I believe Michael Cazayoux said it best: “The coach is the steward of the client’s dreams.” That means that your main objective is to help your clients reach their goals.
The fitness industry is filled with a lot of white noise these days. There are endless resources, certifications, and training methodologies that make it easy to become obsessed with the number of exercises, sets, and reps to use in organizing the perfect program. Yet none of this matters if you don’t have clear, specific, and accurate goals for your client.
Traditionally, your job as a coach is to focus on the “how” (the plan) so that your clients can focus on the “what” (the goal). Yet I’m convinced there’s still one component missing—the “why.” Set into motion an accurate goal-setting process and you can help your clients figure out a clear “why” behind their goals, which will accelerate their progress.
FIND YOUR “WHY”
As important as it is to have an objective, something to chase after, equally necessary is a clear reason for wanting to achieve that objective. This is critical to your client’s success, especially when it comes to facing setbacks. Finding the “why”—the reason—will also help clarify the shape and nature of every goal.
When I start working with clients, the first step I have them take is to write down their goal in the following format:
I want ______ because ______ .
Virtually everyone has no problem filling in the first blank. Most people know, or think they know, what they want. It’s the second blank where things get tricky.
There are typically two reasons the “because” statement causes difficulty. The first is trouble being honest with why a particular goal is desired. For example, a client says they want to lose weight because they want to feel better, when actually they want to lose weight because they want to feel confident. They believe losing weight will give them confidence.
Confusion about the “why” becomes a problem when you succeed in helping them lose weight but they still feel unhappy—they don’t feel “better.” This is because confidence is a much deeper issue than just a number on the scale.
The second reason clients have trouble coming up with a “why” is that they don’t actually want to achieve the goal. Let’s say they told you they have a goal to run a marathon. Once you dig a little deeper, you realize they actually feel like they should run a marathon because their friends do. They want to be in better shape physically (like their friends), so they think this is the way to reach that goal. Except your client actually hates running. What they really want is to improve their overall fitness to be healthy for the long haul and keep up with their grandkids.
You can see now that the “because” statement can in some cases be even more important than the goal itself. Sometimes your clients aren’t going to be sure what they want. It’s your job to investigate these goals and get to the bottom of the true “why” to help them succeed. Then you’re in a better position to craft an appropriate program and guide the coaching process.
GET SPECIFIC AND CREATE ACCURACY
Once your client has a clear “because” statement, it’s time to get specific and create accuracy. This process will help clients achieve a clearer vision of what they want and also help you build the best plan to get them there.
A goal like “becoming strong” is too vague. Be curious and start asking questions like, “What would make you feel strong?” The answers could vary from hitting a new deadlift PR, being able to do 10 push-ups, or having visible muscle definition.
When you compare the first answer with the second, you realize that the person who wants to increase muscle definition may not really need or even want to get “strong” in the traditional sense. Instead, the focus should be on improving body composition through proper nutrition. Without asking for clarity, your program would be based on something your client did not truly want in the first place, leaving you beating your head against the wall when they express dissatisfaction after achieving exactly what they asked for!
You may also find that a client’s one stated goal can be broken down into several more specific goals. As they describe what being strong means to them, you begin to envision separate individual achievements, like performing a single-leg squat, bench pressing their bodyweight, and getting five strict pull-ups consecutively.
They’ve just turned one goal into three very specific goals. Boom! Not only does a client now have clarity, but you now have the information you need to build an accurate, viable program, making success and client satisfaction a helluva lot more likely.
MAKE IT ATTAINABLE
Setting realistic goals is a combination of the work your clients are willing to put in and their understanding the hand they were dealt in the genetic poker game. Certain strength or endurance goals may not be in the cards for some clients. In the same way, some people are naturally leaner than others regardless of diet.
Rather than discouraging or encouraging a goal, I recommend that you reverse engineer the goal by breaking it down into smaller parts. If you have a client that is sedentary and wants to complete a 5K, you don’t need to create a goal time to finish the race. Simply work backward. How does any 5K start? With the first few steps. So their first goal might be running for one minute without stopping. This will then progress to five and 10 minutes until they can run a couple of miles at a time.
It is important to have a long-term vision of where your clients want to go, but working backward will often help them become more committed, because what you’re asking of them, and what they’re asking of themselves, is far more realistic and accurate. This allows you time to help them reach their goals while giving them milestones along the way so they can see the real progress they’re making. And progress means increased motivation to stick with the program.
Coaching is so much more than programming movements or exercise selection. You often become a friend, mentor, and confidant to your clients. This personal relationship often reaches beyond health or fitness goals. Start by getting to know them on a deeper level. Find out what makes them tick. By adding accurate goal setting to your intake process, your clients will achieve better results and your coaching will become easier. When you both understand what the driving motivation is behind any goal, planning becomes simpler and clients will become more invested for the long haul.