20 Tips for Young Coaches

This week’s episode of the podcast is going to be – how do I describe it – a bit different.

It all started with one simple question:

If you could give one piece of advice to a young coach or trainer, what would it be?

This had been buzzing around in my brain for a few weeks now, and as I started to outline the article for my website, I just wasn’t sure an article would do it justice.

I’m not sure how you’re going to like it (and I’m honestly quite scared to put this out there!), but here’s my first crack at long-format audio.

This week’s show is dedicated to the young coaches and trainers in our industry.

  • What habits do you need to be successful?
  • What are mistakes that I (and many others have made) that you can learn from?
  • And perhaps most importantly, how do you achieve lasting success?

I truly hope you enjoy the show!

BTW – this show has been incredibly popular so the whole thing is transcribed below. Enjoy!!


Hello, and welcome to the “Physical Preparation” podcast. I’m your host, Mike Robertson. And today we are gonna give you, or I’m gonna give you 20 tips for young coaches. So let me tell you how all this started, and we’ll kinda start at the beginning and then we’ll go through the tips and I’ll bring it all together at the end.

So I’d been thinking a lot lately about young coaches and the internship process that we run at IFAST because we’ve had roughly 25, 26 intern groups now. Count three a year across nine years, that’s a lot of interns. And between that, between the speaking that I do between, you know, the online piece and social media and all that, I come across a lot of young coaches. And for me, I didn’t have great mentors growing up. It’s not that I didn’t have mentors, but I didn’t have people that were super accessible. I didn’t have anybody that was in my life for an extended period of time that could really weigh in and kinda steer me in the right direction. And I think this is so important now because here’s what I see a lot of. I see a lot of people bitching and moaning about young coaches or young trainers. They do this wrong, and they don’t have work ethic, and, you know, they just don’t understand what it takes. But if you guys know anything about me, number one, I can’t stand negativity. And number two, I can’t stand people that just constantly dump problems on me. I don’t wanna hear your problems. If you have a problem, that’s fine. We all have problems. Give me solutions.

And so, that’s what this show is all about. This show is all about giving young coaches, young trainers very important feedback and advice that I personally didn’t get when I was a young coach that I wish I would have had. And so, that’s why I wanted to do this. And what’s funny is I put this post up on Facebook and, you know, most of the time Facebook now is just people complaining about politics or what’s going wrong in their life. So I put this up there just to try and stimulate some thoughts. And I was shocked because at last look, I think I had 115 different comments. The question was so simple, if you could give young coaches one piece of advice, what would it be? So, I mean, I was just shocked and I mean, we’re talking world-class coaches are chiming in, Dan Baker is on there. I can’t even think of who all else. I mean, all my guys like Andy McCloy, Drew Massey, you know, just these amazing guys are all chiming in on their thoughts. Bill Phillips of EAS fame was on there.

So it really must have struck a chord because 115 comments later, man, my juices were flowing and I had all these great ideas. So this is kinda the combination of all of those. And some of those are influenced by the post. A lot of them are just my own thoughts. I’ll do my best to kinda stay on track and not ramble. It can be difficult when I’m just talking to an empty room, but I think these 20 tips not only will be super beneficial for young coaches and trainers that you know, but maybe even for yourself. You’re gonna find a nugget or two that either you hadn’t thought about or maybe I can get you to think about something in a slightly different fashion. And if I do any of those things, then I’ll think this is valuable. So without any further ado, let’s jump in.

1 – Show Up Early!

Tip number one, show up early. And this is such a basic thing, guys. Everybody can get to work on time. You can show up 15 minutes early to your internship, to your job. Doesn’t matter what you do. If you make the effort, you can always be there early. Now, on the flip side of that, I had an intern. This was probably six years ago, six, seven years ago now. It was a while ago. And, you know, their internship started at 9:00 a.m. This kid, I kid you not. We told him to be there at 8:45, every day, he showed up at 9:00 a.m. And the first thing that he did, he’d show up, he’d give me a head nod, and he’d go in the bathroom. And I think this dude just brushed his hair for like 20 minutes. I had no idea what he did in the bathroom every day. So literally, he wasn’t on the gym floor until 9:20. And you could tell right away, he wasn’t super serious. You know, maybe he is serious now, but he was not serious at the time about getting better.

But when you show up on time, immediately…and keep on mind, when I say on time, I mean 10, 15 minutes early. When you show up 10 to 15 minutes early before you need to be on the floor or before you’re coaching a session, you’re calm, you feel prepared. You know, you got time. If you need to do your hair, brush your teeth, or whatever the case may be, you’re calm, you’re prepared. And kind on the flip side of that, there’s less anxiety. There’s less anxiety, there’s less stress. You’re able to be in the moment. You don’t feel rushed, you’re focused, and you’re ready for that first client or that first athlete that you’re working with. But I think as a young person, it shows your boss that you are a professional.

You know, a lot of this is gonna be focused on, you know, not only you doing what’s necessary, but proving to people that are in positions of superiority to you that you mean business, that you are a professional because, you know, I’d like to think I’m pretty openminded. There are a lot of bosses out there that are not. And they look at young people or interns as, you know, just another cog in the wheel. So if you can start to stand out, day one, you’re showing up 10 to 15 minutes early, you’re prepped, you’re ready. When 9:00 rolls around or whatever time you need to be on the floor when you’re fresh and ready to go and focused, that shows a lot. It shows a lot of initiative. And I can tell you, as an employer, I look very kindly upon that because I think that person is ready to go. So, number one, show up early.

2 – It’s Not Just How You Start – It’s How You Finish

Number two, and this is huge, okay? Because everything has a shelf life, right? No job lasts forever. No internship lasts forever. And you can undo, in our case, 15 amazing weeks of internship level work with one shitty last week. And look, guys, it doesn’t matter like just how you start. It doesn’t matter that you showed up on time all those weeks. If that last week, everything falls apart, that’s a huge problem. So, number two, it’s not just how you start, it’s how you finish. So I don’t want the guy that’s dragging his ass across the finish line. I want a guy that finishes strong. That in that last week, he is confident, he’s in there. He’s coaching, he’s working at a high level. He’s doing the little things around the gym, whether it’s pulling programs, whether it’s cleaning. You know, if you finish strong, that really stands out to me as well.

