Creating Coaching Careers at CrossFit Grandview

coaching careers
Images courtesy of CrossFit Grandview

In 2009, Brandon Couden and his business partner were the only Coaches at CrossFit Grandview in Columbus, Ohio.

It was a different time in the industry. After about a year, if either needed a day off, members who had their Level 1s would cover class. Overtime, they added part-time Coaches at $20 per class and a free membership.

“There was little to no onboarding outside of open and closing procedures and some basic etiquette,” shared Couden. “We were just glad to have clients willing to help out and cover some classes to give us some relief from time to time. It was the early days and we were still figuring things out. Luckily, these guys were really solid and are both still coaching their own Affiliates 10 years later.”

Who is CrossFit Grandview? Hear the gym’s full story on Episode 78 of Box Talk, “From Rogue’s Affiliate to CrossFit Grandview.”

A lot has changed at CrossFit Grandview since those early days. Now, the gym has five full-time Coaches who make between $40,000 to $80,000 a year. Lead Coaches have a minimum of a Level 2, the gym pays for approved education once a year, full-time lead Coaches are salaried W-2s with a full benefits package, etc. “Being able to provide our staff a career path in coaching that allows them to buy cars, homes and provide for a family is the thing I am most proud of in the business,” said Couden.

Below, he takes a deep dive into coaching careers at CrossFit Grandview in hopes other Affiliates can build a similar pathway for their own staff.

Box Pro: Describe your onboarding process for Coaches at CrossFit Grandview. 

Brandon Couden: Our onboarding process for new Coaches is also a lot different than when we started. We currently have an internship program which most of our current staff comes from. Typically, undergraduates and sometimes post graduate students come in and intern for school credit or in some cases just to learn. Over the course of a semester, and in some cases up to a year, we have interns shadow, clean and learn operating procedures. Overtime we start to inject them into coaching intro sessions one-on-one, then group warm-ups, skill/strength sessions and eventually full classes start to finish. 

From there we can scout talent and eventually bring hand-picked prospects into a paid position. Ideally, Coaches start as an assistant or “float Coach” and progress to a lead Coach over time once they develop fully. We currently have two assistant Coaches on staff who co-coach with a lead Coach during our busier classes in the evenings and on the weekends. 

Two of our previous interns are full time lead Coaches, one of which went through the internship back in 2011. We have also been successful in placing interns at CrossFit gyms around the city when we didn’t have an opening, and they were looking for paid work inside of a gym. It’s a process we are still streamlining and are looking at opening up to the general public a Coaches development course/school of fitness. Currently, most of our interns have come from our membership base and Ohio State students. 

Looking to offer an unpaid internship at your gym? Here’s what you need to know before you do: “Understanding Unpaid Internships”

For Coaches we bring on through more of a traditional hiring process; we onboard them through first shadowing, assistant coaching, then graded tryouts through coaching the groups while being evaluated. It’s basically an expedited internship before they are officially brought onto the team. 

BP: How has the idea of a “career path” evolved at your gym? 

BC: In those earlier days, $20 per class and a free membership sounded like a pretty good deal. The gym was small, and we had a couple of guys who were great athletes who could help out in the evenings or on weekends when they weren’t working their day job. It paid for their membership and they made a little bit of side money. 

What I started to see was this was a recipe for burn out. Clients who had full-time jobs and spent a lot of time in the gym training were now adding a coaching workload to that gym time. These Coaches were working full time, training a lot and had a part time job that was fun and fulfilling, but not extremely lucrative. As soon as there was a wrinkle in their schedule, a kid’s soccer game or anything else going on outside the gym, this was going to take a back seat. Requiring part timers to be consistently evaluated, have on-going education and attend meetings is a big ask for someone who is “helping out.”

When we were able to move the business to a larger location, we felt like relying entirely on part-time independent contractors to cover the growing class schedule wasn’t going to be the best plan to grow the business. We hired our first full-time Coach, former intern Dan, the first day we opened up our new location in September of 2012. 

