Coaching to Keep Your Members

Kari Sims, a Coach at CrossFit Regeneration, teaches a class.

We all love CrossFit. We believe in it, otherwise there’s no way we would stake our reputations, our checkbooks and our time in running an Affiliate. My gym is well into its third year of operation, and I’ve learned a lot of lessons about keeping members around, some through doing things right and others from doing things wrong.

Of all the issues that can arise under the umbrella of member satisfaction, quality coaching is paramount. Having excellent Coaches is what provides value to your members, and your Coaches are the primary catalyst for the direction and identity of your community. Having knowledgeable Coaches with diverse skill sets is helpful. Having Coaches who know how people work is an absolute must.

As Coaches, it is our responsibility to know and understand our athletes well enough to give them the best possible experience when they trust us to help them achieve their goals. I’ve noticed that my clients generally fall into one of two main categories, and these different types of member will thrive under a different manner of coaching.

The first type loves CrossFit for a variety of reasons, but do it to lose weight, get in shape and to look good. They probably came because one of their friends invited them, and they love the community aspect of CrossFit. They aren’t overly interested in setting a new PR every time they come through the doors and can sometimes turn their class into social hour.

The second type loves CrossFit because they freakin’ breathe fire. They love to compete, to push their limits and they know every single one of their maxes and benchmark numbers without having to consult their log book. They’re serious about attacking their weaknesses. Recovery days are Hero WOD’s. And they regularly make fun of bodybuilders.

I don’t think it’s a far stretch to assume that most of the Coaches out there understand the firebreathing type of athlete far better than we do the others. It’s highly likely that at your gyms, your coaches are also your firebreathers, and your firebreathers are the people interested in doing an internship at your gym.

Your gym likely has as many, if not more, regular folk just wanting to get in shape as it does firebreathers, and it would be wise to invest attention and staff discussion on getting better at coaching this type of athlete.

I’ve found that it comes down to presence more than knowledge with these athletes. They are less interested in learning the finer points of the Snatch than they are afraid of looking silly in front of their friend. They want their class to be fun, lighthearted, encouraging and exhilarating. Blasting out directives and cues, and getting in their faces drives them deeper into their holes. And rather than motivate them, it overwhelms them and causes them to want to leave.

Whether we like it or not, we’re constantly selling commitment to our members. They choose to come. They choose to stay. If it were football camp or the military, that would be a different story. Those are mandatory. CrossFit membership is optional. We can’t help them accomplish their goals if they’re gone.

A skillful coach will be able to recognize when someone in his or her class is trying to hide, or is looking a little uncomfortable. They will then seamlessly shift their approach toward that athlete and become more of a friendly helper than a drill sergeant. We need to be able to help these athletes conjure up their own internal motivation. To do that, they need to feel safe in a class being “average” without the fear of embarrassment or harassment.

The good news is that given enough time and cultivation, each and every one of your athletes can eventually foster a taste for fire, and at that point, there’ll be no holding them back.

Charlie Sims was the owner of CrossFit Regeneration in Louisville, Kentucky.