“The mark of a great Coach is having the depth of knowledge not easy to exhaust.”
Those were the words of Samantha Orme, the owner of CrossFit Virtuosity in Brooklyn, New York. She said master Coaches must be continually learning to benefit their members. “A client who’s been training with us regularly for three years said to me recently he learns a new drill or movement every time he comes to one of our classes,” said Orme. “That’s the mark of great Coaches.”
At Virtuosity, the in-house coaching development program gives shadowing opportunities to trainees. As they increase in experience, they are prepared for further education courses through feedback, reading and written assignments. For those who are lead Coaches, they are given an annual stipend for continuing education.
Feedback is constant at Max Effort Fitness in Las Vegas, Nevada, when it comes to Coach development. Owner Zach Forrest said while there are informal evaluations of class, every quarter formal evaluations take place and each Coach is given a Performance Improvement Plan.
“During the quarterly evaluation, the discussion centers around perceived and observed strengths and weaknesses,” said Forrest. “We use the Level 2 criteria as areas for evaluation: teaching, seeing movement, correcting movement, group management, presence and attitude, and demonstration. We feel like this list encompasses all the necessary traits and skills of a great Coach, and it’s been extremely effective thus far.”
In fact, as he has coached CrossFit Level 2 seminars, Forrest said a common problem he sees is Coaches having a hard time discerning good from poor movement, and then coming up with effective correction strategies. “Verbally, a Coach can describe to me the faults and points of performance of a given movement, but when they are watching an athlete it’s almost like they forget everything,” he shared. “People need to know how the ‘book knowledge’ translates to real-world visuals on a human.”
Orme noted there is no substitute for on-the-floor experience. Plus, learning in one-on-ones can help a Coach dive into researching problems or issues for an individual, something that can be difficult in a group class.
While CrossFit Los Feliz in Los Angeles, California, has a technical side to its Coaches development, it also has an admin side. That, said Guy La Brusciano, is often the neglected side. The founder said Coaches are taught everything from sales to keeping the gym clean, going beyond the technical basics of anatomy, physiology and biology.
In fact, the administration side is often what clients notice. “How many students know if you really know what you’re talking about?” questioned La Brusciano when it comes to technical items. “But they’re going to know whether or not the place is clean, whether or not you’re checking in on them and doing quality control.”
Learning needs to go beyond weekend seminars; La Brusciano said to challenge your Coaches to look past their CrossFit blinders. Orme echoed something similar. “I’ve had Coaches go to cadaver dissection labs to learn anatomy, fly to Thailand to train movement with Ido Portal and become certified in Yoga Tune Up — none of these are CrossFit-centric, but all of those Coaches brought really great ideas from those disciplines back to their CrossFit class, and are much better Coaches from those experiences,” she said.
Forrest helps his Coaches set annual goals — like studying for their Level 3 or taking a Precision Nutrition course. He also encourages them to attend seminars of interest. But a big piece in development isn’t necessarily found in a weekend away. “I’ve found focusing on developing a Coach’s general communication skills pays off more than any other general skill set,” he said. “Our entire profession is social, based in how much we communicate with others. The knowledge of movement, anatomy, exercise theory — all of that is useless if you can’t communicate effectively.”
Often, Affiliate owners have a fear if they pour into Coaches that eventually they will become their competition. La Brusciano noted while this is a valid fear, if you make it worthwhile for your staff to stay at your gym, it’ll be a fear that will be less likely to come to fruition. “Your Coaches are the leaders of your community and your main product,” said Forrest. “To ignore their development would be, at best, accepting mediocrity and, at worst, be the downfall of your business. Focusing on your staff’s development means your business will be constantly improving in the areas that are most important to your customers.”