5 Surefire Ways To Be a Crappy Coach Or Trainer

As an observer of the fitness profession, as well as fitness professionals, it looks to me like there are plenty of fitness coaches – strength coaches, youth fitness coaches, personal trainers and coaches all over our field – who are trying to be terrible. Maybe they’re really not, but it sure as heck looks that way.

Since I’m a firm believer that people should be able to get what they really want and strive for, I thought I’d help them out. So here are my 5 Surefire Ways to be a Crappy Coach or Trainer.

1. Be a domineering tyrant – Because everyone loves these asshats. You know who I mean. The “my way or the highway” kind of coaches who think everything they say and do is gold and should be followed to the nth degree.

Just be sure to never ask your clients what they think about anything. Never involve them in the process. Avoid asking for feedback whenever possible. After all, the wrong kind of feedback might undermine your authority. Some of that feedback might make you question your decisions, methods and even your own inflated ego.

Also make certain to reinforce to your clients that you are the boss, not them. They have no role to play in anything, except absolute, 100% compliance with your every decree. Especially when you decide to change something in their program because it’s cool or you saw it on social media. They should be following the same coaches and “influencers” that you follow and anticipating your thoughts before you even express them.

And always punish them for things that have no bearing on their fitness, nutrition or health. Like being late. If your client comes in 3 minutes late, be sure to remind her that it’s that same lazy attitude that led to her needing you in the first place. After all, behaviors like that are reflective of her lack of commitment and will lead to her failure. It has nothing to do with the 5 car pileup at the next intersection or the hundred “mom things” she had to do just to get to the appointment in the first place. Just laziness, lack of commitment and an “I can’t” attitude.

Last, be sure to use accountability like a blunt instrument. Your client was traveling and failed to stay on his meal plan? Hold his weak ass accountable with a snide “I don’t put up with that kind of crap from my clients” attitude. Your client had to cancel a session because her mom was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness and she wanted to be with her? Be certain to ruthlessly remind her that, if she’s serious about getting in shape, she won’t let the possibility of the impending death of her mom get in the way of her workout schedule.

Do whatever it takes to be a domineering, tyrannical asshat. Your clients are depending on it.

2. Be like the terrible parent – Good parents don’t shelter their kids from every failure. Good parents don’t push every possible stumbling block aside for their kids. Good parents teach their children to be resilient, purposeful, thoughtful, determined and empathetic. Good parents end up with responsible, well-adjusted and successful children. And yes, I’m fully aware and accepting of the fact that success means different things to different kids. So are good parents!

Terrible parents just push their kids to do what the terrible parent thinks should be done in that moment without allowing the kids to explore the situation at all. They say things like “because I said so” instead of using teaching moments to strengthen their children.

If you want to be a crappy coach, you should do that, too. Ignore your client’s questions and just order them around like mindless automatons. Remember, you’re the boss and you’re far too important to answer questions from peons. You don’t have time to engage your clients in the process and help them develop a deeper, more meaningful understanding of why the exercises you choose matter or how to manage their diet and nutrition.

After all, if you teach them things, they may not need you, and it is, after all, all about YOU.

Remember, terrible parents also withhold their approval unless whatever they expect is completely and 100% fulfilled by their kids. Approval is a bargaining tool to get them to do what you want, completely and all the time. Otherwise, they can expect your dismissiveness, scorn and derision.

When their children struggle, terrible parents belittle that struggle. They minimize it and the effect it is having on their children. They’ll say things like “suck it up” and “don’t be a wuss.” Even better, they’ll compare the struggling child to an older, more successful sibling or other family member. “Why can’t you be more like (insert soon to be hated family member name here.)

Terrible parents either dismiss their children’s struggle, minimize their children’s ability to rise above it or simply destroy their will to succeed by belittling and shaming them.

Any time they actually flat out fail at something, be sure to catalog it and repeatedly bring it up as motivation to do better. Because kids (and clients) love to have their shortcomings thrown back in their faces. It’s motivational, right?

Being the terrible parent is the surest path to repetitive struggle and failure for your clients. So definitely don’t support them mentally and emotionally when they struggle and be sure to rub the resulting failures in their faces like salt in a wound. And compare them to others as often as possible.

Do whatever it takes to be the kind of “parent” who raises insecure, incapable, dependent sociopaths who are incapable of any kind of autonomy, resiliency and long-term focus on success. Your clients will love you all the more for it.

