The Unfortunate State Of The Industry

the coaches corner Mar 17, 2018

WHY MOST COACHES FAIL AND THE TEN THINGS YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT…

 

WE ALL ENTER WITH ROSE COLOURED GLASSES…

 

Almost every trainer or strength coach who begins their journey in the coaching industry starts off a little delusional. We envision a wonderful fantasy where we get to work with elite athletes, ‘self-motivated individuals’ and high performance teams. We picture ourselves coaching athletes as they move big weights in the gym, perform advanced plyometric drills, and effortlessly move through change-of-direction drills on field. We see ourselves getting patted on the back for our great programming, and when our team or athlete wins the trophy, we are validated. We’re living the dream.

I remember being thrust into the actual reality when I decided to become a strength coach. The rose coloured glasses were gone and the reality I saw looked very different. I felt like I was in a mosh pit – unheard, unnoticed, and stuck amongst all the noise and commotion of the industry. How would I ever get out and be the guy crowd-surfing and lapping up the experience?

No one knew me, I knew no one, and there were a thousand applicants for only a handful of opportunities.

5 years into my coaching career, and after chasing opportunity after opportunity like a cat chasing their own tail, I found myself in front of my lucky break.

I was working in a gym that got a contract to run the strength and conditioning program for a semi-professional rugby team. I was about to finish a degree in exercise science and I was the obvious candidate.

I embraced the opportunity with open arms. This was my lucky break, and it was going to pave my way to a career in professional sport. At least that’s what I thought.

I stood in front of a group of fifty-ish semi-professional rugby players, and in that moment, I’d lost all my words. I was speechless. The pep-talk I had memorised was thrown out the window, and I stuttered and spluttered my way through the overview of the preseason I’d drawn up a few days earlier. I really had no idea what I was doing, and I honestly was faking it, hoping I’d make it.

I made a lot of mistakes that year. Even though I’d make the Executive Dean’s List at University, I had close to no idea how to effectively periodise a whole season in the gym, let alone on field.

My smooth, rose-coloured reality as a strength coach was over.

I’d go on to sink every spare opportunity into researching the best methods of buy-in, persuasion, programming, conditioning, testing and assessment.

Not only that, but I was still trying to make enough money to supplement my passion. This passion as a strength coach involved working 4 nights a week and all day saturday for $300 a week. As a result, after spending every spare opportunity researching how to actually become a better coach, I’d spend the rest of my time trying to figure out how to market, sell myself and stand out at the gym to make enough money to survive.

Everything was great, except I hardly slept, hardly had time to train, hardly made any money and hardly had any life. Everything was great except for the fact that everything else in my life sucked. No holidays, no fun, no plan for actually moving forward.

If this is ringing a bell for you, I sympathise. This life is the kind of suffering that even exceeds a ‘real’ Tabata interval, and you know what i’m talking about. Not the fluffy 20 on 10 off squat jumps and burpees, but the 170% VO2 max sprint on the bike type Tabata.

But hey, we persevere, because it’s the opportunity you’ll never get again. If you don’t do it, there are a thousand others, still with their rose coloured glasses on, that would love the chance to flog themselves silly.

It’s a simple business formula – high demand and low supply. It means that the industry can charge nothing, ask a lot, and there will always be someone who wants the job.

Now on paper, being a strength and conditioning coach for a rugby team is the best job ever. I get to hang out with strong guys in a gym, make them fitter and enjoy the camaraderie of the team on the weekends playing footy.

But below the surface, every coach is fearing how they are going to pay the bills, take a holiday, work less hours and actually have some job security. Not only that, but when you’re team doesn’t go well, you’re the first to be blamed. When the team does go well, you’re the last to be given credit.

Sounds fun doesn’t it?

So what are some of the biggest problems with the Strength and Conditioning Industry? And more importantly, is there anything we, as an industry, can do about it?

 

MOST OF THE WORLD DON’T KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A STRENGTH COACH AND A PERSONAL TRAINER. 

 

It’s an unfortunate reality. But the reality is,  most strength coaches don’t even know the difference. As a coach, you become an educator, and that needs to be abundantly apparent. A strength coach gives someone what they need, establishes the intention for progression and autonomy, and acknowledges that the best end result is that they actually coach themselves out of a job. The athlete goes from needing their coach to take them forward, to feeling like they have everything they need. Athletes are taught the strategies to solve their own problems.

Personal Training is slightly different. Often, trainers develop dependency. Dependency is job security, and job security is something every trainer needs. Personal trainers train clients, but very few coach them. Training doesn’t imply autonomy, coaching does. Personal trainers coach the problem, not the client.  Can you blame them? If they created autonomous clients, they’d be constantly chasing new business, right?