And I know a lot of places are moving to this kinda model, but at our gym, we wanna hire interns. Like I know after 16 weeks, not only do I know what you know, but I know most importantly, your chemistry and your DNA, and I know how you’re gonna fit into the culture of our gym. So, you know, that last week means a lot. So if you’re kinda just slacking off and dragging your lazy ass, for lack of a better term across the finish line, that’s not a great way to finish.

So in the end, work hard, do everything you need to upfront, but finish strong, take it to the end and finish at the level that you wanna be remembered at because for a lot of internship coordinators, for a lot of coaches, that’s how we remember you. You know, if you don’t put in a great effort that last week, we’re probably not gonna remember you in the light that you would prefer. So finish strong. It’s not just how you start, it’s how you finish.

3 – Work to Be Seen, Not Heard

Number three, work to be seen, not heard. Now, what do I mean by that? And this may sound harsh and it’s not forever, but seriously, in the beginning, just shut up. Just shut up. And I don’t mean that in a negative way at all. I mean, most young people are enthusiastic. They’ve got this energy about them, which I love, right? The older I get, the more I wish I had more of that energy in me. But early on, just be quiet, just listen. You know, it’s okay if you don’t know anything. It’s funny because young people, they think they know everything. And when I say that, I was the same way. I thought I knew everything. I thought I had all the answers. And there’s a quote that I’m gonna paraphrase, but it’s better for people to assume you’re an idiot than to open your mouth and prove it, right? Because a lot of times people get talking, then they can’t shut up. And then it’s like, “Oh, my gosh. You said all these things that just proved to me that you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

So it’s okay. Like as a young coach, as a young trainer, it is totally okay not to know things. In fact, if you come in and you think you know everything, a lot of people are gonna try and knock you back down a couple pegs. It’s not necessarily the way that I do it, but just be quiet. Learn. Like use kinda that whole time to not just… I don’t wanna say this. Don’t just try and show me what you know, find other ways to make a good impression on me. Okay? So what I’ll often tell people is, “Look, just because you don’t know things and you’re not an asset on the floor yet, that’s okay. You can be an asset without being a great coach early on.”

Again, you can help clean the gym. You can ask to help another member of the staff. So Jay, Tai, Jason, when they’re on the floor, maybe they need help because there’s times, you know, the gym is really humming and they need a little bit of assistance. So you can help them with something, you know, maybe it’s setting up the GymAware or setting up a client on a certain station. You can load plates, you can interact with the athletes and the clients that come into the gym. You can start building relationships. So I think this is a really critical piece. Like it doesn’t matter early on that you don’t know things because that’s what I expect. And the things that you don’t know, I’m gonna help you learn. But most importantly, understand that that’s okay and there’s other things that you can do to be a valuable asset. So I always say, work to be seen and not heard.

4 – 2 Eyes, 2 Ears, 1 Mouth

Number four, this kinda follows in that same mindset or that same kinda lineage, if you will. But we all have two eyes, two ears, and one mouth. I know my guy, Eric Cressey, mentioned this all the time growing up. I think it’s something that I naturally tended to. Believe it or not, I’m more on the shy side than you may imagine. In this kind of environment, in a speaking environment, I may appear extroverted, but I promise you, I am not. So this is easy for me, but it’s not easy for everybody.

So, two eyes, two ears, one mouth. Number one, listen more. Listen more. Listen more to the people that are superior to you. Right? They may not always know what they’re talking about. That’s okay, but you need to listen to the people that are there to teach you, to educate you. You need to learn from them. Number two, you need to listen to your clients. And this is something that a lot of people miss the boat on. You have to listen to your clients, to your athletes. What are they really telling you? And this is an art, right? We are so programmed now, especially like social media does this to us. We don’t have to listen to anybody anymore. Now it’s just my thought. Twitter, here’s my thought. Facebook, here’s another thought. Instagram, here is a picture of me and my thought that goes with it. You know, that’s how social media drive this. But in this world, as a coach, as a trainer, we have to listen. So use your ears, actively listen. So when a client or an athlete tells you something, you know, verbalize back to them in similar, but not exact words, what they just said, because this is active listening. You’re gonna get more out of it and they’re gonna feel like you’re really hearing them. They’re gonna form a bond with you if you can do that. So listen.

Number two, observe. The best thing that you can learn to do as a coach is be really observant. And it’s hard now, because, again, our brains are kinda trained to shut a lot of stuff out. But when you’re in the gym, you have to really open your eyes. You have to try and see not only the little things, but you have to see the big picture. This is something that a lot of young coaches get frustrated with. A lot of the people that come into our gym on their internship have never coached anybody in their lives. Like nobody ever. This is their first coaching experience. And they get frustrated about eight weeks in because they see some things, but they don’t see everything. And what I try and relate to them is this is, is that I’ve been doing this 17 years now. I still miss things, especially when it comes at a fast pace, right? So a guy like Lee Taft is amazing, but evenly Lee Taft uses video, right? So use your eyes. And, again, that’s a great tip in and of itself. You know, whenever you’re allowed to, use video so that you can watch them, not only in the moment, but you can watch them in the privacy of your own home or in the coach’s office. You can watch it in slow motion, forward, and backward. It’s gonna make you such a better coach.

Number three, kinda in this realm of listen, observe, number three would be coach, when and if necessary. As a young coach, you know, I want you to make mistakes. As long as they’re not egregious, as long as they’re not gonna get somebody hurt, you know, it’s a learning process. You may not know the best cues, you may not know the one thing to fix that has the domino effect that fixes 10 other things. But, you know, I want you to coach people. But with that being said, if you don’t know an answer, you don’t know how to fix it, ask somebody, right? The worst thing you can do is the whole fake it till you make it on the gym floor because you can get somebody injured. So make sure, you know, get in there, get some reps, make some mistakes, but if you don’t know what you’re chasing or what you need to fix, make sure to ask somebody.

And if you’re helping a coach… Let me rephrase. Let me come back. So if you are a coach and a young person asks you a question, please don’t spoon-feed them the answer. That’s like the worst thing that you can do. So Bill Hartman is the master of this. Somebody will ask him a question and he will spin that into a question that starts to give them a breadcrumb. And then they get that answer and then he gives him another breadcrumb. And they get that answer and they get another breadcrumb to the point where now they’ve figured out the answer for themselves. And I think that is one of the best things that we can do as mentors or as coaches of young coaches and trainers, is to help them start to refine their thought process and start to answer some of these questions themselves. Because if you can do that, now you’re self-sustaining, now you can educate yourself versus having to be spoon-fed answers and information. You start to create a filter, which is absolutely critical.

