The Disappearance of the Player/Coach


This is a plea for CrossFit Coaches to “eat their own cooking.” I am here to talk about a few trends I see in the CrossFit coaching world, most significantly the disappearance of the player/Coach.

Once a pillar of the community and the CrossFit world, owners and Coaches everywhere would not only program, whiteboard and coach the workout (and mop, and sweep and make coffee and etc.), they’d suffer along with their members by taking the next class on the schedule.

That’s right. The player/Coach is that individual who not only cooks your meal, but sits down and eats from the same plate.

And this, people, is MORE important than you may at first realize. Done right, it can actually be the heartbeat of your gym.

But before I discuss the benefits of this approach, and how reintroducing the player/Coach can reinvigorate your own gym, let me tell you what’s currently happening.

  • Coaches get burned: I get it. After coaching three or four of the same workout, and running private clients through similar workouts, the LAST thing you want to do is the workout yourself. You’re burned, and no one can blame you there.
  • Coaches follow their own program: With the increasing “seriousness” of the Open, Regionals and Games more and more CrossFit athletes are going the specialized route of training, (which is ultimately ironic given that CrossFit started off as a plea AGAINST specialization) as the gym’s program does not meet your unique athletic needs.
  • Coaches go solo or workout elsewhere: Coaching requires a TON of energy output and socialization. And again, the last thing you want to do is workout feeling like you have to perform. Sometimes it’s better to stick your headphones in and go train in a corner somewhere and not talk to anyone.

While all of these reasons to train solo and follow your own program are all perfectly legit (I’ve been there myself), it can also send certain messages to your membership and to your community.

  • You don’t care. Honestly, it doesn’t matter how many hours you’ve been at the gym already. Members come in for one hour and they expect YOU to be on, to be excited and to deliver a kick-butt class. Burned-out, non-participating Coaches usually don’t meet this mark. And what’s worse, everyone can tell.
  • The gym’s program is not good. For better or worse, you following your own program usually gets members wondering: What’s wrong with our program? If we want to prepare for the Open, do we need a “special” program too? And for all your reasoned arguments otherwise, your members will always key into what you’re doing over what you’re saying.
  • You don’t like the gym. Again, members are excited to not only learn from you but to train with you and get to know you too. Don’t underestimate how much your members light up when they see you working out alongside them. Unfortunately, if they never see you they can only assume it’s because you don’t want to be there. And if YOU don’t want to be there, why should they?

Again, this is not an attack against Coaches who are also CrossFit competitors, or who work hard, or who need some alone time now and then. All reasons are legit in their own way.

But if every Coach in your gym falls into these habits, well, you don’t have nearly as strong and connected of a community as you could. And if you’re not building that community, you better believe the CrossFit gym down the street is, too.

And trust me when I say that most members have no problems taking their burpees and their friends (and their dollars) to the gym down the road that seems to “care” more.

So what’s to be done?

Fortunately, even jumping into a group class once or twice a week can have profound effects on all of the above:

  • Members who see you do the workout pay extra special attention to your coaching, because they saw you just did it and how much energy you put into the WOD.
  • Members who see you improving your fitness and putting your trust in the gym’s program more easily put their trust and faith in the same program. They know that because you do it, you have a vital interest in making sure it’s the best program possible for you and for everyone else. Belief is huge!
  • And finally, members who workout alongside you get to know you better, which really, at the end of the day, is the whole point of CrossFit. We remove the barrier between Coach and member so we can all build better relationships and a stronger community.

So there you have it. The benefits of the player/Coach are real.

Look around at the best, most fun-looking CrossFit’s out there and pay attention to what their Coaches do and how strong their community is as a result. You might even have more fun at your own gym. And that’s not a bad thing either.

Nate Helming coaches strength and mobility for national and international-level road cyclists, mountain bikers, triathletes and ultrarunners at San Francisco CrossFit, as well as elite-level amateur runners and triathletes outside the gym. You can follow him on Instagram, Twitter and check out more of his videos and articles on his website,