When I first looked into CrossFit for my own training 5 years ago, I knew I was looking for a certain type of coach. As someone passionate about education and working on a counseling degree, I had a decent image of what would make for a good fit. Since Slate opened last year, I’ve had to clarify what it is that I am looking for in a coach even more. We get a lot of applications at Slate and I love visiting other gyms, this list helps my sort through both of these experiences.
First and foremost, I want someone who understands that coaching is a job.
Coaching CrossFit is a job where you show up on time, act professional, dress appropriately, listen to your boss, hit your assignments, and perform well. It has W-2’s and comes with responsibility. I feel like I could do a whole post on what coaching is not. It is a profession, it can be a career, and many people do it very well.
Closely related, I want someone who is a coach, not an athlete.
There is a distinct difference between being an athlete and being a coach. First on the list of what coaching is not is “A coach is not simply a more developed athlete.” Coaching is an entirely separate mindset, and being good at one is no guarantee of the other. Athletes are focused on achieving their goals, their own performance, and executing a game plan. Coaches are focused on their athletes, creating an environment where clients can perform and learn, and developing said game plan.
I want a coach who is focused on their job.
CrossFit is awesome for making friends and being friendly. I love catching up with my clients before/after class, but not at the cost of the next class. Remember that each client is giving you their time and money. They are paying just as much as the last class and your favorite client. Ask yourself if you see a coach who likes to shuffle off to the side and chat with the competitive team working through their extra work, or perhaps offers his vast knowledge to the hot girl working on handstands. If you do, maybe its time to find a new coach.
I want an active coach.
I love coaching group classes. Seriously, with all the movement, all the people, and being able to move around, I feel at comfortable and at home. I look for the same in my coaches. Does your coach like to perch atop a certain spot and eye her class from afar? Or does she like to walk around, varying distances and perspectives to see your form and movement from different angles? Paying college bills meant waiting tables and bartending. There I learned about performing “table touches.” The goals is to literally touch, speak to or at the very least look at each table on each and every trip. Clients become tables, platforms even help complete this image. Good coaches stay moving and stay active during their classes.
I want a relatable coach (part A) and I want a kind coach (Part B).
It’s a people job. That means connecting to and understand up to 20 different people an hour. It mean’s building some kind of relationship to connect with them. The last thing I want to hear or see is a coach berating an athlete. Wish I could say this was a rare thing and I’ve been surprised by who I’ve watched dress down their client in public. (side note: That embarrassment you are feeling for that person is how that coach should feel about themselves) If you are leaving the gym consistently feeling that you’ve let your coach down, please say something, or try a new gym. All humans have bad days, off days, complicated days, and a good coach will not only see this, but they will figure out a way to help you work through it.
I want an educated and ever-curious coach.
In fact I’d rather have a curious coach than a coach who knows “everything.” When is the last time you saw your coach stumped? Better yet maybe you heard them say that they would ask around and come back with a better answer. If you did, you have a great coach. Good coaching is a balance of learning, leadership, solid deductions, and creativity. At the basis of it all is a commitment to never stop learning. You are required by CrossFit HQ to have an L1, great. In six months, you’d better have something else. Other certifications and educational avenues are super important to me.
Clients surprise me constantly. Over the past four years I have seen some interesting movement patterns and positions. Some have completely left me flabbergasted and frustrated. The best sentence any coach can learn is “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.” In coaches meetings, sometimes I toss my hands up and ask how to handle a client that is rubbing me the wrong way or I feel stuck with. A hallmark of a good coach is a natural sense of curiosity and drive to learn more.
I want a coach who understands the darker responsibilities of being a coach.
The wording on that is weird, but I couldn’t think of a better way to say it. Honestly coaching is the most fun job I have ever had. I get to shoot the shit with my clients while we work towards heavy double cleans, I get to joke around with them while we warm up, and I love celebrating the various achievements and milestones. That’s the part that draws most people towards the job. On the flip side there is a certain gravity that comes with the job. People will get injured if your coaching notebook is full of bullshit. Any injury to a client extends further out than simply quitting your gym, and will affect their work, social and relational lives. Responsibility means being brave and saying something to the intimidating client throwing double body-weight around. Letting little form tweaks go consistently will add up for that client you really like.
For example: What do you do when one of your clients comes up and tells you sheepishly that she is pregnant? (Personally, I yip, squeal and hug her) But then I calm down and begin to answer her questions surrounding continuing classes at Slate. Let’s be perfectly frank, your L1 didn’t cover prenatal and postpartum exercise programming. Are you really going to go off a website, pinterest photos, and/or an online forum you read about a mom who did? If at the back of your mind you know your answer is held together with an argument like “well other people have, and I’ve seen it on a few main site pictures,” please don’t lie to your client. Yes, I’ve had many many clients keep lifting all the way into the last trimester, and come back in less than a month after having a child. It’s damned impressive. I’ve also had clients who for whatever reason lost their pregnancy and handling that sorrow and loss is immensely challenging and sobering.
Most coaches will start because they love coaching, and this whole list assumes that as a given. (Please don’t be a burnt out coach) After doing it full-time for four years, I adore the job. Seriously, being a coach is the best job in the world. It allows me to be social and around people all day. It lets me be a nerd, to geek out and research different techniques, styles, and patterns endlessly. It is rewarding in that I get to help participate in the rewriting of someone’s life. It is also a job that holds some level of depth and responsibility that I both honor and embrace. When I look around for a coach for my own development, when I am hiring a new coach, or dropping in on a box, I’m looking at this list to help guide me.