5 – Don’t Ever, EVER Ask to Pick Someone’s Brain

Okay. Number five. This is a huge one, guys. Doesn’t matter how long you’ve done this. Put a star by it, highlight it, whatever you’re doing. Please don’t ever, ever ask to pick someone’s brain. Just don’t do it. Don’t ever fucking do it. Here’s why. John Spencer Ellis put up a Facebook post the other day. Guarantee, it’s gonna cause some fire and some drama because he was ranting on this topic and I wanted to like share it to the entire world. Okay? Because when you ask someone to pick their brain, either, number one, you are the cheapest SOB on the planet. You know this person’s time is valuable, you are just too cheap to pay for it. All right? Which is not a good thing. So if you come at me and you ask to pick my brain, I’m either thinking, number one, you’re cheap and you don’t value my time, or you’re totally naive to how this works and the value that myself and Eric Cressey, or Bill Hartman, anybody has to offer, in which case, I don’t wanna give you my time either because you don’t understand the level that I’m trying to get to. And, again, I don’t say this to be like pompous or arrogant, that’s not the goal at all.

What I’m trying to explain is this. When you ask to pick somebody’s brain, you’re basically saying, “Your time is not really that valuable, give me free stuff because I want it.” Right? So one of my rules is, you know, I’d like to think I could go to most people in this industry at this point and say, “Hey, do me a solid, I need an hour of consulting. Will you help me?” And they would say yes. But I have never done that and I never will do that. I can tell you, in this last year, Nick Winkelman did some consulting for me. Lauren Landauer did some consulting for me. I led immediately with, “I want to pay you for this. What is your hourly rate.” Right? Now, whether they choose to bill me or not is on them. Right? And there’s plenty of times where people have offered me, and that same thing. They say, “Hey, what’s your consulting rate?” I say no. You know, if it takes 15 minutes, I’ve got this. But it shows that you’re serious, right? Only the JV asks for freebies. Only the JV has to pick somebody’s brain.

The varsity, the dudes that are trying to get to the next level are willing to pay. They wanna pay because they know, number one, that time, that knowledge that they’re gonna get is damn well worth it and number two, they know that they’re gonna get remembered. You know, a person that approaches me the right way, that tries to do things the right way, that person sticks out. And, unfortunately, the person that asks for the freebies and ask to pick my brain, you know, they’re kinda in another boat, and it’s not necessarily a positive one. So, please, don’t ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever ask to pick someone’s brain. Do it the right way. If you value their time, if you value what they bring to the table, offer to pay them. Okay?

6 – Be Persistent, But Not Annoying

Number six, be persistent, but not annoying. Now, slippery slope here. And I understand that, but I want a young coach who shows initiative. I want a young coach that shows up to work, they’re ready, they’ve got the notebook, they’ve got questions that they wanna ask me. I respect that. But at the same time, there’s a fine line. And here’s the analogy that I like to use. I’m sure you guys have been out to eat at some point in time, right? And you have that server that like just never comes around, right? They don’t know you’re there, your water has been empty for like an hour. You’re having salty pizza. You’re just, I mean, you’re dying, right? So you have that person on one end. And then on the other end, you’ve got the person that literally is in your face like every two minutes, “Are you okay? Can I do anything for you? Can I fill that up? Can I take anything away? Can I bring your check? No? Okay.” Like you don’t wanna be that person either. Right?

So there’s definitely a fine line here. And this is part of just the social skills that you need to be successful. Right? You got to gauge people. Well, you got to gauge and read your boss. So you wanna show initiative. You wanna ask good questions. You wanna learn. But at the same time, you have to understand that the people you’re working for have things that they have to do too. Whether it’s coaching people, whether it’s business stuff, whether it’s administrative stuff, it’s a very fine line. So show initiative, ask great questions. What I would do, and I think the best thing that you can do is don’t just pop in on announced and be like, “Hey, you’ve got some time? I wanna ask you some questions.” Be a pro. Again, what does a pro do? A pro says, “Hey, you know, I’ve got this list of questions based on, you know, the last week of work or this coaching session that I watch, when would be a good time for you that we could sit down for even 15, 20 minutes and just talk about a few of these things?” You ask like that and I guarantee it’s gonna get noticed. Versus the person is in the middle of a session and you’re starting to pepper them with questions. Or they’re getting ready for a big meeting and you want them to drop everything and have a five-minute convo with you. Okay? So be a pro, be persistent, right? Show initiative, but don’t be annoying. Find ways for you to get your questions answered while at the same time being respectful for what they have going on.

7 – Attack Your Craft with a Vengeance

Number seven, this is a big one. And I think everybody that is serious about this does this. Number seven, attack your craft with a vengeance. Now, here’s the story that I like to talk about a lot. When I was in undergrad, I spent four years learning exercise science stuff like how to take body comps, how to take blood pressures while people rode on exercise bikes. I learned how to read EKGs, got 27 hours worth of business information from a business minor. I got another 12 hours from a counseling psych minor. So I learned a lot of stuff, but I’m not sure I really lasered in. So I always say those first six months, when I got done with my undergrad, when I got done with my master’s…at least my master’s was more focused, but those first six months after I got done with my masters were just amazing because I had built a foundation but now I could laser in on the things that I was really passionate about, what I really wanted to learn. So I’m like reading “Supertraining” and Zatsiorsky, and…man, I can’t remember the other, the red book. I’ll think of it at some point. You know, I’m reading Stu McGill stuff. I just had all this amazing literature that I could finally read and dive into because I didn’t have other things bothering me.

So when I say attack your craft with a vengeance, you got to read more. Number two. I hate to say this, but I’m gonna talk more about it later, but work more, right? If you’re young, if you’re an intern, what else do you have to do but work? You can go out and party on Saturday night, that’s fine. Enjoy yourself, but work more, right? Get those reps in because I guarantee you’re not gonna wanna do it when you’re 40 years old.

Number three, attend more seminars, right? I mean, this is why I still host our physical prep summit because there is some same thing that is just so critical about getting people in a room together and learning, right? Like the shared just mental power that’s going on takes everybody to another level. And it’s not just, you know, having to be on because it’s live, right? You can’t pause it, you can’t rewind it. You got to be focused. You got to be engaged. Plus, you get the networking side of it. I mean, that’s why I think our summit is such a huge deal because these people are not only just monsters when it comes to learning, but when they’re done, they’re talking in between sessions. We’re going to dinner afterwards. We’re going to the bar. That’s where the real horsepower comes in. All right?

