There is a great deal of focus on the technical aspect of coaching, which is key to running a successful CrossFit gym. But there are other factors that play a major role in the bigger picture. Today, I offer six simple tips to coaching your best and making your athletes eager for more.
1. Smile. It seems simple enough, but when you’re grouchy or have a million other things on your mind, a smile doesn’t come easy. As a psych major, I learned that forcing a smile can actually cause a chemical reaction in your brain that improves your mood. I used this as a hung-over college student waitressing, and it worked. So regardless of what’s happening outside those four walls, put a smile on your face for the class or classes you’re committed to. An athlete might be having an equally tough time and find your smile comforting. A new member might want to turn around and walk out but feel welcome by your warmth. And you might just do yourself a favor and leave in a better place than you walked in.
2. Say names. It can be tough to keep up with names and new members, but it can make a world of difference in member retention. Welcoming athletes at the door by name helps you remember and reminds them that they matter. Encouraging individuals by name throughout the workout lets them know you’re watching and wanting them to succeed. And giving them a high-five and good job with their name attached just means more than a generic close to the workout. Make the experience really great by giving each member some individual attention and name-know.
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3. Warm them up with intention. A lot of coaches, myself included, find a warm-up routine they like and get comfortable. But with the major variations in workouts should come variations in warm-ups. Consider what muscle groups will be worked, and consider what was worked yesterday that might be tight or sore. Be sure blood is flowing and body is warm and sweat is beading and joints are juicy. I’ve heard the joke that at CrossFit, our warm-up is your workout ... give it some truth.
4. Get creative. Creativity is a coach’s best friend. There are so many situations in which a coach must be able to adapt: a member with a restriction that requires a quirky modification, lack of equipment for an extra big class, or a beginner who likely can’t complete a workout as written. There are so many instances in which a coach needs to be a quick thinker. I encourage all coaches to access as many tools as they can: videos, books, podcasts and more. The more tools you have, the more situations you’ll be prepared to fix with creative solutions.
5. Interrupt workouts. I’ve been to gyms where you’re left to complete a workout and the clock becomes God. But the clock isn’t God, and the time an athlete gets doesn’t matter whether there’s risk of injury or improper movement patterns. Coaches need to understand that their job does not just involve cheerleading and supervising — it involves an active hour of feedback, correction and critique. Coaches have every right (and, in fact, a responsibility) to interrupt a workout in any instance to assist an athlete.
6. Be gracious and selfless in the box. When you get to the gym, you are a provider of coaching, customer service and, in some cases, watered-down counseling. Your focus transitions from your world and your life to the lives of the people in the room. And it’s important to embrace those moments and be gracious for their time and attention. It is a business and you are providing a service, but you’re also being provided an avenue for changing lives and not everybody can say that. In those moments, in that gym, you are a leader. And the greatest thing a leader can be is selfless and express gratitude for the role he or she is in.
Do your homework and get your certs. But never forget that most of coaching has more to do with trust and personal connections than anything. Know your shit, and most important, know how to communicate it in a way that keeps people coming back for more. Be the best coach you can be every class.