3. Be a complete, self-absorbed douche – Remember, there is nobody on planet Earth or in the whole universe more important than you. The sun rises and sets on you. You are the be-all, end-all, know-all coach to whom every other coach should look up. Why you don’t have 3 million followers on Instagram, Twitter and Youtube is a question for the ages.

Anybody you follow on social media should really write you a hand-written thank you card and send you money every month. You, my spandex wearing, green juice drinking, hot goat yoga loving friend, are an “influencer.”

But that’s not easy. It takes work to maintain a big enough following to get a free jug of protein and some free muscle shirts or free yoga pants every month. Selfie after selfie, with some motivational pablum thrown in, spiced with all your meal prep photos and topped off with mirror shots of you in the gym. But not because you want to educate anyone or inspire them to a better life.

No, your “look at me” social media lifestyle is designed to get you likes and comments, along with free stuff. People who see your social media and think you know enough to help them improve their physiques and their lives quickly see something different once they hire you. (That’s when the tyrant and the terrible parent come out to snuff out any dissent and put those pesky clients back in line.)

Obviously, your training environment must have mirrors. Where else are you going to check out your glorious self? Who else are you going to look at? Your clients? No way! I mean, have you seen what kind of shape they’re in?

Wifi is critical, too. Really good wifi with a strong signal. After all, you’ve got lots of social media posts to make and read while your clients are carrying out your crappy, one-size-fits-all “system” for transformation, sport-specific training or whatever. (Oh, we’re coming back around for that, too!)

And never make your social media about anybody but you. The only exception is if your client accidentally reaches their goal using your “cutting edge” exercise and nutrition program AND is willing to go on video to sing the praises of you and said system. But be sure most of the post is a call for people to pay you.

Of course, any progress your clients make or don’t make is all about you. If they happen to succeed, that was all you, baby! You’re a genius, a motivator and a fitness guru! If they don’t make progress, it’s because they failed you in a personal, vicious and intentional manner. They’re trying to hurt you and ruin your business. You should fire those losers!

If there are other trainers or coaches working in your training environment, be sure to roll your eyes at what they do with their clients. Make sure you tell your clients how dumb their training is and how inferior it is to your “system.” Nothing makes clients feel more comfortable than a lack of camaradarie among co-workers or people sharing the same space.

When talking with your clients, always remember to return the conversation to you, your stuff, your opinion and all that matters to you. Also, always one-up your clients – or anybody for that matter – when they share a problem, challenge or success. People love that!

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4. Be absolutely and unwaveringly dogmatic – This “individualized program” stuff is for losers! You’ve got a system! Your system worked for you and it’s worked for every successful client you’ve ever trained. All 3 of them!

Assess your clients? Why? They’re human beings, right? You’ve got this awesome one-size-fits-all training and nutrition program, so let’s just dump them in it and get to work!

Knees hurt when they lunge? Power through it, pansy! Shoulder and neck pain during barbell squats? Toughen up, buttercup! You need squats and this is how we do it around here!

Remember, the only time you should change anything in a clients’ program is when YOU see something really cool on Instagram or Youttube. Then, every one of your clients should be doing it, right away. Get them all standing on Bosu balls juggling dumbbells, because that’s what you saw the guy who trains those NFL wide receivers doing, so it must work!

Changing a client’s program because they’re not ready for the level of challenge offered or because something hurts or even because they really don’t enjoy an activity is a sign of weakness as a coach. And THAT is definitely not you. You’re a beast!

If your client comes in wired to the hilt with stress, ignore it and crush them! Don’t take time to do any breathing work, yoga or anything else that might get them out of the red, so to speak. There’s nothing like a killer workout to fix those pesky emotional and mental breakpoints.

Never change anything for anything. After all, you didn’t get your awesome physique by giving in to weakness, right?

5. Make everything about winning and losing and make sure it hurts to lose – The world is a tough, demanding place! You’re either winning or losing. There’s no standing still. And you, my overbearing friend, intend to win, am I right?

Make sure those idiot clients get this. You’re competing to be the best, richest, most influential coach on planet Earth. You NEED the biggest social media following. You NEED to have the most successful clients. You NEED to have the coolest toys. You NEED to eat and drink all the newest and hippest “fitness foods.” And THEY need to help you get it all.

The only way to get all that stuff? WIN, baby!

Your clients have to not only compete with themselves, but must always be competing with all your other clients. Be sure to use lots of comparisons of clients to one another, even if they don’t know one another and even if they’re not interested in competing. If they end up resenting other people they don’t even know, you’re probably doing it right!

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And don’t forget to make it a competition against the clients of other coaches, too. Even if that coach could care less about it (loser!)