So attend more seminars. As Gary V. or Gary Vaynerchuk would say, “Work your face off.” Right? Like the one equalizer that everybody has access to is hard work. So, please, take the time, put in the effort, read more, work more, attend more seminars, work your face off when you’re young, right? Start to lay that foundation, lay. Those things will ultimately make you successful over the course of your career.

8 – You Already Are in the Perfect Place For You

Number eight. This is huge. I know Joe Kenneth said this. I think Brett Bartholomew has said this, but you already are in the perfect spot for you. I will tell you, as an employer, nothing frustrates me more than the guy whose eyes are always on the next gig, or he’s always talking about where he’s gonna go next. Like no employer wants to hear that. Like I like to think we help build really amazing coaches at IFAST. I know, just like every other gig, they’re not gonna stay with us forever. I respect that. Right? But stop dreaming about the next gig. Nobody that’s in the situation with you, nobody cares about where you’re going next. All right? What you need to do is milk the current situation for all it’s worth. And I don’t mean that in a negative light, I mean, take everything away from where you’re at that you possibly can. So even the worst situation imaginable can be a positive.

Now, the example that I always come back to is, you know, when I went up to Fort Wayne, keep in mind, I’d just finished my master’s degree. I’d spent two and a half years working, not only in the research lab, but as a strength and conditioning coach at a division one school. Now I go to Fort Wayne, I’m working in a chiropractic clinic and I’m doing rehab, literally almost every day, all day, every day. The biggest benefit to me was the fact that I got to powerlift, you know, surrounded by powerlifters, so I got strong. I got to work out. We basically built our work schedule around powerlifting, which that didn’t suck, but, you know, nothing else about it was exciting. It didn’t really drive me because I wasn’t making people huge, or strong, or fast. I was helping people with knee pain, or back pain, or shoulder pain.

But I’d like to think I took that negative or what I considered to be a negative and I spun it into a positive, right? I mean, you guys, if you followed my career, ’03 to ’05, Mike Robertson, the corrective exercise guy, you know, it taught me a ton about assessments. It taught me how to, you know, look at posture, how to look at muscles and imbalances. It gave me time to focus on functional anatomy, rehab, all these things that I was absolutely awful at up until that point in time. So that really helped solidify my foundation. It gave me a movement foundation that I wouldn’t have had had I not spent three years there. Maybe I just would have jumped right into speed and agility training or something else. Right? So it gave me a foundation that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

So here’s a really tough question that you need to ask yourself. If you in your brain right now are laser-focused on the next gig, right? Like you’re just grinding it out, you’re hating life where you’re at, here’s what I want you to ask yourself. When you leave this situation, is this place better because of you? I don’t care whether you were there 6 weeks, 16 weeks, 6 months, 6 years, when you walk away from a space, are they better for having you there? Did you find a way to make your mark? And if you can’t say yes, man, good luck. Good luck looking at the next spot because you know what? If you don’t give 100% where you’re at you don’t, don’t deserve to go somewhere better, right? That’s a fact.

If you are putting in 100% where you’re at, why do you deserve to go somewhere better? You put in a 100% wherever you’re at. Even if it’s not the ideal job, even if you think you can do better, you can make more money, you can work with people that are more specific to you or that are more in your wheelhouse. If you’re not putting in 100% where you’re at, you don’t deserve to go somewhere better. And I think that’s something that is really hard for a lot of people to hear, right? You’re not entitled to anything. Put in 100% where you’re at. Get better, make yourself more valuable. And I guarantee, if you do that, everything will shake out in the end. All right. Rant over.

9 – Be Open Minded

Number nine, be open-minded. This kinda comes back to that last piece, but you can learn something from everyone, right? You know, we’ve all had like that crazy old coach. You know, like 95% of the stuff they say is like out of left field or how they did it back in the day. But if you really listen to that person, you can learn something from them, right? And this is the way I like to think about it. I think it’s good to constantly be challenged. Not just in my thought process with regards to training, but my business, I’m okay with that. Right? I’m okay. Being uncomfortable. But here’s what I find, is when either new thoughts or maybe challenging thoughts come into your brain, either one or two things happen. Number one, it gets you to see things in a new way, right? If nothing else, you see things in a new way, you’ve got a new perspective and possibly you change your mind. Maybe it’s not 180-degree flip, but you change your mind a little bit, you soften your stance. And that can be valuable, right? Having perspective. That’s something all great older coaches have. They have wisdom, right? Because, you know, they’ve got perspective. They’ve been around longer. They’ve seen more things. So that’s valuable.

Number two. Let’s say you hear something, it challenges your thought process, and you mull it over. You give it that kinda, you know, real attaboy shot, and ultimately you just don’t agree. That’s fine too, because here’s what that just did. It stiffened your spine. It stiffened your resolve with where you’re at. And that’s okay too, right? It’s important to be open-minded, you know, because, yeah, maybe you’ve got a new perspective or you got a new stance on things, but sometimes too, it’s just bump and you don’t agree with it, and that’s fine too. It’s okay if it stiffens your spine and it strengthens your resolve and it firms up your own beliefs or your own thought process. So, number nine, be open-minded.

10 – Your Next 10 Years Are Outside Your Comfort Zone…Get Used to It!

Number 10. Your next 10 years are outside of your comfort zone. Get used to it. And so, again, I’m thinking back from 24 to 34. And I’m not sure I was comfortable at any point in time. In fact, I don’t know if I’ve been comfortable in the last 17 years of my life when it comes to my career, but, you know, the bottom line is if you’re comfortable, you’re not growing. Period. You’re stagnant. And I’m a big believer that there is no net equal, right? Either you’re growing and you’re evolving or you’re devolving, right? You’re getting worse. So you have to find ways to constantly challenge yourself. If you’re around great people in your gym, that’s awesome. That’s gonna make your life so much easier. You’re constantly gonna be pushed from within. It’s one of the best things about IFAST. We have very fertile soil when it comes to the ideas and the thought processes, and everybody’s kinda thinking about something, willing to throw it out there and that leads to new thoughts. So that is absolutely huge.

