In 2019, I was lucky enough to attend Strong New York (a charity event/fitness conference with a plethora of the industry’s leading coaches). The amount of knowledge at this event was dense. One of the panel discussions was led by Joe DeFranco, Jay Ferruggia, Luka Hocevar, and Jordan Syatt.
When it came time for questions, I asked “If you could go back earlier in your career and focus on just one skill or habit, what would it be?”
All of them said communication.
Communication skills are what separate the best coaches from the mediocre.
As a coach, you need to communicate in ways your clients can understand and ask questions that inspire them to change.
In terms of what the best coaches say to their clients specifically, there are a few that stand out.
“Who are you and what are you here for?”
The wording here sounds a little “drill sergeant”, so you can reframe the question to your liking. The idea is to find out exactly who your client is and what they want to accomplish by working with you.
As I’m writing, it almost seems redundant to include this point. But more often than not, coaches will immediately jump into a program without even asking what their clients want in the first place.
Goals are like directions on a roadmap. If you don’t know where your clients are starting (i.e. training/injury history), you won’t know how to help them get to their destination (i.e. their goals).
“It’s probably going to take longer than you think.”
Your clients will often have big ambitions, and that’s awesome. But gently help them understand that it’ll probably be a longer process than they expect.
Something I personally say often is “If you use habits that are unsustainable, your results will be unsustainable. If you focus on incorporating sustainable habits into your lifestyle, your results will be sustainable.”
The best coaches help their clients understand it’s not how quickly you can achieve a result, it’s how long you can maintain it and then set new goals moving forward.
“At times, you’ll think nothing is working.”
This has happened to the best of us, even coaches. We work our butts off in the gym, track our food, get quality sleep, take supplements, and nothing seems to change. This can be pretty damn demotivating.
But it’s part of the process. Progress isn’t always linear.
The important thing is to stay the course and trust the process. Communicate this to your clients immediately and throughout their programming. They’ll be less anxious when they hit a small “plateau” in their training. It’s natural and happens to everyone.
“At times, you’ll think other people are making progress easier than you.”
We’re our own toughest critics, and we tend to put other people’s progress above our own. This is human nature.
Everyone has their own unique challenges and comparing yourself to others is a losing battle. If necessary, communicate to your clients that they’re not competing with others. The beauty of training is the only competition you have is yourself. And the only person you should compare yourself to is who you were yesterday.
“Focus on what you can control today.”
This is valuable for everyone, not just your clients. What you do now is the only thing truly within your control.
We can’t control outcomes, but we can control our daily habits and actions. It’s the accumulation of the small daily habits we choose to control that eventually add up.
If you’re ever uncertain about a decision you’re about to make, ask yourself, “Will I be proud of myself after doing this? Is this helping me get closer to my ultimate goal?” If the answer is no, don’t do it. But understand that you’re not always going to be perfect and life happens.
Communicate this to your clients often.
“You’ll feel motivated maybe 2 or 3 out of every 10 workouts. Do them anyway.”
Motivation comes and goes. The “fittest” people out there aren’t always motivated, but they train anyway. Why? Because they know what they get out of it. And it’s a hell of a lot better than the alternative.
“You didn’t gain all of your progress from one workout. You won’t lose all of your progress from one meal. Relax and get right back on track.”
Your clients are going to enjoy cheat meals, as they should. But they’re probably going to beat themselves up for it.
Help them understand that enjoying the foods they love is a good thing that doesn’t need to change. It’s about incorporating these foods into their lifestyle so they don’t get frazzled every time they reach for a slice of pizza.
“I don’t know. But I’ll find out.”
You don’t know everything, no one does or ever will. And your clients will trust you more if you admit it. Don’t be the know it all coach who has an answer for everything, especially when you’re just pulling it out of your ass!
If you don’t know something, say “I don’t know.” Then go and find the answer for them. You’ll earn the trust of your clients and they’ll respect your authority next time you have the answer.
“I’m on your team. You and I are in this together.”Coaching is a relationship, not a dictatorship. Coaches often like to tell, tell, tell. They talk at their clients rather than with them. This leads clients to often think they’ve somehow disappointed their coaches when they missed one of their workouts or ate some pizza on the weekend.
By telling your clients that you are working with them on their team, you’re showing them that you actually give a shit about them as a person (not just a “client”). The chances of them hitting their goals and enjoying the process along the way skyrocket as a result of this.
“You can’t disappoint me, even if you tried!”
Piggybacking of the last point, the best coaches create a judgement-free environment for their clients. Your role as a coach is to be a source of guidance, inspiration, and education for your clients. They rely on you to listen to their unique problems and situations while leaving judgement completely out of the equation.
By communicating that they can’t disappoint you, they’ll feel more comfortable approaching you when challenges inevitably come along the way. You’d be surprised at how effective this can be when trying to establish great relationships with your clients.
“Exercise isn’t a punishment for what you ate. You don’t HAVE to train, you GET to.”
Training is a celebration, not the tedious task so many people make it out to be. Let’s have some fun!
“Split squats will always suck.”
These will never get easy. Sorry!
Communication is the foundation of a great coach and the skill needed to foster positive change in others. Work on it continuously during every interaction with your clients and watch their progress (and your business) skyrocket.