Many Breaking Muscle writers are skilled trainers. Some are masters or on the way to mastery. I am honored to write among them and I read most of their articles because I am a scrub – a new coach. I feel like part of my job as a new coach is insatiable learning as much as possible and as often as possible from a variety of sources and this website has been a great resource.
As luck would have it, my best and most amazing resource was my own home, CrossFit LA, one of the original ten CrossFit gyms. Owner Andy Petranek has looked after many great coaches and athletes, including Breaking Muscle’s Becca Borawski. I feel humble to be tapped into as the newest student under his wing. Although I’ve been coaching and programming for the CFLA’s Prodigy Teen program for about a year, the transition to life as an adult coach offers many more lessons.
Today I am sharing my seven most important lessons that I learned as a new coach. I know that for so many new gyms starting up every month, there are at least as many new trainers looking for knowledge.
1. Insatiable, learn as much as you can, as often as possible.
I study every day. I’m studying anatomy. I study weight lifting books and videos. I register for seminars and workshops. I watch great coaches carry themselves and talk to people. I’m not just learning from CrossFit trainers, either. One of the most influential coaches for me in the last five years was a spin instructor of all people. I explore why he is so effective with his students and how he can motivate them to move better. Every single trainer in my gym has a strength that inspires me. I try to learn as much as possible from their strengths.
2. Talk to all coaches at all times.
It’s not enough to watch great coaches in action, although sometimes that’s all you can do, like: B. Coach Burgener on YouTube, but if you have experienced coaches around you to inspire you, talk to them. Talk to them all. Decide on the technical and mental aspects of coaching. Put them in a corner with any questions about programming, class flow, or motion sequences. You will find that great trainers are more than willing to share their knowledge. Often times they will tell you stories about their beginnings and those stories will do you very well. You will find that you are not the only new trainer in the world who is nervous or loses breath while warming up. Even the big ones were once nervous wrecks.
3. “Copy good artists, steal great artists.”
That’s what Pablo Picasso said. Steve Jobs made a living from it. And what the hell if I’m above them or this philosophy. I steal warm-ups that I love. I steal clues. I steal entire speeches on purpose. What I steal is what appeals to me as an athlete. Even if I use what I steal as a guideline until I’m confident enough to take it all on my own, I still have to deliver it from a place of authenticity.
4. Set a good example.
I often think about what I’m going to ask of my teenage athletes and probably my adult students. Essentially, I am asking them to take risks, not silly risks, to harm themselves, but I am asking them to step out of their comfort zone and face places of fear. And that’s risky stuff. I feel like if I don’t live by it, why should you trust me? If I ask students to act from a place of real effort or to become vulnerable to practice, then I must do so myself. I have to be my own best student or I’m just full of words and shit.
5. Separate the athlete-self from the coach-self.
This has been one of the most difficult lessons for me. I’m not the best athlete in our gym and some of our best athletes and coaches have reminded me that this is not the point of great coaching. When I’m stifling everything I have to offer with the embarrassment that I can’t deadlift twice as much as my students, then I’m not showing off my best talents as a coach. If I have the ability to get in touch with a student and make them move better, then I’ve done well as a coach. My deadlift has nothing to do with this ability.
6. Be prone to reviews all the time.
I am not a jumping chicken and I have had many life experiences that have taught hard life lessons. What I know from this maturity is when to be humble and receptive when I have a lot to learn. Even if I’ve been to hell and back in my life, as a new trainer I still need a lot of guidance and training. My ego is all but wiped out in the evaluation process, and that’s the way it is. And a good rating, especially when it is difficult, is the quick way to get better. The more comfortable you feel with feeling uncomfortable and sitting in the spot, the more you will learn. You can also memorize any information that a trainer can mouth, but until you put it into practice to evaluate and refine it is all information.
7. Rely on current strengths.
I know I was tapped into by one of the most respected CrossFit trainers for a reason. Although I’m not the best athlete and coaching is a new venture for me, I know that connecting with people is my strength. I am approachable and sociable. I am empathetic. Students feel safe with me and hopefully they can grow as athletes in this safe space that I offer them. All technical information and the biomechanics of the body are learned, but this connection is either taken for granted or takes many years. And for the moment, until the other stuff is embedded, I rely heavily on that natural gift.
We cannot know everything when we start something new. That is a stupid and presumptuous notion. The road to championship is a long and humble one, but it is endlessly worthwhile. It’s one that I like to be on. I know patience is part of the journey and I can only hope that one day, years later, as I continue my never-ending pursuit of learning, I will have motivated athletes, better exercise, and new coaches as a resource if they go ahead on their own way.
Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.