But something that I would implore all young coaches to do, something that I did as a young coach that I think was really beneficial for me was I took all of the things that I assumed at the time were important for me to be able to do as a coach, like my core competencies. So, for example, it was like strength development, writing a program, power development, coaching speed, rehab, all these things. And I essentially ranked myself on a scale of 1 to 10. And I think what’s important as you look at that, you know, the highest rank thing is the thing you’re most passionate about, almost 99.9% of the time. So, for me, I was really interested in strength training. I was into powerlifting. So I felt very confident in that area, probably gave myself an 8 or a 9 out of 10, which, again, thinking back is absolutely ludicrous, to think that I was anywhere near that good with those things. But I was confident when it came to strength. I was very poor when it came to rehab, which really came to roost because then I got a job in a rehab facility. But I think going through the rating game gives you some perspective on how good you are at each level as a coach, right?

And you kinda have to figure out like what’s most important to you. I would say big rocks needed to be programming, coaching, communication, building rapport, running a training session. Those are five things right off the bat. And then you can go into the nuances of it, right? So if it’s, you know, running a session, it’s how do I coach speed drills? How do I coach power drills? How do I coach strength drills? So you can get really granular with that. But I think the big takeaway here is that you have to get comfortable outside of your comfort zone. Get used to it. If you feel comfortable, you’re not growing. And I think that’s part of it, right? Like that’s why adolescence is so uncomfortable for a lot of reasons, but we’re constantly growing. We’re changing, we’re evolving, and it just happens so fast. Right? So that’s what we need to strive for as coaches. You know, the changes won’t be as rapid the older you get, right? Because you’re gonna get a little bit firmed up in your ways. Your philosophy is gonna strengthen. But, you know, if at any point in time you’re totally comfortable, just recognize that fact. It’s okay, but recognize you need to find ways to make yourself uncomfortable to kickstart the growth process again.

11 – This Sh&t Ain’t Fair

Number 11, and if I haven’t already, this is definitely gonna get rid of my clean rating for this episode. But, number 11, this shit ain’t fair. People, young coaches, old coaches, I don’t care who you are, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. And this is especially true in the hiring process. I know so many well-qualified coaches that have not gotten jobs simply because they didn’t know the right people because they didn’t have connections. Keir, in my podcast last week said it best. Everybody wants to work with their friends. That’s why he missed out on a great opportunity when he was younger. Kills the other guy in the interview. Doesn’t get the gig because the head coach wants to work with his mate, right? That’s how it works. Okay? So you can either bitch and moan about that or you can understand, “Hey, this is how the world works, so I’m gonna do something about it Instead of being reactive and complaining, I’m gonna be proactive and grow my network.”

So this was a huge point of contention or frustration for me growing up because, again, I thought, you know, “I’m doing all the right things. I’m spending time in the gym and I’m working on my craft and I’m trying to be the best coach possible. Why am I not getting looked at by these schools?” You know, especially when I was coming out, I probably sent out 40 or 50 resumes to different division one schools trying to get a strength and conditioning gig. Never happened. And now I recognize, it wasn’t me. Like if these people have a guy or they’ve got a connection, that’s who they’re gonna hire. So I’ve spun this now because I recognize that fact, and this is why maintaining my own network is so important because I don’t want my guys, especially the guys that I deem worthy, like our interns that have put in the time and the effort, I will go to bat for them. I’m gonna try and get them wherever I can. Doesn’t matter. High school, college pros, whatever resources or access I have, if they are a good fit for a job, I’m gonna put them there.

And I think this is important too, from kinda like the employer side or the mentor side. You don’t put a purse person, regardless of how much you like them, in a situation where they can’t be successful. You try and find the best spot for that person and you try and put them in a position that, you know, may challenge them, but that they’re also ready for, because there are certain guys, they may have all the talent, they might have the skillset, but just maturity-wise, they’re not ready yet. I actually had a guy like this last year. There was a pretty cool job that opened up in Major League Sports, kinda like a second division deal and I had a guy that I really wanted to put up for it and I told him, I said, “Look, I love you for this job, but I don’t know if you’re ready yet. I feel like one or two years.” And the cool thing was we had that open, honest communication. He said the same thing. He’s like, “I’m excited. I might put my resume in, but ultimately, I think I’m a year or two out too.” So just to understand, guys. Shit ain’t fair. You know, if you don’t like how things are working, if you don’t like the fact that it’s a good old boys network, start to get, and meet, and network some of the good old boys, right? Because that’s how most of these gigs really work.

12 – Work With Clients of All Shapes & Sizes

Number 12. Try to work with clients and athletes of all shapes and sizes. So, perfect example, there is a elderly gentlemen that has trained at our gym literally since day one. And before he trained at our gym, he trained with Bill in his home gym. And I don’t think he will ever listen to this show. I seriously hope not. But let me be frank. He’s not the most athletic dude you’re ever gonna see. Okay? And he doesn’t have great body awareness. And I will tell you for many years before Bill and I hired anybody, Bill and I coached him. And I think that’s very important because if I can coach a guy that doesn’t move particularly well, that doesn’t have great body awareness, then I know I can take it that’s a college basketball stud or, you know, a guy that’s gonna play professional soccer. I can probably do pretty good things with him.

And I still remember when Mike Koval was an intern in our gym and I used to make him train the same guy. You know, he wasn’t even on the schedule. I don’t even think he was paying for training at the time. I just said, “Mike, any time this guy walks in, you’re training him.” And he probably hated me at the time, but now he probably reflects back and thinks, man, like…and hopefully thinks, “Man, Mike had my best interests at heart because I’m a better coach for having worked with that guy.” You know, my background, personally, I’ve worked with people, literally all shapes and sizes. I’ve worked in the public sector. I’ve worked in the private sector. I’ve worked with high school athletes, pro athletes, collegiate athletes. I’ve worked in a rehab environment. I’ve worked, you know, massively overweight people. It’s span the entire spectrum. And, you know, I feel like I just had the longest GPP phase of training experience known to man. You know, it just took me a really long time to kinda get to where I was going where I train exclusively athletes now.

But here’s the bottom line. The more people you train, the more experience you get working with people of all shapes and sizes. You learn something different from everyone. Every person you coach or train, if you’re dialed in, you learn something from as well. And just kind of like a general life story because I’ve had this discussion with a couple of athletes lately, but like the athletes that you have the most impact on as a coach typically have an even stronger impact on you as a coach. So just think about that for a minute. The people that you coach that say, “Man, coach, you have really influenced me. You have made me a better person, a better athlete,” a lot of times like 99% of the time, you are impacted more by them. So that’s something really powerful to think about. So at the end of the day, try to work with clients and athletes of all shapes and sizes. Get that experience.

