’t answering the question, that is being a bro.

Try something like this:

Client: “I hate squatting, why do we have to do this”

You: “Your legs are the base of your body, you walk on them all day and use them all day. Squatting builds up strength in the quads, hamstrings, glutes, lower back and pretty much all over. Over time you will feel stronger, look better, lose bodyfat and gain confidence having all of that.”

Client: “But aren’t they bad for your knees?”

You: “A properly performed squat helps your knees, not hurts them. If you had knee pain before we will fix that for you by making sure your form is perfect.”

See. Short and effective. You don’t need to fire off a long explanation, just help them to understand that you are the expert and their training is in good hands.

  • Trainer/coach first, friend second

This is easier in a team setting. Personal interaction is limited because you have to deal with many people at one time and you aren’t going to have time to develop a personal relationship with each of them as you would being a one-on-one trainer or small group trainer.

As a trainer, this is a fine line. Clients talk, you talk. Sometimes they invite you to personal functions to hang out, sometimes you attend their weddings, sometimes you hang out on the weekends. That time in the gym is all business. For the session you have to focus on the task at hand. It can be a challenge, at times, if a relationship has progressed from business to business personal, but they are still paying you. When someone pays you for a service you owe it to them to give them the best service you can in that allotted time frame.

Keep personal chatter to a minimum, maybe between sets, during rest breaks or after the session. Don’t make the mistake of turning an entire session into a free for all. Maintain control and give them a good workout.

  • Positive feedback

One of the most important things you can do for any athlete or client is positive feedback.

We are humans, not sheep. We like to hear when we are doing a good job, we like to be encouraged, we like to be praised. Its a rare person who doesn’t care about that. Very rare.

Text them, “good workout today, you are making great progress!!!”

Acknowledge them in front of the team by recognizing a great play or a big hit.

Post it on Facebook or Twitter with a video of their lift and a mention of their name and what they did.

You are the expert and when your clients/athletes feel they are making you proud, they will work that much harder to continue doing so. Not only for themselves, but for you.

  • Education

The final piece and a very important one.

Education doesn’t stop with school. Its never ending.

Articles by respected people in the industry you are coaching in, books, seminars, etc..

You owe this to your career and your clients to continually learn new ideas, new methods and figure out which ones work best for you.

I have adapted my style from the start of my career to now. When I began, I was a young man who only really knew one way to train. I can look back and see how much I have learned, how much I have grown as a coach, how my style has adapted and evolved and how my training methods have progressed from being very limited to being very cersatile.

With all that said, you have to find a niche. Being a one size fits all trainer may work in a commercial facility where you pull clients from a wide base of members. If you work for yourself you want to get a name in a limited few areas of expertise. When people hear your name, they will know “he’s the guy that trains football players, my kid wants to play football, maybe he can help”.

Taking these steps will assist you in becoming a true expert and not just a statistic of trainers and coaches who drop out of the business after a short time.

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