12 Reps With Jeff Barnett, Fitness Coach

Jeff Barnett is an former Marine with a philosophical perspective on coaching. Read about how Klokov, Wolverine, Roosevelt, and Bruce Lee fit into his outlook in our 12 Reps.

Jeff Barnett, coaching, fitness

EDITOR’S NOTE: Welcome to our 12 reps feature. In each appearance of 12 Reps, our coaches, writers, and occasional guests will be answering the same twelve questions each time. Go “into the locker-room” with them and get to know our coaches and writers a little bit better!

12 Reps With Fitness Coach Jeff Barnett

1. Who was your first coach and what did he or she teach you?

My first coach in a literal sense would be one of the worthless parent coaches of my little league baseball team. I was not very good at baseball because I never practiced. I constantly asked my coach to try out for pitcher. He always said, “Barnett, we already held tryouts for pitcher.” I do not believe these tryouts ever occurred. So instead of teaching me to pitch, or to do anything useful with the ball, he stuck me in right field where I could do little damage. This taught me that a coach’s job is to teach athletes skills, not bemoan the fact that the athlete doesn’t already have those skills.

My first real coach was Charlie Hunt, although he’s probably never considered himself my coach. We were college students together, both training to enter the Marine Corps. He was an elite runner. I was not, and I needed a 21-minute 3-mile time to be competitive for selection as an officer. That’s a tough standard to meet when you’ve never done any endurance training – ever. He took me under his wing, prescribed my training plan, and actually ran with me most of the time (in addition to his own training). I succeeded in getting selected, due in large part to his efforts.

Charlie taught me that coaches are more credible when they have capacity in the activity they coach. While I was wheezing and dying during mile repeats, Charlie was cruising along at my max speed, right there with me, calmly encouraging me and coaching me about pace. Because he was so damn good at running, he could coach me in ways others couldn’t. Sometimes when my classes at CrossFit Impulse run a 5K, I’ll try to run with each athlete for 400m or so before changing over to another athlete and repeating the process. I can’t hang with all my athletes – not by a long shot. But most of the time I can cruise at their 5km pace for a short distance without much problem while talking to them and taking their mind off the suck.

2. Who is the coach you most admire?

My wife, Christina. She is very, very good at her niche: teaching, motivating, programming, and life-coaching the everyday person. Through her patience and caring, she has changed the lives of many who might otherwise have quit. We both care about our athletes, but she is able to say the right things at the right times that elude a black-and-white thinker like myself.

3. If you could have a superhero power, what would it be?

Mutant healing ability, á la Wolverine. That’s got to be the ultimate recovery tool. Claws and an Adamantium coated skeleton would be a bonus, but I’ll settle for super-human healing.

4. What athlete, dead or alive, would you most like to talk with?

Dmitry Klokov. Klokov is the best 105kg lifter alive. Plus, he actively engages with his fans by posting videos of his training. He seems like a stand-up guy. I’d love to pick his brain about what it takes to make it in the Russian weightlifting system.

5. When did you know that coaching was your calling?

I think a lot about our root motivations for our actions as humans. I’ll take an event and drill down through every “Why?” I can ask myself until I get to the base cause. One day I did this exercise and asked, “Why am I happy that my athlete achieved a big milestone today?” I drilled down as far as I could, but I could not find an answer beyond, “It makes me happy that I helped improve her life.”

As a business owner, leader, and relentless seeker of excellence in everything, I’ve pissed off a lot of people and hurt a lot of feelings. At one point I started to question whether any of my motivations were actually altruistic, or if I was really just an asshole. The realization that I enjoyed coaching simply because I enjoyed improving people’s lives gave me the strength to overcome that doubt. I realized that my desire to seek excellence and demand excellence in others stemmed from the knowledge that excellence would change more lives than mediocrity. That realization told me, “Keep driving hard. Learn from your mistakes, but stay the course. Because your way is going to change lives – more lives than if you relent. And you want to change lives not because it’s going to make you any money or give you any power. You want that simply because you delight in helping others achieve.”

6. What is the best and hardest part about being a coach?

The best part about being a coach is the privilege of playing a part in an athlete achieving a difficult goal. The hardest part is finding the right thing to say when things aren’t going well and there’s really nothing you can do about it.

7. What is your favorite physical activity or exercise?

Snatching. I like barbells and I like seeking mastery of complex skills. Snatching is the ultimate blend of both.

8. What is your favorite “cheat” food?

Perhaps rice crust pizza? I’m not sure if that’s really a cheat, since I use it as a high-calorie meal to refuel from training, but I really enjoy it.

9. What is your biggest accomplishment?

I led Marines in combat. We helped apprehend some truly evil people, and we all came back.

10. What do you bring to your students/clients that is different than other coaches and programs?

I question everything, and I am beholden only to what works. I embrace Bruce Lee’s quote, “Absorb what is useful. Discard what is not. Add what is uniquely your own.” I absorb a lot of technical knowledge from books, research articles, videos, blogs, and personal communications with other coaches. I incorporate this knowledge into our coaching and our programming. I try things, and I make mistakes, and then I adjust course and try again. Finally, I recognize that no amount of knowledge can replace the human element of coaching. Therefore, our coaching staff focuses equally on training, nutrition, and sports psychology.

11. What is your favorite quote?

“The Man in the Arena” speech from Teddy Roosevelt. If you create anything in life, you will find plenty of people lined up to criticize your creation. Always remember that criticism, ideas, and complaints are easy. Execution is difficult. The credit belongs to the person in the arena, executing his vision – not the critic.

12. What was/is your favorite sport and why?

I enjoy the sport of CrossFit. I enjoy following the season through the Open, Regionals, and the CrossFit Games. It’s the only sport that I know deeply and the only real sport I’ve ever participated in at any competitive level. If you don’t think CrossFit is a sport, that’s fine. Maybe it’s not. Whatever you want to call what I described above, that’s what I enjoy. I enjoy what I enjoy, regardless of what people call it. I don’t need the ego boost of the rest of the world calling my particular activity a sport.

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