I often get asked what makes a good coach or personal trainer. In my opinion there is such a vast array of characteristics that distinguish a great coach that it’s difficult to find someone that encompasses each of these qualities within their whole coaching identity. Over the past 16 years I have come across some incredible trainers and coaches within the industry. But even the most seasoned coaches will have kinks in their armour – there is always something to work on. So, what actually makes a good coach?
Does a good coach need to be a know it all? Even the best coaches are always looking to improve; they are constantly trying to be better. This does not mean you’ll find them with their heads buried in books or sweeping up qualification after qualification (although, don’t get me wrong, that's still an integral part of developing). But the industry has come a long way and there is a vast array of easy to find resources on important topics such as mental health, positive mental attitudes, and sustainable nutrition just to name a few- These are the sorts of topics that will be just as valuable to your members and clients and enable them to become the best version of themselves.
With all this newfound knowledge some coaches might try and demonstrate what they have learnt by explaining the why behind a particular movement or something they are trying to get their client to do and that’s not a bad thing, in fact it’s good. But how do they become great? A sign of a great coach is that they will listen to what their client has to say, they will listen sincerely. They actually hear and appreciate what is being said to them. This will then lead to a personal response rather than a standard robotic answer. Think back to last time you walked out the gym and the standard question is “how was your workout?”. You will explain just how good your session was and what you really enjoyed, you actually passionately talk about it and then the response you get back is “that is great, hope you have a good day.” I think its good that you actually get asked a question like that but if you are going to ask the question the coach should at least be prepared to listen to the answer and give a personalised response back or remember what you have discussed for the next session.
A good coach will always look to coach the positive and realise just how powerful their presence, and their words are. As an example (and this happens a lot), a coach says “I can’t believe how fast you did that workout.” While good intentions are behind these words, a member may think along more negative lines, such as; “did the coach think I rep shaved?” Basically they don’t believe it was done right. I often hear coaches (I do this at times) trying to motivate their client by telling them not to put the bar down, to keep working. But subconsciously, all the mind can hear at the time is the negative; “put the bar down.”
However, the coach could take a different approach and use their words as weapons of good. Another way of getting their point across in a positive way would be to tell the client “just one rep at a time,” or “hang in there, you’ve got this.”
Being a chameleon with your personality and approach, and being able to empathise with the individuals you are coaching are quality traits to have as a coach in any environment. A great coach will know what they need to do to get the best out of the people they are working with and I guarantee that they all respond differently, therefore they need to be coached differently. Even when coaching a group session of 12 to 20 people the coach will still look to have little 1-2-1 contact points with each individual in the class and making the session a little more personalised rather than it just being a group exercise session. I don’t for one minute just think that this applies just to CrossFit coaching, it should apply to any group session. I would want to deliver a quality workout but at the same point have individuals leave the session feeling like they have not only had a great workout but also improved or grown in some way.
When treating people as unique individuals you will find that there are just some things that people find difficult or a challenge, like getting upside down or jumping on a box. When a coach demonstrates it or explains how to do it, it looks/sounds easy in theory but not to the person who has a fear of that movement. A great coach will help build the individual up to the task, supporting and encouraging them to give it a go while making it a safe environment in which for them to do so. And if they don’t manage the movement or decide not to do it then we would look for the positives, build on those and set a small goal or challenge as to how they will do better next time. Find the small wins, build on those and look forward to what the next step will be. Great coaches ensure that their clients achieve some form of growth which could be physical or mental, but the point is that they leave a stronger more confident human being than when they came in. In short a great coach will keep it simple, be honest, genuinely care, help you push through your mental barriers and help you be better at life.
By; Andy McTaggart, Performance Coach