I had a conversation with a client recently that made me stop and think for a while. She commented on the advice and coaching throughout the session and how helpful she found it, both in and out of the gym. It’s part of the job and automatic at this point, so I tend to think nothing of it. I thanked her for the compliment and then tried to think of a time when I was in her shoes.
Sit back, put your feet up, and relax. Its story time!
Flashback to 1997 and a gym somewhere in suburban New Jersey.
About halfway through one of many basketball practices, the coaches split us up to practice free throws. Right behind sprints, this was my least favorite part of practice. I had a lot of work to do in this area and I was a very inconsistent shooter.
I must’ve missed several shots in a row, because our “shooting coach” felt the need to chime in…
“Jay, you’re a horrible shooter.”
And that was it. Nothing else. No help, no advice. Nothing. From the shooting coach. The coach who’s job it was to help us improve our technique. To say I was angry is an understatement. As an athlete, you get used to coaches pulling you aside to tell you where you messed up. I didn’t mind the criticism, but the other coaches would tell you something you could learn from and use next time. This guy gave me nothing. Thanks for the help, coach!
Here’s my question: if you’re a coach and see a player struggling with some aspect of their game, why open your mouth to criticize if you have no intention or ability to help them? To any personal trainer and coach, fitness sports or anything in between, I ask you the same question:
why criticize and berate your clients if you can’t do anything productive to help them?
This approach does nothing to correct or solve any problems It is confusing at best, and discourages people from trying at worst.
There’s a much better way to go about it.
Compare that experience to my brief time practicing with the basketball team in college 2 years later.
During one evening practice, the coaches had the big men together working on free throws and post defense. My free throw shooting was better, but not by much. After a few shots, the head coach came over and explained what he saw that was causing me to be so inconsistent. He told me what to do and what I should focus on while on the line.
Within 5 minutes there was a noticeable improvement. Mind blown! Even after I quit the team I continued to use his advice when I played or went to shoot around.
These two experiences stick with me to this day as examples of what to do and what to avoid when coaching people on exercise, nutrition, and daily habits that lead to better health.
Of course, fitness is much different than sports, but coaching is an important part of both. In all my experiences with coaching, on the receiving end as an athlete and student and on the providing end as a personal trainer, these are a few of the things I believe make great coaches stand out:
1.Observe, listen, and do something helpful.
Being critical is fine, but also give them something they can do to improve. It’s silly to have to say it, but this is what coaching is! If you’re coaching a client with nutrition, don’t yell at them for having a bad day. Listen to them and discuss what they can do to get back on track and solve the issue going forward. Instead of “wow, your push ups look awful!”, show them how to do it right. Train them. This is what you’re there for!
2.No advice is better than bad advice.
Sometimes its better to just be quiet. The last thing anyone needs is more bad advice that doesn’t help them solve their problem. If you can’t help, keep it to yourself.
3. Communication is key.
As a coach, you have an understanding of fitness, nutrition, sports, or whatever your chosen field is. Your knowledge is useless if your clients don’t understand you when you speak. Big words and industry specific terms are fine when talking to colleagues, but your clients most likely don’t care. Skip the buzzwords and learn to speak their language. The better you can communicate, the better their results will be.
4. Be patient.
It would be great if everyone was 100% on board and ready to go from day one, but that’s not how it works. People progress and learn at different speeds. Understand that it takes more time for some than it does for others. Encouragement, reminders, and even a little “tough love” are all fine, but don’t hold it against them or get mad because they aren’t getting it as fast as you want them to.