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The little guide to rookie coaches

Articles / 23 January, 2020 /

By Stéphane Aubé

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46 800 hours…that’s about the time I’ve spent working as a coach for the last 13 years. Doesn’t look that much, you say? Let’s dig into these numbers a bit. That’s 3600 hours a year, about 300 hours a month, approximatively 75 hours a week. It is the average amount of time I’ve put into work for different tasks related to the work of a coach. Whether it’s building workout or a nutrition plan, a private session with a client, answering e-mails (and man, we get a lot of them!), or trying to read and learn stuff to stay on the page and improve your knowledge. 

Now if you ask me, is it my dreamed job? Of course, I’ll answer. But living from a passion can also burn you to the ground if you don’t manage your schedule properly. I know it, I’ve been there. I’ve always enjoyed creating programs, sharing knowledge with others, training clients, and writing articles. But to make a living of it, forget the 9-5 schedule and the week-ends. At least when you start. You have to understand you are starting a business of your own. So if you are not ready to put on the hours, chances are you’ll get back to your old day job sooner or later. But there’s a time where you will need to resource yourself and have a break. Otherwise, you will lose this passion. 

The problem is that being a coach is a very demanding job, mentally, as physically. Think of it; you need to teach people and show them how to train, pinpoint their weaknesses, correct their movements, find cues they can understand, write down programs, assess their results, question them, and find solutions when nothing happens, and this list goes on and on. And you’ll get kind words and references if you have results, but especially if the client does his/her job. And what about if the client doesn’t do his/her part of the deal? You’ll take the blame? Sadly, yes. You are a business. So when a client isn’t satisfied, whatever who’s fault it is, it’s your fault because this is the word that will spread around. 

You also have to stay fit yourself. I mean, being Mr. Olympia is way non-necessary, but you need to get a sense of health and fitness. Otherwise, who would like to pay for someone who looks worse than them? It’s hard to hear, but it’s the cold truth. The vast majority of people who are willing to pay for advice are mostly training to look better as a primary goal. So you need to stand apart, and it’s usually done on the first impression, primarily if you work in a commercial gym where most people don’t care that you can lift 500 pounds on the squat. In the strength training field, that’s a bit different, but if you didn’t put on an impressive lift or a world record, you need to have something they haven’t. 

Some coaches will also do great when they finally get a client who’s genetic is just freaking awesome. So even though they are not the most knowledgeable in their field, the fact that he/she gets into fantastic shape fast or that one of your clients get insanely strong will also spread some noise and attract the interest of others around. If you train competitive athletes, having one who finishes first will also give credentials to your business. 

There are all sorts of ways you can build your business and suddenly have too much on your hand to deal with. Because whatever makes your company getting success, you need to be able to keep that motivation that led you to where you are. But every new client will only add hours of work to your schedule and cuts on other activities in your life. At first, we don’t think about it because all we want is for this business to work. You have to consider other areas of your life as the balance that makes you see your business as sustainable in the long run. There will be a time where you will ask yourself: ”How will I be able to do this all my life?”. 

Since I’ve been in this situation myself, trying to keep my head over the water, I will share with you some straightforward tricks, yet very effective ways to make sure you are not drowning in your success. Trust me, at first, they can look quite simple and not that useful, but there will come a time where it can save your career and your sanity. 

Redefine individualization

 

Your clients want to feel like they are unique and will like to feel like you do something unique and different for them. So when they get a new workout program, they expect a unique program built for them. Now, as a rookie coach, and I’ve seen this so often, we usually understand that we need to develop an entirely new plan out of our imagination. Something you never did before and that nobody could have put their hands on. Easy to do when you have 5 to 10 clients, but is your business will turn around those 5 to 10 clients forever? Will you produce new programs for each and everyone when you will reach 30 clients, 50 clients, hell when you will be a superstar coach and will be responsible for 100 clients. 