13 – It’s NOT About YOU

Number 13. And this was a very, very common thread on the Facebook threat. But number 13, it’s not, it’s not about you. Okay? And there’s a couple ways I could take this. Number one, you know, everybody, every trainer, every coach now, I get it. Par for the course is you have to put up some social media of your clients and of your athletes. I get that. Okay? But there’s this fine line between self-promotion, you know, putting stuff out there every now and then a post or two a day and literally where it’s just 50 Instagram stories about every second of every athlete that you’re coaching, right? That’s the difference between some gratuitous self-promotion, which you have to do in this day and age and be in a toolbox. Okay? Don’t be a toolbox. It’s okay. Put some things out there, show people what you’re doing. Maybe educate some of the people that are interested in what you’re doing. This is especially true in the private sector. You know, it’s okay to put it out there, but, you know, don’t just constantly barrage people with everything that you’re doing. We don’t need every second of every coaching session because here’s the other side of that, you’re probably not doing a great job coaching. If you’re just on your phone the whole damn time trying to capture video of your client sessions, you’re probably doing a great job with your social media and doing an awful job actually coaching your clients and athletes.

So, with that being said, you know, if your only goal is to create this workout that looks awesome on Instagram, you’re doing it wrong. Every great coach will tell you, it’s all about the basics. It’s all about simple. It’s, you know, kind of essentialism at it’s finest, like what do you really need to be focusing on? And I would say that, you know, if you went and just did social media or YouTube clips of a high-level coach, chances are their training session wouldn’t look all that amazing. You know, they’re not gonna get put up on STACK or they’re not gonna get put up on ESPN or whatever website is out there because somebody is doing a 70-inch box jump, right? It’s gonna be a heavy dose of the basics. They’re gonna teach them to move well, whether it’s running, jumping, sprinting, those things, changing direction, there’s gonna be a basic compound lift. There’s gonna be some assistance work. There’s probably gonna be some conditioning. You know, tactics methods, those might change a little bit, but it’s gonna be a heavy dose of the basics.

So there’s that piece of it, right? But there’s also the fact that, look, at the end of the day, it’s not about what you want. This was huge for me. And I’d like to think that this is a lesson that I’ve learned many, many times. It’s not about me. It’s not about my goals. It is somewhat about my vision for them, but I have to sell my vision of them because chances are, they don’t have the same vision yet or they can’t imagine how good they can be. Right? They can’t imagine how athletic they can become. They can’t imagine how lean they can become. They can’t imagine how good they can feel, right?

So it’s not about what you want, it’s about them. It’s about their goals, their insecurities, what they need to get out of training. So this is where you have to sell them, maybe not on your vision, but how you can partner your vision with what they want. I think that’s really, really critical, trying to pair your vision of them, but given what they want and what they perceive their goals to be and what they wanna get out of training. So it’s really hard, especially when you’re young, you think you know everything, that you have all the answers, but, guys, just trust me on this. It’s not about you. And this comes back to listening. Tuning those ears in, being an active listener, talking to these people, trying to understand what they want, what they need, what motivates them, if you can tap into that, that’s the real secret sauce.

And, you know, I work with a lot of great coaches and I think there’s a handful of really great coaches, all the talent in the world, all the X’s and O’s and the reason they’re ultimately not as successful as they could be is because they don’t understand this fact. It’s not about them. They haven’t tapped into what really drives their athletes. They haven’t forged that connection, that great communication, and the great understanding really gives you. So just keep in mind, it’s not about you. It’s about them.

14 – Ask More Questions

All right. Number 14, ask more questions. So this is rule number one for our interns. We give every intern a little packet and somewhere in that packet it tells them, “We expect you to ask questions.” And I’ll be frank. I assume if you’re not asking questions, you’re not thinking, or you don’t care. Now, keep in mind, there are absolutely times when a new coach or a new trainer or an intern has that deer in headlights look, and they are so overwhelmed. They are so overtaken by the situation that they don’t even know what to ask. I get that. But, you know, chances are even if you don’t know what to ask based on what I’m doing, you may have questions of your own. Okay? So as an intern, as a young coach, don’t be afraid to ask more questions. This is how you really get better. And it’s something that I just can’t stress enough, you know? Yes, again, there’s a time and a place for it. Don’t do it right in the middle of my coaching session.

But if you ask more questions, now you’re starting to drill down and you’re getting away from some of the superficial and you’re getting away from just taking everything at face value. As a young coach, you just have a tendency because you don’t have a filter to assume that what everyone says is right, and this is one of the hardest parts of being a young coach now. There’s so much information you can’t filter it. Okay? But if you start to ask more questions, you start to get more answers, you start to have depth to your understanding. And this is something that I think is just so critical. If you ask questions and you start to deepen that knowledge base, now you’re starting to put the pieces together. Now you’re starting to have a better understanding of how things really work. So, number 14, I’ll leave it at that, ask more questions.

15 – Find a Great Mentor

Number 15, find a great mentor. And Robbie Bork commented after I’d created my little outline here, but he said mentors, and that may be a better way to put it. I think this is arguably the most important thing you can do. And this is how I have by and large modeled myself early on because, well, we don’t have filters when we’re young. We don’t have somebody to help us like kinda take away the wheat from the chaff. So how do we do that? Well, we find great mentors. And the best thing about today’s day and age is you’re not limited by geography. You know, before, I was kinda limited to the people around me. Now, luckily, when I’m coming up, I got Dr. Robert Newton who’s my graduate advisor. I got Dr. Kramer who’s downstairs. I mean, like the Don Corleone of exercise science research. So I was lucky I had good geography, but now you’re not limited by that. So, for me, when I started to realize, “Okay. Look, I’m good at this strength stuff. How do I get better at speed and agility work?”

