7 Steps to Find the Best Coach for You

Hiring the wrong coach can be disastrous, but finding the right coach can literally extend your life.

You’ve been writing your own programs and watching YouTube videos by all the gurus, and you’ve finally decided it is time to hire a coach. Great! I firmly believe everyone needs a coach. Everyone.

  • The best lifters in the country have coaches.
  • The wealthiest CEOs in the country have coaches.
  • The best coaches in the country have coaches.

We all perceive the world through our own filters and frameworks. And in many respects, our framing is filled with holes and nuances. I have over thirty years of experience lifting and nearly twenty years of coaching under my belt, and I still ask for help in every session. Don’t let your ego convince you that you don’t need coaching.

However, there are some criteria to consider before you make any kind of commitment. Follow this seven-stage checklist to find the right coach for you. The wrong fit can be a disaster, but the right fit can literally extend your life.

Lifting program review with footballer Chris Santini at Cal Poly.

#1: Pin Down Your Real Needs

What are your needs? And I’m not talking about, “Well, I want to get swole,” or “I want to lose weight.” Sit down and compile a list of what is truly of concern for you. So you want to get swole. What does that look like, top to bottom? You don’t want to be fat. What does that mean? How would you like your body to look, and what criteria are you using that makes you think you are fat now?

When we make general statements like the ones above, we end up either over-generalizing our situation or completely distorting the real issues. Take thirty minutes and write down your reasons for hiring a coach. When you interview potential coaches, have a strong understanding of what your needs are. This will allow you to determine if the coach is good for you, and it will also give the potential coach a greater understanding of whether or not you will be a right fit for them. It’s a two-way process.

#2: Check Reputations

Reputations help you quickly sniff out coaches of value. But hold your horses. Just because a coach has worked with some freak-of-nature athletes doesn’t mean he or she is the best coach for you.

I have worked with some absolute freaks in the football world and drafted guys who have gone on to make tens of millions of dollars and win Pro Bowls and Super Bowls. Do you think I was the deciding factor in whether or not they were going to get drafted and become a household name? Me neither. Talk to the athletes we developed here at Poly if you want to know if I’m a good coach or not.

I see this fallacy all the time, especially with the CrossFitters I work with. Take for example the Bay Area in Northern California. The Bay is a hotbed for CrossFit, with Santa Cruz (where it all began) on the outskirts. There are some legendary gyms up there. Yet the best CrossFit coaches I have ever seen come from a smaller, little-known box out of San Jose. I would say that 50 percent of their clientele are defects from other boxes who have been told to go to the San Jose gym for rock-solid coaching. They should change their name to CrossFit Triage.

Be hesitant to hire someone purely because of who they work with. Reputation is a great starting point, but be sure to see what lies underneath.

#3: Investigate Qualifications and Education

In many respects, degrees and certifications are necessary when evaluating ability. Let’s face it, no matter what you are looking for, a coach with a certification in that discipline has a minimum level of experience to teach it. That’s a good thing.

For example, if you are a kettlebell person, the RKC spends several hours on the last day of the certification having the attendees work with someone off of the street. We ask them to teach one or more of the elements from the cert, and then they design a brief workout so we can evaluate their coaching ability. If they can’t coach, they don’t get certified.

“Reputation is a great starting point, but be sure to see what lies underneath.”

But beware of the cert collectors. These are the people who spend weekend after weekend attending seminars and certifications, but aren’t really putting their newfound knowledge to work. A sharp coach will have answers for any of your concerns and can explain the science to you. If they can’t, find someone else.

#4: You Get What You Pay For

A good coach knows what he or she is worth. If you are considering working with someone who charges $15.00 a session, you might be in for a letdown (especially if we are talking about one-on-one training). There are definitely coaches out there who overcharge for their services, but I guarantee a coach who is rock solid and can facilitate real change is not charging pennies for his or her time.

I recently heard a story about a broken steamboat engine. The captain reached out to the best mechanic in the field and brought him in to fix the engine. If you know anything about steam engines, you know they are incredibly intricate. Anyhow, the mechanic came in and spent a long time listening to this whistle and the sigh of the pipes. He then picked up a hammer and tapped one of the pipes. Like magic, the engine came back to life.

Then he handed the captain a bill for $1,000.00. The captain looked at it and angrily exclaimed, “$1,000.00? All you did was tap a pipe with a hammer! I want an itemized list to justify this cost!” The mechanic later returned with his updated invoice, which read:

“$0.50 for the tap

$999.50 for knowing where to tap”

If you want to work with someone who is knowledgeable, experienced, and able to deliver, you are going to have to be willing to shell out some money. It’s that simple. A great coach values his or her time, so be prepared to pay for it.

Evaluate what your goals are before you seek coaching.

Bottoms up kettlebell coaching with the Cal Poly baseball team.

#5: What About Experience?

Becoming a good coach takes time. It’s not something you are simply born with. Quality coaching most often stems from experience. A good coach can outline a myriad of experiences for you if asked. Most seasoned coaches will have a level of flexibility with their words, teaching styles, cueing, and eye that will make them considerably more dynamic. I’m not trying to throw young coaches under the bus, but experience is worth its weight in gold.

#6: Who’s Your Daddy?

Remember, your coach works for you. You are paying for the sessions. Therefore, they need to be compliant, flexible, and completely attentive. If they stand with their cellphone in their hand during your entire session, sit down, or spend your time talking to other coaches or members, they are not the right person for you. You are paying for expertise and time. A good coach will block out the entire world during your session, and you should expect that.

Let your coach know your expectations up front so he or she will have all the information necessary to successfully navigate the relationship with you. If you get any resistance, find someone else.

#7: Go With Your Gut

If it feels wrong, that’s because it is. If you walk into a situation and something is off, turn and run. Let your intuition guide you. When you interview potential coaches, you should feel completely comfortable. Rapport might be more important than anything we have talked about thus far. There has to be chemistry, because you are likely to be asked to do some seriously uncomfortable things during training sessions. It’s in your best interest to not want to choke your coach before the work has begun.

Your Health Is Everything

One of the most important investments you can make is in your body. Those of us who do this for a living know these coaching partnerships can transform and even prolong lives. So don’t be afraid to be a shark when choosing a coach.

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