One of the most significant errors I see from coaches starting in this business is to try to create a whole new program every time they get a new client or every time they renew a client’s plan. But you have to understand this; a workout is a trigger for results, an outcome, one of the tools to get to your client’s goal. If you need to nail a board, a hammer is probably the best, yet most straightforward tool to use. Most people know how to use it, and it’s pretty simple to use, and the chance of injury is usually low (ok, some people might hit their thumb once in a while, but hey, there’s always a minimum risk in each action; otherwise, nothing happen). 

Now let’s move a month later, and you need two boards on the wall. Bigger job, yes, but still the same. The volume of work is a bit higher, but it yet the same thing to do. Would you use a different tool? I mean, the hammer got you successful the first time, so it will probably be of the same help this time. If you ask me the question, I would suggest you use a hammer again. I would suggest you use a hammer up until the workload or until the kind of job you want to accomplish ask for bigger or better or more complex tools. But for the moment and until then, the hammer is the tool of choice. 

Now, why would you build an entirely new program every month? When I say a new program, I mean creating a whole new context of training sessions, where every exercise, sets, reps, rest, and tempo is different and probably leads to a different outcome. The average time of a training program is 4 to 6 weeks for most people. I don’t think you cover all weaknesses in this short of a time frame. I don’t believe that those exercises or the tool use in your last program have expired and are no longer valid. You heard that you need to ”shock the body”? Trust me; there’s no such thing as ”shocking the body”. The word is progression, and you don’t reach progression when you always switch things up. 

What you want to do first: create some basic templates with a different goal for each. For example, you might have 2 or 3 different models focusing on hypertrophy work — 2 or 3 others on strength components – And finally, 2 or 3 where you work more on conditioning or endurance. From those templates, you analyze the need for every client you have and based on the goal of this client, you pick up the right model, the one you consider in line with his goal. Now you probably did an assessment and had a few variables you take notice of.

An example would be a client who’s got an injury, or maybe he has trouble with a particular lift. Take those specific notice, and make some corrections on the template. Correct one or two exercises, switch a back squat for another variation if it’s necessary. Makes small changes that will individualize the program and make this program great for the client. But for the sake of god, don’t start from scratch and build new ones off of the ground. You will lose countless times to do other more important stuff. 

From those programs, make small changes at each renewal, and make them progress, make them see improvement, focus on the weaknesses you can see on each lift. 

You need to schedule business hours

 

As a passion, and as our own business, we tend to answer clients every time they text us or send an e-mail. We plan our time around them, and not around our own life or family. The moment you start to do this is the moment you begin to dig yourself into the ground. Quickly, you’ll find out that your life is pretty unbalanced. You work crazy hours, rarely find time to disconnect your brain from work, put your family and friends aside, and slowly burn the candle by both sides. 

Over time, your work will start to be less efficient, less original; each task becomes heavier and heavier. You lose ”the edge” you got when you started this off. Don’t forget, this ”edge” is what got you there. To keep that fresh energy, you need to schedule time off work. You need to give time to other spheres of your life. Talk with other people that don’t necessarily share the same interest. Learn other stuff. Give time to your families. To be specific, you need to have a life, not only a business. Otherwise, your business becomes your social network. And that’s profoundly bad. I mean, it should part of your social network, not all of it. 

What I’ve done too late in my life, but at least I’ve done it before I lose my mind, is to establish a tight schedule, a calendar where you write working hours. Like you would do for a regular job where you check-in in the morning and check-off at the end of the day. I know it’s hard to do at first because you always fear losing clients or opportunities. But trust me, if someone wants to work with you, he can wait 24-48 hours. Otherwise, it only means that it wouldn’t have last anyway.  

In your calendar, schedule time to answer clients, time to read and learn new stuff, time to write and build programs, and if this is the case, time to work in one-on-one sessions. Respect that schedule, don’t try to override it because you think that you don’t have enough time. Because if this is the case, and you feel that you’re missing time to accomplish all of your tasks, it raises a question: Maybe you have too many clients or your work structure lack sophistication. 