And then, you know, via the internet, I made Lee Taft, my mentor, you know, and luckily I’ve met Lee and I’ve got to spend time with them outside of that. But now I’ve got at least a filter or a lens to look at speed and agility work through. And maybe I don’t agree with everything that Lee says, which I often do, but assuming I didn’t, now I’ve at least got a filter and I’ve got context so when I go and start listening to other people like a Dan Pfaff, like Abu Schneider, like a Nick Winkelman, now I’ve got some context and all these other guys’ information, I can assimilate it into what I know. So I got, you know, a Lee Taft. I got Joel Jamieson who gave me my base for conditioning. So this is what’s so critical, guys. You have to find mentors to help you fill in those knowledge gaps. And I think one of the best things that you can do as a young coach is do a great internship. Don’t do an internship just to get credits. And this is so hard because I don’t know if a 19 or 20-year-old kid will ever listen to this show. I hope they will. And I hope it’s gonna motivate them and it’s gonna put them out there and give them those right first steps.

But, you know, if you had a great internship early on, you are set, right? And maybe not set for life, but it gives you a leg up on everybody else. And that’s why I think we take our internship process so seriously at IFAST. I mean, it’s 16 weeks in nature. You know, they’re gonna have a true learning, like classroom session once a week. They’re gonna have a second session with Jay or possibly with Jason, where they’re gonna go in and they’re gonna have to reteach that material. So it’s active, it’s engaged learning. And they have to really kinda put these pieces together themselves because it’s one thing to just digest information, it’s another, to be able to spit it back and coach it to a client or to an athlete. So you have to find a great mentor or mentors. If you can do that, it gives you a strong foundation for success.

16 – Experience is KEY

Number 16. Experience is key, and this is something that I see a lot of these days. I see a lot of kids. And I don’t wanna sound like old grumpy bastard right now, although I’m pretty sure that’s gonna happen regardless of how this comes out. But I see a lot of guys right now with a lot of booksmarts. Man, they’ve read a lot of good things. They’ve followed a lot of great coaches and they sound really smart. Like if I’m talking to them, they talk a great game. But what they don’t know is that they don’t have that experience yet. At the end of the day, you have to get repped. You have to get in the gym. It’s the only way to get better, right? This is the one thing you can’t shortchange. You can’t fake it, you can’t educate yourself around it. You have to put in the work. Write it down, underline it, star. It doesn’t matter. You have to put in the work. And this is something I’m seeing more and more of these days. I see a lot of great coaches that come into our internship. And it’s not their fault. Keep in mind, it is not their fault because a lot of schools, my school was this way. I went four and a half years and I never coached anybody. So all I had was this book education, this formal education. I never had any context. I never had the experience.

So, guys, I’m telling you, there’s no way around this. Stop trying to find the slight edge of this. Stop trying to find the hack. There is not. The hack is go in the gym and do a lot of fucking work. Coach a lot of reps Work with a lot of athletes. See a lot of things. The more reps, the more experience you get, the more comfortable and the more confident you’re gonna be. And, you know, looking back, we all have…I don’t even wanna say regrets. There’s things that we wish we would have done better when we were younger. I wish I would’ve gotten involved with speed and agility work at a younger age or had a mentor like Lee early on. But, you know, one thing that I did, I was a gym rat. So there’s a reason I’m really good when it comes to coaching strength-based exercises. It’s because that’s what I know. Right? For 17 years-plus, probably another 6 or 7 before that, when I was just lifting weights myself, I’ve been in gyms. So that’s like 24 years of like gym experience. You can’t replicate that. You can’t duplicate that. You can’t fake it. So if you wanna be a great coach, experience is key. And as a young coach, you’re not gonna have it immediately, right? Get the reps in now and see the big picture. You’re working hard in the micro to build the macro, where you see that vision of you as a world-class coach.

17 – Take Great Notes

Number 17, take great notes. Again, if we’re making a list of things I wish I would have done better, this is one of my downfalls. If you came to my house and you looked at my bookshelf, I’d like to think most of you would be fairly impressed. Like I’ve got a nice little library going here. But I am awful at taking notes. I never got active about this until probably three or four years ago. And even then, it wasn’t all that active. It was like highlighting stuff, right? Or dog flapping pages. So luckily, I have a pretty good memory. It’s not as good now. My brain’s a little bit more scrambled, which tends to happen when you have little people, your thought process isn’t quite as streamlined as you would like, but, you know, a guy who I hope you all have heard of, if you haven’t, he’s brilliant. His name’s Eric Oetter. He’s probably the best note-taker I’ve ever seen. And this guy will read a book, literally cover to cover, he’ll highlight it, he’ll tab it, he’ll take notes on the highlighted sections. It’s amazing. Like the guy is meticulous, and there’s a reason. Like people would say, “Oh, he’s just super smart and he’s got an amazing memory.” Sure. Sure. I’m not gonna argue any of those things. But the fact is he’s worked his ass off to be good at that too. So you got to give a guy credit when he puts in the work to get better at something.

And something I’ll put in the show notes is this Ryan Holiday article. He does a brilliant job. First off, Ryan Holiday, I don’t wanna him a man-crush, but I am a huge fan of his work as I think a lot of guys are now. He’s a brilliant writer. He makes stoicism kinda fun and engaging because he’s such a good writer and it’s just really captivating, well-written work. But I’ll link to this article because it details his note-taking process and how he clusters likeminded…or excuse me, like similar topics into different areas of notes. So in our world, it could be like notes on plyometrics, notes on acceleration, notes on coaching the squat. So he has all these different sections, you know, so he may have all these different note cards in these different sections. And if he wants to maybe reference plyos, like if he’s struggling with a plyo progression, you know, he can go through and he can look at all these things and not only kinda have a really good synopsis of his thought process, but you can start to synthesize new ideas, new thought processes, and it can really kinda help you take your thinking and your thought process to the next level. So I’ll make sure I put a link of that article in the show notes, but take great notes, especially if you’re young, start doing it now. Get in the habit. You will be better as a result.

18 – Always Think with “Beginner’s Mind”

Number 18, think with beginner’s mind, and this kinda comes back to if you’re stagnant, you know, or if you’re not uncomfortable, you stop growing. Well, you know, the second you think you know it all, you’re in a really dangerous position. And I think this is natural, right? Especially if you really commit yourself to the learning process. It’s easy to get comfortable or it’s easy to think you know it all, but you’re in that dangerous place. And I think most intelligent people understand that when they get there, it’s time to change things up. It’s time to shake things up a little bit. So, for example, when I think I know it all about something, I go back to square one and I’m literally gonna challenge it from every angle. And this is a great time to kinda reevaluate your thought process on things, figure out what your big rocks are, figure out what your non-negotiables are, and then work to tweak and refine them from there. So, you know, another process that you can do is constantly challenge yourself. And I did this for my physical prep summit talk, but things that I take for granted, I’d really tried to drill deep on.

