Will Your Coaches Stay or Will They Go?

How to keep your Coaches happy.

A table without legs is simply a piece of wood. The legs are essential to its function, kind of like Coaches are essential to the function of your Box.

Yes, you can get a wide variety of table legs, from two-by-fours to tree trunks, but neither is pretty nor steady. It would be much better to get quality legs rather than any old piece of wood off the street. Again, kind of like Coaches.

San Francisco CrossFit in San Francisco, California, hires all of its Coaches from within its member pool. The times they attempted to hire from outside, it did not go well, said Juliet Starrett, CEO of the Box. So, they have stuck with what, or rather who, they know. “It has been a much safer bet for us hiring Coaches from within because most of our Coaches have been long-time members,” said Starrett. “So, they not only know us, we know them. They’re familiar with our gym culture. They’re familiar with our other members. Then we also can do a lot of secret evaluating of them.”

However, CrossFit NYC: The Black Box in New York City has Coaches coming from anywhere and everywhere because of its size, said its founder and CEO of Northstar CrossFit, Josh Newman. NorCal CrossFit based in California has somewhat the same story: Coaches, while mostly hired from within, are also hired from outside the Box, due to the fact “we’re growing and growing,” said Tamaryn Barber, general manager of NorCal’s commercial locations.

But the question is, what keeps these Coaches not only coming to the above three Boxes, but staying?

It’s surely not the extensive training they have to go through. San Francisco CrossFit has a six-month internship program — interns must have a minimum of 160 hours of shadowing and assistant coaching, as well as take several required certifications. CrossFit NYC’s process implements a 30-minute interview, shadowing of Coaches, teaching a class, considers its staff’s opinions and puts the prospect through what Newman called the “road trip test.”

“If you had to load a whole bunch of Coaches into a car together in New York and drive out to the games in Los Angeles, would you stab each other in the eyeball with a fork at a hoe-joe somewhere in Ohio?” explained Newman.

Instead, it’s the environment and the benefits. “We have a lot of things going on in our corporate arena, so there’s always that opportunity to travel to different countries and help coach there, help set up another gym, become an operator of a gym,” said Barber. “So, I think the opportunities that we create also help people to stay.”

Along with incentives, Barber said they offer seminars, chances for coaching development and they work hard to foster relationships with those they employ.

For Newman, he said it’s key to pay Coaches appropriately. “People know exactly what they’re worth, and for every dollar you overpay them, you get it back many times over, and for every dollar you underpay them, they stick it to you equally,” he said. “Finding ways to make sure your Coaches are well paid is really important.”

By allowing Coaches to keep 100 percent of their earnings in personal training, as well as offering roads to equity and profit sharing, some of Newman’s Coaches are making over six figures.

Starrett was on the same page. On top of paying its Coaches “really well,” San Francisco CrossFit offers health insurance and 401k. “If we’re going to pretend this is a profession, then people need to have the potential to make professional type wages,” she said. “If we’re going to say ‘oh we want professional Coaches, we don’t want hobby Coaches,’ but then we have a low-paying, shitty job with no benefits, what do we expect?”

Plus, Starrett said they stand behind any Coach with an idea to diversify his or her income. For example, Carl Paoli with Gymnastics WOD and Diane Fu of FuBarbell have their businesses under San Francisco CrossFit. “People are doing a lot of diverse things and I think if we kyboshed that interest in building their own businesses and being creative and diversifying their income, they would have left,” she said.

Beyond pay, Newman also offers opportunities for his Coaches to grow. Newman looks at how they can increase a Coach’s responsibility, whether it be managing more locations, coaching other Coaches or driving the programming. By allowing them to envision where they will be in five to 10 years, it makes coaching more of a career path.

It is a no brainer for Barber to put out all the stops when it comes to ensuring her Coaches are happy and thriving. They are, keeping with the metaphor, as essential to a Box as legs are to a table. “The Coaches are the number one reason the business runs well, as a CrossFit gym. They are the sole reason people keep coming back, because of the good coaching,” she said.

As the CrossFit market becomes saturated with more and more Boxes, it seems hiring and keeping good Coaches is going to be a large factor in differentiation. “Increasingly as you try and differentiate in the market, it really is the question of our Coaches and therefore is our class experience better/different than [what] anyone else is doing?” explained Newman. “At a really core level, I think so much of our retention is driven by that.” 

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