As we all know, being a coach is such a rewarding career. It allows you to help people craft better versions of themselves. What’s better than that?
In addition, you encounter a variety of people who challenge you to become a better version of yourself.
Yet, no matter the situation, as coaches we’re responsible for maintaining boundaries with our clients.
Some clients are angry, stressed, grieving, depressed, or just suffer from low self-esteem. Some are going through cancer treatments or dealing with other health issues and will need extra encouragement to lift them up. Some might flirt with you and/or say inappropriate things. Narcissistic personalities believe they’re more deserving than your other clients and will try to steal your time.
These are all difficult situations to navigate, and it can be incredibly difficult to know, as a professional, what the appropriate reaction is when encountering some of these issues and personalities.
Here are my top ways to be a better coach in this respect:
- Be a consistent force in your clients’ lives. Many people struggle with not having anyone to rely on. That should not include you!
Tip: Get their programming done on time, be early to training sessions, greet them with a smile, and leave your personal baggage out of the training session.
- Limit your availability to clients. This may seem counterintuitive, but creating clear and defined times for connecting with your clients is crucial to preserving your own energy. The better your energy, the better job you can do for them.
Tip: Create check-in appointments outside your gym hours that have a specific time, date, and, most important, duration.
- Have empathy and be a great listener, but recognize what your job is as a coach and know when your responsibilities end. Refer out if a client needs help beyond the power of exercise.
Tip: Create an all-star list of referrals!
- Treat all clients the same. Each of us deserves equal care and attention. In other words, I don’t care if you’re LeBron James—you can get on my schedule like the rest of them. Recognize when a client starts to push this boundary.
Tip: Ask yourself, If I dedicated this much time to all my clients, would I have time to do anything for myself? My family?
- Know that you are not responsible for fixing everyone’s life. There are fitness-related problems you can certainly help with—that’s your job. But you do not owe anyone a problem-free existence.
Tip: Reflect on what clients tell you and sympathize with their situation.
Tip: Avoid giving free advice beyond your area of expertise.
Tip: Encourage them to get on with their workouts, and hopefully they’ll feel better by the end!
Tip: Again, if necessary, refer out.
- Know when to fire a client. If your attempts to create boundaries between you and a client who is demonstrating inappropriate behavior or making improper comments fails, know that you’re not obligated to continue this relationship.
Tip: Schedule a sit-down meeting and make your observations of the inappropriate behavior/comments clear to the client and emphasize that such conduct will not be tolerated. In other words, avoid being passive and hoping the uncomfortable situation will simply vanish. That way, if the behavior persists, you can refer back to the sit-down meeting as the basis for terminating the contract, written or verbal, between you and said client.
I recognize that particular circumstances can be very different from what is outlined here and can present their own unique challenges. This is merely a list of suggestions that have proved effective, one you can build on based on your own experience. Be prepared to analyze the position you’re in and choose the best course of action for you. Know that difficult times can transform you into a superior coach with a more effective set of tools. Over time, you’ll be even better prepared to move forward with confidence, able and ready to coach more people and confront new professional challenges.