5 Things Clients and Athletes Want from Their Coach

A few years ago I had an amazing chat with my good friend Eric Oetter of the Memphis Grizzlies.

And while EO and I always seem to have amazing chats, the discussion we had that day still stands out in my mind.

That discussion focused on writing programs, and specifically, the idea of checking boxes.

Consider this: When you write a program, or coach a session, who are you checking boxes for?

Are you checking boxes for yourself?

You know, mythical things like the perfect program for this client/athlete?

Or the unicorn that is perfect technique?

OR, are you checking boxes for your clients and athletes?

And trust me, I realize there’s a fine line here.

But when I reflect on my career and the numerous mistakes I’ve made throughout it, one of the worst was was checking way more boxes for myself rather than for the clients/athletes I was serving early-on.

Quite simply, it was way more about ME than it was about THEM.

In this article, I’m going to do my best to outline five things that (most of) your clients and athletes want from their coach.

It’s definitely biased by my time in the private sector.

And I’m sure there are certain clients (or certain situations) where these may not be appropriate.

But I think by-and-large, if you follow the tips I outline in this article, you’re going to have far more success as a trainer or coach going forward.

Let’s do this!

#1 – They Want to Have Fun

Let’s start with what appears to be a little-known fact for most trainers and coaches….

Most people don’t love to work out.

(And the few of us that do often end up making it our jobs!)

But in all seriousness, most people work out so they can be more awesome somewhere else in life.

Maybe they want to have more energy at work, or for their kiddos when they come home after a long day.

Maybe they want to be a better athlete on the field, court or pitch.

And maybe they want to use their workouts as a place to feel good about themselves and burn off some excess stress.

But let’s be real here – if someone doesn’t like working out, and then they perceive their workouts to be boring on top of that, what do you think is the likelihood that they’re going to stick with it?

I’m feeling nice so I’ll give you the answer – somewhere between ZERO and NONE.

Now I’m not saying you need to be a professional comedian during your coaching sessions.

Nor am I saying that you need to “switch things up” every single workout.

But I think it’s critical to find ways to make training sessions fun if you want people to stick with it.

For me, the following mix tends to work really well:

  1. I try to keep the mood light and I love to joke around,
  2. I use a variety of tools in my sessions (bands, med balls, various bars, kettlebells, dumbbells, etc.) to decrease monotony, and
  3. I always try to keep similar clients/athletes in a group (whenever possible).

Now everyone’s recipe for a “fun” training session is going to look and feel a bit different.

But I can assure you – if you find a way to keep things fun and fresh, your clients and athletes are going to love training with you.

#2 – They Want to Feel Challenged

One of the worst things you can do as a trainer or coach is underwhelm a client or athlete early-on in their training with you.

And I can make that statement with a lot of confidence, because I know there are times when I lost clients and athletes early in my career simply because I wasn’t pushing them hard enough.

Part of this was due to a limited training lens (i.e. everything in my workouts were mostly done with barbells and dumbbells), and part of it was due to my ego – thinking that I always knew what was “right.”

Now I’m all for erring on the side of caution, but you have to find ways to challenge your clients and athletes during their workouts.

If you can’t load someone as much as you’d like in the R5 (Resistance) portion of their workout, try going a little harder with the conditioning on the back-end.

If someone doesn’t deal well with eccentric forces, have them do something more concentric-focused like dragging a sled or pushing a Prowler.

Or when in doubt, you can always cut the rest periods and increase the density of a session to make someone feel like they got a good workout in.

At the end of the day, find ways to make clients feel challenged in their sessions, while at the same time remembering that…

#3 – They Want to Feel Safe

It may seem like I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth here (especially after my previous point!), but let’s be real:

No one wants to get hurt working out in the gym.

Even your most hardcore clients, the ones who are most willing to push their limits and test their boundaries, don’t want to get hurt working out.

It’s your job as a coach to find that perfect blend of pushing an athlete hard enough, yet doing so in a safe manner that doesn’t expose them to unnecessary risk o finjury.

Part of this is proper exercise selection.

Part of it is keeping a watchful eye on their technique.

But perhaps the biggest part of it all is just a healthy dose of common sense!

I won’t belabor this point any further, because it should be pretty straight-forward.

Do everything in your power to keep your clients and athletes healthy and injury-free while training with you.

#4 – They Want to Feel Supported

Regardless of what the social media streams might tell you, every day isn’t puppies and balloons.

Or unicorns and rainbows.

Just like us, our clients and athletes are going to have good days and bad when they come in the gym.

And while you may think of yourself as someone who just doles out an effective training program, I think most of our clients look at us as something much more.

In this day and age connectivity is highest but feeling connected and close is lowest. As such, many of your clients and athletes will turn to you in times of need.

And when they do – what will your response be?

It may not be the most glamorous portion of our job, but when you pick someone up when they’re feeling down, that’s what truly builds rapport.

That’s what builds real relationships.

Sometimes it’s listening to their issues, warming them up, and still getting a solid training session in.

And other times, it’s going totally off script with the workout so you can simply be there for them and empathize with what’s going on in their life.

Make it a goal of yours to be a positive support system for your clients and athletes.

I guarantee if you do this, you’ll NEVER have a retention issue in your business.

#5 – They Want to Feel Understood

Last but not least, you need to find ways to make your clients and athletes feel understood with regards to the outcome they want.

Case and point…

You could write the greatest training program known to man, but if you can’t make it relatable to the client/athlete standing in front of you, chances are compliance isn’t going to be all that great!

This actually ties in nicely to my point above about making clients/athletes feel challenged.

In the past if I had a client/athlete who didn’t move particularly well, or had a specific movement limitation, I did a ton of stuff early-on to address that issue.

I would obsess over their programming, or deliberately hold them back with regards to exercise selection if technique wasn’t picture perfect.

But in doing so, I not only underwhelmed them within the training session, but they probably felt as though I wasn’t listening with regards to their needs and goals outside of the session, either!

This is a point I’m constantly trying to relay to my staff at IFAST.

Do we want all of our clients and athletes to move well?


But there are also times when I’m okay with B-level movement quality (assuming we are loading and challenging them appropriately) so they keep coming back.

Because I know that with time, eventually that B-level movement will become a B+.

And then an A-.

And them someday, hopefully, an A.

But we never get that opportunity if we don’t make our clients and athletes feel understood, and find ways to incorporate the things they perceive to be valuable in their workouts.


So there you have it – 5 things clients and athletes want from their coach.

But as always, this wasn’t meant to be an exhaustive list.

What things would you add?

Or do you think that are important for not only getting more clients/athletes, but retaining them as well?

I look forward to your thoughts and feedback below!

All the best,

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


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


Leave Comment

  1. Gold post coach. I made the mistake of two a lot as well. I think your first point is spot on. It’s my goal to make it fun and interesting, using the points you listed above.

Leave a Reply

Back to All Posts