I have asked myself this question many times over my years as a Coach, and it is one that I constantly try to answer when developing our gym’s coaches and interns. While I don’t have the solution to this problem, I do know one thing for certain. The answer does not lie in more certifications and qualifications. It lies in building respect and relationships.
Take a moment to think about a Coach that has left a positive impact on your life. What about that person makes you remember them so fondly? I bet your first response is not how much knowledge they possessed. Instead, it’s most likely something they did (or said) that made you feel like you mattered.
While your members may initially walk through your gym doors to get fit and healthy, this will not be the reason they choose to stay or choose to leave. These people could go to any gym, any 24hr Fitness, or any group class and improve their fitness. Believe it or not, they don’t need you for this!
What they will stay for, and what takes you from being a good Coach to an exceptional Coach, is the way you make them feel.
Respect Their Ego
Think about any time you correct an individual’s movement. How do you begin the conversation? Usually it is along these lines: “You are doing this [insert what they are doing] wrong, I need you to do this.”
Every time you cue an athlete, you are essentially telling that person they are doing something incorrectly. Obviously, that is our job as coaches, but the impact this can have on some personality types can be very de-motivating, especially for beginners.
We teach our coaches to lead with a positive. Tell the individual something they are doing well, give them a mental win, and then move on to the correction. If you are very skilled, you can even hide the correction in a positive phrase!
“Hey Tom, great work on keeping your knees over your toes with that front squat. What would make this look even better is if you drive your elbows up higher.”
Give them positive reinforcement that shows we can see they are trying, let them know they are doing something right, and then hide the correction amongst the praise. The individual gets a huge confidence boost, the coach gets the desired fix and everyone is happy!
While this format may not be suitable in every situation, you should aim to make this your primary form of cuing corrections, especially among beginners and those that struggle with a movement.
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Respect their Individuality
Building meaningful relationships with your members goes beyond “hello,” “goodbye,” and high fives. You need to learn their likes, dislikes, what they have going on in their lives outside of the gym, and that you know who they are as an individual, not just another member.
A challenge we regularly give our coaches is to spend five minutes in conversation with a member they know very little about or rarely talk to, before or after class. It sounds easy, but engaging someone in conversation for five minutes, especially a person you do not really know, can be very challenging; however, you will be surprised at how much you can learn!
Our coaches then note down any key information or upcoming events in our members’ lives (getting married, new job, participating in their first ever obstacle course race) in a document shared with the rest of the team, so we can all learn about our members on a deeper level. Imagine how you would feel if a Coach said to you, “I heard you have an important job interview coming up, I just wanted to wish you good luck” without you having ever mentioned it to them! Or if you received a handwritten card in the post signed by the team congratulating you on your first ever 5k run.
This shows a much deeper level of care not found at many other gyms.
Respect their Time
This is one of the biggest things I see overlooked by Coaches all too often. It seems very minor, but this is one of the most significant changes you can make to positively impact a member’s experience.
As a coach, you must start and finish classes on time. This is a basic expectation of the service your members are paying for.
A few minutes here or there may seem inconsequential, but I guarantee that your members notice and care about this. From the CEO who has to rush to his work meeting because class finished five minutes behind schedule, to the mother who arrives late to collect her kids from school, or the Dad who doesn’t get home in time to see his children before they go to sleep, these people care. More often than not, your members have bigger priorities than the gym. If you are cutting into the limited time they have with something they value greatly, guess what they are going to stop doing?
Becoming a better Coach goes beyond learning more drills, skills or racking up qualifications. It’s who you are as a person and the respect and compassion you show to your members. The people you work with regularly will decide if you are a great coach, and not many will care about your most recent certification. What they will care about is knowing that they are valued, seeing that you invest time to learn about them, and feeling like an individual and not just another face in your crowd of members.