Since this is a competition, there should be prizes for winning. Be sure you don’t share any of those – physical or other – with your clients. You don’t want them getting the idea that they’re succeeding. That might give them the wrong kind of motivation!

If they lose, though… You’ve got to have appropriate penalties and punishments for losing, for sure.

Sue didn’t lose the 5 pounds in the time desired? Looks like 10 minutes of non-stop burpees and double-unders – after she finishes her regular, stupidly brutal workout! Bob didn’t stick to his meal plan this week? He gets verbally abused and berated live in your private Facebook group! And if you don’t win trainer of the month in your club or hit your revenue target in your own studio, God help those losers you call clients…

Make sure your clients know you expect to win. Winning, of course, means they succeed all the time, every time and give you all the credit for it (see #3 – Be a complete, self-absorbed douche.)

Those are the big 5 if you want to be a crappy trainer or coach. There are some other, little things, too. Like ignore birthdays, anniversaries and other meaningless holidays and occasions. Be sure to yell. A lot. It gives you way more credibility and authority! Force them to buy crappy, MLM supplements from you. This is especially true if you sell those lame-ass “cleanses” or detox products. Even if they don’t want or need them, you need stuff and stuff costs money!

Of course, most coaches and trainers don’t want to be crappy, they really want to be great! They’d rather be effective, thorough, attentive, interactive and successful in a more meaningful way. A good start would be to avoid all the stuff I’ve suggested here.

Here’s a few quick guidelines that might help you be an effective, successful coach or trainer:

  • Assess your clients – Not just a movement screen. Ask about their previous fitness and nutrition experiences. Find out what they liked and disliked. See how they felt about how it worked out, whether successful or not.
  • Individualize – Even if you work in a group fitness setting, try to customize activities to meet people where they are. Fitness levels, current injuries, fears and other limitations may mean they can’t do certain things. Whatever the setting (1 on 1, semi-private or group,) find a way to “keep them in the game.”
  • Keep them involved – Explain the “why” behind the things you do. Ask for their opinion on activities or programs. Ask open ended, emotionally reflective questions.
  • Celebrate “process” wins – Sometimes, making it to all of their appointments is a challenge. Don’t hesitate to celebrate that. It doesn’t have to be a huge deal. Just tell them you recognize that they overcame some challenges to keep their commitment to themselves and their fitness. Let them know when you see them moving better or doing something more smoothly or easily. If they stick to their meal plan or get all their sleep or water in, celebrate that in an appropriate way. If it’s something you want them to repeat, let them know it matters in a positive and reinforcing manner.
  • Put your phone away – Look, I use my phone for video and photos, too. But sometimes, I find myself getting distracted by a text or a notification. Every time I read one of those, it takes my attention away from the most important thing in my life at that moment – my client! No matter how big an “influencer” you are or how many followers you have, you have more to gain by liking and commenting on your clients work than on any social media account.
  • Accountability in the proper dose and timing – One of the areas to assess your client in is their ability to accept and their tolerance for accountability. Some people love it, others are a bit squeamish about it. Read your client and apply accountability accordingly. The week that your client is dealing with a family member in the hospital, for example, is not likely to be the week to use accountability too heavily. On the other hand, if your client’s been crushing it and decides to take a “binge weekend,” that’s another story.
  • It’s not about you – My friend, and a fabulous coach, Paul Theo of FMU Fitness in Avon, Ohio has this phrase on his gym walls, on t-shirts and sweatshirts. This whole process, this entire profession, is about others. Serving them, loving them, putting them in positions to be successful and then letting them have the spotlight when they win. Show your clients a path to success in their fitness, wellness, nutrition and performance. When they get there, remind them that they’re the ones who put in the work.

    Last summer, one of my college football players pulled a 600 pound barbell deadlift during a PR day. After he did it, he said “thank you, coach. I couldn’t have done it without you.” I gently reminded him that it was he who had put in the thousands of maximal and sub-maximal reps, as well as the countless reps of other exercises and hours in the gym to get to that point. All I did was build a plan. He put the work in.

    Was my plan for his training right and appropriate? I think so. I believe in my programming ability. But at that moment, it was far more important for him to know he was hugely capable of doing great things and that I believed in him.

    It’s not about you, but it does begin with you. If you really want to be a great coach or trainer, don’t let it end with you.

I hope you enjoyed this. More, I hope it moves you to be better. The fitness, performance and coaching profession could use a lot more “better.”

Keep the faith and keep after it!

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