So my basic thesis statement was, you know, everybody does accessory lifts. Well, why do they do that? And then I started to break down, okay, these are the reasons why I think they do it. Why do I think those things are important? Do you see where I’m going with this? So that the deeper you drill down, the better understanding you have of a topic, right? You really start to truly master a topic versus having this kinda superficial level understanding of everything. And I think if you strive to be a great coach or you strive to be a great trainer, you have to come at things constantly with this idea of beginner’s mind.

19 – Learn to Communicate

All right. Number 19. We’re getting in the home stretch here. This is huge. This came up a ton in the Facebook thread as well, but you have to learn to communicate. And I think this is something that’s really become prominent in the last four or five years. I think it’s very, very critical, number one, that you speak clearly, something that I’m constantly working on. See? Ums, generally not a good thing, but they happen. But the goal is to speak clearly, choose your words wisely. If you have ever read a guy by the name of Don Miguel Ruiz, he’s got a great book called “The Four Agreements.” One of the four agreements is be impeccable with your word. And if you’re speaking, sometimes it’s easy because you can use those filler words like ums, ahs, ohs. But if you go in and you start writing more, and then you go in and you try and read your writing or literally read aloud what you’re writing, it becomes clear. Like there’s a lot of extra stuff in there. So work to kinda cut away from all the extra. Try and be clear, be concise, be impeccable with your word.

As a secondary piece to this, start writing more. Even if you never want to write a blog, even if you never wanna write an article, even if you never wanna write a book, the more you write, the more you work to truly understand your thought process. The more clear you become as a communicator. And this is one of those things, guys, there is no workaround. There’s no hack. You have to be able to communicate clearly your thought process, your vision, why you do things, because if you don’t communicate clearly… Wow, struggling. If you don’t communicate clearly people aren’t gonna listen to you. They’re not gonna buy in. And ultimately, every one of us, whether you’re a private sector or public sector, you’re selling. You are constantly selling your program, your thoughts to your clients and to your athletes. So writing is another great way to learn how to do that.

And I will tell you this, guys, work on your skills right now. Don’t wait, don’t kick the can down the curb. Don’t wait for another day. You know, there’s so many great ways to start working on your communication skills. And a great piece of advice my buddy from back in the day, Matt Wenning, he did a brief internship at Texas and I believe he told me after he did that, he said, “Look, use every opportunity that you can as a chance to improve your speaking skills and your communication skills.” So whether it’s talking to your significant other, whether it’s talking to a client in the gym, whether it’s talking to a potential prospect, it doesn’t matter. Constantly use these different times that you would just think, “Oh, this is no big deal. We’re just having a conversation.” Don’t think like that. Think of it as a chance to practice and refine your communication skills.

20 – You’re Not Entitled to ANYTHING

Last but not least, you aren’t entitled to anything. And I know this is gonna ring true. A lot of the probably older heads that are listening to this are nodding their head and thinking, “Yeah. Young guys, you know, you’re not entitled to anything.” But none of us are. None of us are entitled to anything. I don’t care how long you’ve been doing it, I don’t care how good you are, how good you think you are, who you know, none of that matters, right? You’re not entitled to shit. And if you can just get your head around that, if you can come with that worker’s mindset every single day, you’re gonna do just fine. Things I always tell people, you wanna set yourself apart, you wanna get over this entitlement mindset, number one, get great results. There is nobody that can take that away from you. If you get great results with your clients and with your athletes, it will get noticed.

Number two, work your ass off. Again, no substitute for this. Hard work is the great equalizer. You know, guys like Eric Cressey, Luka Hocevar, Bill Hartman, brilliant. Brilliant guys. But I tell you what? Those guys are three of the hardest working dudes I’ve ever met. So work your ass off. Number three. There’s no getting around this, guys, genuinely care about your clients. There are some of the world’s worst coaches out there that I guarantee have full books that are making six figures a year, training people. And they have none of the technical skills that maybe you have, but they genuinely care. Those people know that they have a friend, somebody that cares about them that’s gonna help them, that’s gonna, you know, give them their best effort. So when you genuinely care about your clients and about your athletes, it puts you on another level. And if you do those three things, if you get great results, if you work your ass off, if you generally care about your clients, if you even do one of those three at a really high level, you’ll probably be okay. You do two or three out of three, and you’re gonna be an absolute rock star legend. Right? You do those three and I promise everything else will work out.

Summary

Okay. So I don’t know if you guys know this or not, sixty-one minutes in at this point in time, all one take, right? I was not gonna do this again. I wasn’t gonna chop it up. I’m not gonna edit it. This is me raw, unfiltered, unedited. Number one, I hope you enjoyed it because this is something I’m passionate about, something I’ve had kinda weighing on my mind. I didn’t wanna write an article and I felt kinda this long format audio would be the best way to get this out there. So I do have one favor to ask. If anything in this show resonated with you, if there is anything that you feel like a young coach or a young trainer could benefit from here, please just pass this along to them. I appreciate you listening in this long. I mean, if you’ve listened to me ramble for 62 minutes now, you’re a saint. Thank you so much. I appreciate it. But take this. Even if you just say, “Hey, listen to 2, 5, and 10, whichever bullet points those are, that would be so welcome because, again, this show is kinda a labor of love. It’s not something I directly make money off of. It’s something that I do because I’m passionate about this. I wanna make this industry better and I just want to kinda help groom and help shape the next generation of great coaches. So to all of you that listened, thank you so much for tuning in. I truly appreciate it. And we’ll be back next week with our next episode. Take care.

 

Related Links

Get 3 days of my best coaching materials — for free.

3 DAY COACH'S CAMP:

Notebook with pencil icon Write better programs
Trophy icon Learn how to motivate clients outside the gym
Meditation icon My most popular resets for instantly improving movement quality

2 Comments

Leave Comment

  1. It has never bothered me when someone asks to “pick my brain.” If someone values my opinion and asks for advice, I’m happy to try and help. Most of us have pretty well tuned radar for situations where we’re being taken advantage of and can address those as necessary. But there’s also an old saying that you can judge someone’s character by how they treat those who can’t reciprocate.

Leave a Reply


Back to All Posts