The Excuse Loop

the coaches corner Mar 17, 2018



Picture this..

It’s Monday morning, 6am. Your client rolls in, and you’ve got a foam roller in hand ready for her. It’s routine for you to touch base on Monday’s with a slightly longer warm up, and see how the last week of training has gone. It’s then custom to weigh in and do her girths before you get amongst a new week of training.


This morning is different.


“I had a terrible weekend. My car broke down before lunch, so I had to eat food from the service station – a nut bar and a packet of chips. Then, my kids left the house in a mess, so I didn’t get to training. I then had that dinner party on Saturday night and they served such rich food and wine. By Sunday I was wrecked and sat on the couch and the Husband ordered pizza for dinner… Anyway, I don’t think my girths or weight or going to be good this week.”


The excuses roll off her tongue. It’s believable. Believable enough that they wash off on you just enough so that you reply:


“It’s ok. You’ve been doing so well and you’ve just had a little slip up. Let’s jump back into gear and not worry about it…”


Two weeks pass… and it’s time to take measurements again. This time, the tone of the conversation is a little different.


“I just don’t know what I’m doing wrong. I’m eating clean, I’m training hard, and I’m doing everything right. Is it this protein powder you’ve got me taking in the morning? Or is it the weights? Am I doing too much weights and putting on muscle? I think my training needs to change.”


You spend the next 10 minutes justifying all your decisions and proceed to scrape through the training session. Mid morning break comes around and one of your colleagues is in the PT office, and you just have to vent.


Get this, Sandra constantly skips sessions, eats like sh*t, doesn’t stop talking and then tells ME that i’m doing something wrong with her training. She even said the protein powder was making her bulky…WTF”


If that rings a bell, that’s because like you, I’ve had that conversation. In fact, i’ve been on both sides of that conversation. But no matter what side of the conversation you’re on, both involve passing blame and making excuses. Both outcomes also involve no transformational change, a low chance of good outcomes, and usually, a client that tells you they need to “go on a break.”




This is what we call the excuse loop. Once an excuse is made, and ownership isn’t taken, it increases the probability of another excuse, which proceeds to increase the probability of another excuse, and so on, and so forth.


Typically, excuses continue to be made until there is enough tension to warrant a text message which says something like this:


“Hey. I’ve really enjoyed training the past while and have seen some great results. I’m so appreciative that you have worked this hard to get me back in shape and I’m definitely feeling more on track. I’ve had a think about what I’m going to do with training moving forward and I’m going to look into some other options now. Thanks so much again, and wish you the best.”


The excuse loop, once you’re on it, can only be stopped through one means. Extreme ownership. The only way you as a trainer or coach can get off that ride is to take full ownership of your client’s predicament. Every bad food choice, every missed training session, every destructive mindset she’s in.


Yes – every single thing. It’s hard to do, because it’s fundamentally her choice. But it’s also her choice to work with you, and if you like the money, and actually want to get the result for her, it’s the only way. Otherwise, she can blame you, you can blame her, and it’s all rainbows and butterflies. By taking ownership, you’re also saying you’ll develop the strategy and the solution going forward, and that is what will separate the cream from the milk.


In the book titled Extreme Ownership: How US Navy Seals Lead And Win, authors Jocko Willink and Leif Babin explore the idea that every mistake in your sphere of influence, in your world, is yours to own. It’s a concept that on first inspection, seems unrealistic, but on deeper exploration, will revolutionise how you feel about your interactions with your clients and athletes. Here are the 3 key take-aways that you can apply immediately to your mindset and attitude to help get better outcomes for your clients, and better outcomes for your business.



It takes a certain type of person to put their hand up and take extreme ownership for a mistake. Taking ownership of mistakes, rather than casting blame or making an excuse takes takes honesty, vulnerability and courage. It implies that there is no blame to be cast, and no excuses to be made, and the only way forward is to engineer and action a solution so it doesn’t happen again. When your clients are dissatisfied, frustrated, unmotivated, confused or making excuses, this is exactly when you need to step up and take ownership of their predicament. Even when you think it was their mistake, by taking ownership you also give yourself permission to construct and engineer the solution. This is why ownership matters. While your clients are busy making excuses, your busy creating solutions, and they will greatly benefit from that level of leadership.


At some point in our careers, we’ve been a part of a team where you feel like you’re banging your head against a wall. The willingness to develop each other is low, the dog-eat-dog mentality is rife, and you don’t feel like you can have each other’s backs. The ownership of that culture ultimately falls on the shoulders of the leader, which makes it his/her problem. But by default, it’s also you’re problem too, because you take ownership right? So out of the mess and rubble, you stand up and put your hand up for wanting a better team, and you start to lead. You improve camaraderie, communication, implement an education initiative and through your ownership, positively change the dynamic.


At the end of the day, we want autonomous clients who are completely responsible for their training, nutrition and mindset. We want them to be results-focused, goal orientated, and take action on their life. When they first come to you, they aren’t looking for a sweaty t-shirt, empty water bottle and a light wallet, they are looking for a strategy and an action plan, that will result in a better life for themselves. They are paying you to take ownership for the areas of their life that they currently can’t. With this in mind, if you can demonstrate this level of extreme ownership and even accept their mistakes along the way, you’ll teach them that they can do the same. Your leadership will breed their leadership in the future.



– Stop passing the blame. It isn’t helping anyone. If you want to change your world (and the people in it), take ownership of anything going wrong and plan and execute a solution to fix it.

– Your client’s lack of success is ultimately a reflection of yours, so don’t leave that to chance. Don’t fall into the trap of making excuses for your clients, otherwise they’ll be making three times as many.

– Stop blaming your team environment for poor outcomes. If you don’t like the team you’re in, take ownership and change it.

– Ownership breeds ownership. If you can demonstrate ownership early, your clients will be demonstrating ownership on the back end. As the saying goes, how it starts is how it ends.

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