Even though this is completely false, it’s how the industry thinks. It’s a sad, sorry and superficial industry that forgets that the clients that develop autonomy and actually transform their life become your greatest advocates, and, your best marketing strategy.

 

MOST STRENGTH COACHES HAVE NO IDEA HOW TO OBJECTIVELY EVALUATE THEIR PERFORMANCE.

 

Car Salesman have a certain amount of cars to sell every month. Accountants have a certain amount of clients they need to serve. Lawyers have cases they need to win. Businesses have a base level of profit they need to generate.

Almost every industry has Key Performance Indicator’s they need to meet.

But not the strength and conditioning industry. What’s a KPI? They don’t exist in our industry, which is just great, because  no one ever really knows if they are doing good work or if they will get to keep their job next year. So before you think injury reduction, strength gains, athlete buy-in, fitness gains, team wins, athletic improvement, or the technical coaches’ approval  is a good sign of a great strength coach, think again, and here is why:

 – Injury Reduction

While a reduction in soft-tissue, non-contact injury should be a goal of every good strength coach, using injury reduction as a KPI is a recipe for disaster. Even though it should be your intention to minimise injury, you can never eradicate it, and by using this as your key variable, you expose yourself to a whole bunch of factors and variables that are completely outside your control. All the rehabilitation in the world won’t save an AC when it gets a direct blindside hit by a prop forward or other form of human Mack Truck. Same goes for any other joint in the body – hopping and proprioception exercises wont save an ankle that is stuck under a ruck and bent the wrong way; deceleration drills won’t save an ACL when you’re cleaned out from the side, and a neck isn’t saved when a scrum is collapsed and your athlete lands on the crown of his head. Observing injuries is a great rolling variable, and can definitely flag when a strength program is going seriously wrong, but, it can’t as easily gauge when a strength program is going incredibly well.

– Strength Gains

As much as strength coaches would love to say that improving strength is the corner stone of any great program, it simply isn’t. An athlete can get markedly stronger without becoming a better athlete on field, and vice versa. As important as strength is to translate more speed, power and timing into an athlete’s game, it doesn’t guarantee it, which makes it a hard variable to measure. Not only that, but seasoned veterans and up and coming recruits can see dramatic differences in relative strength gain over the course of the same period – the more fresh recruits the better the gains, the more seasoned veterans the less strength training is likely to make an impact on their strength. As you can see, there are flaws with this KPI too.

– Championship Points/Team Wins

Just in case I haven’t quite convinced you, let’s imagine your team does really well. Have you done a great job? If so, then you must commit to accepting that if they do poorly, you did a poor job. If there is a hesitation in that agreement, you’re likely to feel like most strength coaches do – you’re not in a position of enough influence to completely change the dynamic of a team, but you’re just important enough that you could easily be considered responsible for the end result. It’s a conundrum that is reinforced by the notion that ‘strength coaches are an integral component, yet, we are never the deciding factor’.

 

THE MORE EXPERIENCED AND PASSIONATE YOU ARE, THE LESS YOU’RE LIKELY TO VALUE YOURSELF

 

If you’re a strength coach, you’ve probably done an internship, or at the least, considered one. Heck, I even paid $10,000 for my first internship, for a fleeting opportunity to work with a Professional Strength and Conditioning Coach. The more and more you learn, the more you’re passion develops, the less you usually make. Go figure. Isn’t it bizarre that a Personal Trainer straight out of a 9-week private college charges $75 per hour, but a seasoned strength coach with 5 years of experience makes $18 per hour, if that? Here’s some math.

The average assistant strength coach or semi-professional strength and conditioning contract ranges between 5-15k per year. That’s $100-$300 a week for a minimum 15-20 hours work, if you’re lucky enough to get a paid role. If you stay working as a Personal Trainer you’re probably making $1200 for 20 hours per week.

Not only that, but there is a tendency for strength coaches to be the ‘behind the scenes guys’, avoiding raising their profile on social media in fear of feeling like an imposter. Never mind the 9 week graduate from college who doesn’t know the difference between jump/land training and plyometrics who makes three posts a day (in the best lighting possible). It’s all backward. The more you learn, the more you realise you don’t know, and the less you’re willing to share.

 

SO WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?

Unfortunately I don’t have the perfect solution. I’ve got a lot of great advice, and in fact, I’ve spent the majority of the last year designing a system that can take a coach from feeling inexperienced, stuck and undervalued to confident, competent and credible. But the reality is, until more coaches start implementing the things I’m about to suggest,  I can’t guarantee proof of concept. Nevertheless, here are 10 things you can start doing immediately to sway the odds in your favour.