We slowly phased out or promoted our part-time help to full-time coaching positions. Adding off-the-floor duties such as social media posting, answering incoming emails from prospects, equipment maintenance and creating video content all added value to the business. This allowed us to pay Coaches a full-time salary when they carry a class load of around 15 classes per week. As the gym grew even more, Coaches and support staff were elevated further to help manage other employees and take more day-to-day tasks off my plate. 

We don’t have a traditional company hierarchy. I do use a lot of elements from Gino Wickman’s book “Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business.” We have three managers and a leadership team that meets, plans the design and does all the strategic planning for the business. Coaches have quarterly performance reviews where they are given feedback and set goals. 

BP: Can you share some of your Coaches’ successes due to the career path CrossFit Grandview offers?

BC: All of our full-time staff has continued to make more money each year we have been in business. We have retained full-time staff really well, and we have our gym store manager Ariel and first full-time Coach Dan entering their seventh and eighth year with us. A few years ago, I read an article in the Wall Street Journal that said $75,000 was the perfect salary for happiness. In the study, they concluded as people earn more money, their day-to-day happiness rises. Until you hit $75,000. After that, it is just more stuff with no gain in happiness.

After reading that article, my goal as the business owner was to provide a path to get as many of my staff into that range as possible. We have had a lot of success with this and most of our more seasoned staff members are at, exceeding or very close to this number. 

BP: How do you keep them busy with a “full-time” position if they aren’t coaching all the time?

BC: In my opinion, coaching three group training classes a day is the sweet spot. Once or twice a week most of our Coaches will have a day they might do four, but right around 15 to 17 a week is pretty standard for our full-time staff. Once Coaches are training out 20-plus classes per week they start to get burnt and have trouble running a high-energy class. 

To create a long-term sustainable job for Coaches we began to add duties to coaching job descriptions that filled in gaps between coaching classes and added value to the business. For example, Coach Andy is in charge of our facility. He replaces and maintains the equipment and is the point of contact for contractors and HVAC maintenance. 

For example, Andy will coach the noon class and have a break from noon until 3:30 p.m. During that time he has a daily personal training client. Once he is finished, he might make a trip over to Rogue — which is about 10 to 15 minutes away — and pick up bands or new plates, or work on maintaining our Assault Bikes and rowers. 

His class schedule starts back up at 3:30 p.m. and ends at 6:30 p.m. He goes home each day, putting in a solid eight-hour day which includes time for him to work out as well. On his own time, he also writes an Olympic weightlifting program that is an al carte product. Members and nonmembers can purchase it in six-week cycles, and he gets a 60/40 cut of the revenue.

BP: How about finding the balance in coaching on the floor, programming, one-on-one, etc.?

BC: The way I look at it is you only have so much energy for any one thing. Floor coaching takes a lot of energy when done right. It is not sustainable to coach six to eight classes a day, year after year. Tasks such as writing programs, training clients one-on-one, answering customer emails, posting to social media and creating video content all require a different kind of energy. These other jobs can add value to the business and blend beautifully into a full day of work with a core class schedule of only three classes a day. 

An analogy I like to make is a job is a lot like a CrossFit workout. The best ones have two to four tasks and flow seamlessly into the next one. A great example is Helen — three rounds for time: run 400 meters, 21 kettlebell swings, 12 pull-ups. Each movement flows into the next really well and athletes are able to pack a lot of work into a short period of time. A job works the same way; doing the same thing over and over gets redundant and starts to slog, but having too much variety doesn’t allow you to do anything really well. Having a little variety of around two to four different tasks makes for a good flow and the days go by fast.

Need advice on how to find the best Coaches out there? Check out “Staffing the Best Coaches” to see what other Affiliates recommend.

My advice to Affiliate owners is to invest in people and coaching careers before anything else. Hold off on buying the 10 new Echo Bikes until you can afford to invest in a full-time employee. A solid, fully-focused Coach will bring you more ROI than any piece of gear. In our organization, the staff is our biggest strength and the standout feature of the business. Our Coaches and support staff are the No. 1 reason we have been able to grow into an organization that grosses over seven figures annually and maintains over 500 members. Take care of your staff and they will take care of your business. 

Heather Hartmann
Heather is the editor for Box Pro Magazine. Contact her at heather@peakemedia.com.