If you have too many clients, that’s a definite problem but not a bad one. Because there’s something you can do about it. Maybe your business is ready to pass to the next level. Perhaps you need to hire someone to help you accomplish tasks. At first, you probably fear not having enough money or not capitalizing fast enough on your business. Because you will need to pay this employee, but if it helps you to run 30 more clients, trust me, soon enough, you’ll double your business size, rentability and will be less stress by all the work you have. Delegating work is probably the first thing we need to think about when we get too short on time. Learn your weaknesses and hire people who are good at these. Your services can only get stronger, and your work structure can only get better. It will help you to focus on tasks you’re good at and will make you appreciate your work even more. 

Learn to say no

 

This one is gold! The word no has been the hardest word to say in my early career. But there’s a powerful meaning in this word. You need to learn to choose where you want to work, with whom you want to work, and the reason you want to do the job. Let me give you some examples. 

There was a  time where I would say yes to everyone who’d like to work with me. I think we all do this — whatever the reason, whether it’s for money, credential, more clients on your curriculum. But here’s the thing, you can’t do everything, and you can’t work with every type of client. For myself, I’ve never been comfortable with clients who have a lot of injuries. And one day I realized I add a lot of clients who needed to work on rehab more than they can work out and progress. And it was pissing me off. I was not comfortable training those clients, and it wasn’t motivating me. So my work wasn’t the best I can be for them. And my level of knowledge in that field wasn’t the best; a lot of other great coaches would have done the work way better. But the fear of losing clients was always there, and I felt like I was giving upon them. 

But your goal as a coach is to be the best you can be to reach the client’s goal and keep him healthy. As soon as I realize that I wasn’t doing this anymore, but instead kept them from having better and more accurate services.  That’s when I started to refer some customers to other coaches. 

Best move I ever did. 

Not only other coaches began to refer me to some clients, too, but even old clients also came back to me after they have corrected their issues and heal their injuries. I’m still doing the same thing nowadays. I can work around some stuff. But if my evaluation tells me you need rehab first, or a mobility specialist, and that we can’t go with further with the core of my services, I’m going to say no and refer you to another coaches or business. Understand me; my door is always open, but if you want to buy a race car but can barely ride on the highway, you maybe need to learn those stuff first and then come back later when you’re ready to drive the big workhorses. 

It also creates a sense of responsibility in front of your clients. Saying no spread the message that you’re in demand, and people tend to gravitate towards a successful business. It’s also a great way to root yourself into a specialization or a trademark. For example, Jason Statham is a well-known actor. I like his movies, his great at kicking ass, always have a punchy line to say and is excellent at being a good, bad guy. He is an action movie actor and his known for this. It doesn’t mean he can’t play comedy or romantic roles, but what he’s good at is kicking ass. And that’s what’s making him hit the nail on every movie he does. 

Hiring him for a romantic role is probably not where his talent last. What I mean here is, know where your good at, get recognized for this, build a name, a trademark, a brand, and dig deep in that field so every time people think about it, they will think of you. By saying no to clients that don’t correspond to your profile and focusing on clients who wish to learn from your philosophy, your knowledge, and applications, you are automatically creating that brand and that name you want. 

Wrap-up: learn to apply these 4 basic points

 

  • You can work endless hours to build your business, but sooner or later, you’re going to lose your mind if you don’t plan some ways to be time-efficient
  • Individualization is not about creating ”whole new” ways of working out for everyone. It’s about assessing what your client needs, and find the right template for him. Build a model you trust in, and tweak them, make small changes to fit a client’s need. 
  • Fix a schedule and respect it. Stop working a bit here and there, stop answering clients anytime, any day. You don’t get to the garage when it’s close; you wait until its open.  Be a business, not an open house. Invest time with your families, friends, have other hobbies, play a sport, music, collect stamps I don’t care, and do things that make you a better human. 
  • Say no to clients that don’t fit the core of your business, your philosophy, or that need things you don’t have in your bag of tools. Refer to other coaches or specialists. Be steady in what you want to spread as a reputation.

 

Stéphane Aubé

Written by Stéphane Aubé

Stéphane Aubé has worked in the fitness industry for more than 12 years. He works as a trainer and advisor for Hungry For Victory, a company he founded which specializes in nutrition and physical development for athletes of all disciplines. He has wo…