One of the privileges of my work here on is I am afforded the regular opportunity to converse with some of the world’s best coaches. I make a practice of asking each one of them what makes a great coach. One answer that almost always comes up is the desire to constantly learn - the mentality of being a life-long student and the humility of knowing there is always more out there to study. 


In my personal experience as a coach I, too, am often asked, “How do I get better at coaching?” I believe there are three areas to focus on to take your coaching to the next level.


This two-part article series will examine how to educate yourself in the following three areas:


  1. Technical Knowledge
  2. Communication Ability
  3. Business Acumen


A coach is really three things: an instructor of technique, a communicator or mentor, and a businessperson. Whether I am a personal trainer or a small-gym owner, it is up to me to wear all three of those hats. Some people might be more naturally talented in one of those areas or have already done extensive studies, but most likely the average coach or trainer is not an expert in all three areas. And, as we discussed at the beginning of this article, what is an expert anyway? There is always more to learn. Always.


In fact, the best coaches out there are the ones who, like a good athlete, assess and acknowledge their weak spots and consistently work to rectify them.


The first item on our list of areas to improve is technical knowledge. While technical knowledge is just that, technical, it is not complicated. It is the simplest of the three areas to start building on (and also why you see so many coaches with vast technical knowledge without the equivalent success in number of clients or depth of communication skill).


Widen Your Technical Knowledge


There are a number of ways you can increase your technical knowledge, and therefore the product you have to offer your clientele, and it doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. That being said, if you want to be good at something and you are passionate about something, it will most likely come naturally that you spend your free-time thinking about it or reading about it.


What are the holes in your knowledge as a trainer/coach? Do you dread teaching Olympic weightlifting because you are nervous about the knowledge you have to offer? Do you wish you knew more about running technique? Do you feel confident in all your needed areas of physical knowledge, but are lacking in nutrition expertise? Do you know all the facets of human anatomy?


Certifications –

Years ago I spent a couple months studying, then tested and earned my NSCA-CSCS. It didn’t serve any purpose for me ever in my job. I already had a position as a CrossFit coach at a reputable school (CrossFit LA), but I personally decided I wanted to earn a more widely known certification. It also held me accountable. I had a test date and I had to study. I also felt it gave me knowledge outside of my expertise and therefore a broadened ability to communicate with people coming in from outside the CrossFit world. Pick a certification that sounds relevant and useful to you and schedule a test date.


Seminars –

Seminars are a great way to get a quick dose from an expert coach. They could vary in length from two hours to two days, but usually offer a great combination of lecture and hands-on experience. I have taken seminars on topics like nutrition, indoor rowing, weightlifting, powerlifting, gymnastics, running technique, and more. I found after I registered with the IDEA I was constantly getting notifications in the mail for seminars of all types and prices in my geographic area. Join a few fitness organizations and I guarantee you will start getting email and mail notifications about educational opportunities.


Books –

If you are a trainer or an aspiring coach then you better be building up your library. Every respectable coach I know has shelves and shelves of anatomy, nutrition, and instructional books they have accrued over the years. If you don’t know where to start, ask your favorite or most respected coaches what books they would recommend. And remember, just buying a book doesn’t put that knowledge in your head – you have to actually read it.


Classes –

Check out your local community college or university to see what classes they offer in personal training. When I lived in Los Angeles, UCLA was known for having a great training certification program. When I founded the kids program at my gym, I also took classes through Santa Monica Community College so I could improve my ability to coach children. Like certifications, classes are a great way to give yourself structure and accountability for learning a topic.


Other Gyms/Studios -
One way I learned both new technical skills and how to be a better coach in general was by taking classes at other gyms and studios. Whether it’s a “good” class or not really doesn’t matter. You can learn as much, or even more, from a bad experience as you can a good one. One of my best realizations as a coach came from one of the worst yoga classes I’ve ever taken (it truly drove home the value of giving feedback to my students, because this yoga instructor didn’t give ONE bit of feedback or make a single adjustment over the course of a whole hour). Visit other classes, remember what it’s like to be a student, take note of what is working for you and what isn’t. If something works remember it and adapt it to your own coaching.


Videos –

I pretty much don’t know any successful coach (and even some yet-to-be successful ones) who doesn’t have a DVD, an idea for a DVD, or a variety of YouTube videos. Watching videos is an inexpensive to free way to learn straight from the world’s experts. As an example one of our staff writers, Nick Horton, has fabulous weightlifting videos available completely for free.


Internet –

One of the wonderful things about how the Internet works is that it is based around generosity. The more you put out there, the more people share, and the more that comes back. Good coaches also tend to be very generous and humble people. As a result, there are some great websites by exceptional coaches available around the web. I personally do a lot of lurking on the Pendlay forums and read all the articles on T-Nation. Our featured coaches here on Breaking Muscle are another incredible example of the generosity of world-class coaches.


Now that you’ve widened your technical knowledge, you can consider yourself as on the path toward becoming an expert in your field. But all the technical knowledge in the world is worthless if people don’t know you have it and/or you can’t communicate it to them. So now it’s time to work on your communication ability and business acumen.


Read part two of this series to look at how you can deepen your communication skills and develop yourself as a businessperson.

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