1. Get Clear on Your USP

The Unique Selling Proposition is your offer that makes you unique, different and special. It’s the culmination of your insights, associations, recognition and results that make you stand out. It’s your elevator pitch, and it needs to be down pat. You’ve got 30 seconds to make an impact when you’re confronted with that amazing opportunity, so don’t miss the boat. A great USP tells the listener who you are, what you do, what you specialise in, the authority that make you an expert, and the result that your clients get once they’ve finished working with you. Here is an example:

Hi, my name is Karl, and my business partner Lachlan and I own a gym called Athletes Authority that specialise in athlete performance and coach education. In our experience working with the GWS Giants, Parramatta Eels and athletes in the private sector, we’re known for producing coaches who become industry experts, and athletes who become household names.

Keep this short and succinct, but don’t be afraid to do some research on designing your USP here.

2. Systems Are The Solution

Whether it is how you coach, the platform you use to program for clients, your process for making sales, or the avenues you choose to deliver content – make sure you have systems in place. If there is anything you’re currently winging, from how you coach on the floor, to your programming deliver or how you make sales, systemise it. It will not only make your life easier, but you’ll be a more consistent, reliable coach.

3. You’re Target Isn’t Your Market

Even if your target market is athletes,  that doesn’t mean that you won’t appeal to people who want an athlete experience. Even though we’re called Athletes Authority, that doesn’t mean we don’t get heaps of lifestyle clients who want an unmatched coaching experience. For this reason, if you’re a strength and conditioning coach, don’t be afraid to apply the same systems you would with athletes, to general populations and give them an incredible experience they won’t forget. Ten great paying lifestyle clients can provide the freedom and flexibility to pursue your passion without feeling like you’re on a diet of baked beans and oats.

4. Raise Your Profile

If you’re the type of coach who wants to be known for excellence, demonstrate it. Be the change you want for the industry. Raise the standards by sharing quality information without getting too hung up on the platform. Differentiate yourself by clearly demonstrating you’re an educator as much as you are a trainer. With greater profile comes greater opportunities. If you’re not already, find opportunities to jump on podcasts, speak at low-key events, run workshops and seminars, or find a social enterprise venture which aligns with your vision.

5. Get A Mentor

One of the best things you can do is reach out and find a mentor. Find a great inspiration who can pave the way and teach you their systems, successes, and insights. Make sure that your programs are evaluated from someone who has nothing to do with the athletes or organisation so you can gather objective feedback. As the sages would say:

A WISE MAN LEARNS FROM HIS MISTAKES, A WISER MAN LEARNS FROM THE MISTAKES OF OTHERS

6. Market Yourself

Once you’ve established a great coaching delivery system, don’t be afraid to get your name out there. If you actually believe you can add value to people’s lives, what’s stopping you? Social media is a great leveraging tool, stop being so scared to use it. Stop worrying about what your ‘peers’ think. If they’re that busy worrying about what you have to say they probably aren’t that busy themselves! Make sure to network with other coaches in the industry so you become front of mind as a fantastic candidate when job opportunities arise.

7. Stop Being Afraid Of Sales

I get it, you’re not a salesman. You get a bit funny when you ask for someone’s money. That’s fine, we’ve all been through that, but the reality is, if you don’t move past that, you’ll be shooting yourself in the foot. You’re an expert, right? You’re better than most right?

How much would you expect to pay going to an expert anywhere else? The best dentist, the best surgeon, the best lawyer? You’d expect to pay premium. So do the same. If you can’t ask for money, what that means is you don’t value what you do. If you cant value your product, then you can’t deliver an incredible service without the emotional and cognitive dissonance of ‘Damn, this client just doesn’t appreciate what I do!”. 

Stop using that you don’t like sales as an excuse to not grow your coaching impact. It’s a crap excuse and only you suffer from it.

8. Decide on the KPI’s 

Before you enter a role as the strength coach, get clarity on what your evaluative criteria will be. Choose a rubric that you can action – communication, availability, accessibility, rapport and measure this on a simple Likert scale. This goes for general clients too – if you don’t decide what your KPI’s are, how will you know you’re doing a good job, and how will your client know they are getting what they paid for?

9. Get VERY clear on your Job Description

It’s very easy for a strength coach to say yes, and a lot harder to say no. Don’t commit to things that aren’t in the agreement, unless your fairly remunerated. Remember, once you add it in, it never looks good when you take it away. Trust me, I’ve done that before and it didn’t work out for myself or the clients I had to retract from.

10. Keep Levels of Communication High

Demonstrating how you’ve exceeded expectation is always a good leveraging tool – share these with the coaching staff and administration regularly to establish your level of interest in the success of the program – no matter the result. For the rest of your coaching staff, a simple message like: “Is there anything I can do for you?” will go along way to keeping them on side.

  

I’d love to hear your feedback. Controversial opinion pieces like this always stir the pot a bit. We’d love to hear your thoughts on our facebook page – comment in the thread below this articles link.

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