(For the sake of this article, any stakeholder in an athlete’s career is referred to as “coach”.)
Eleven thousand, eight hundred and eighty seconds. No, that is not a shortened Nickelback remix to “Seasons of Love” from the Broadway musical Rent. It is the amount of time needed to push the boundaries of industry standards for the expectations of coach-client communication. The 3 hour 18 min episode (#367) of Power Athlete Radio featuring Derek Woodske resounds with the clang of a blacksmith’s forge: iron sharpening iron. Listen to the episode and you will be rewarded with the treasure map to optimize your clients’ results and your success. Like any good treasure hunt, the reward reflects the difficulty of the clues. Power Athlete CEO John Welbourn can be heard “marking the spot” in the dilemma that, if solved, will be the “X” that points to the location where your coaching career’s ascension began. “People are not into prevention… the only catalyst for them to lose weight and to get into shape is something usually catastrophic.”
John refers to the Power Athlete online ACL Injury Prevention Course; the importance of such a program cannot be overstated. As Director of Training Tex McQuilkin states in the program description, “This is an online course for sports coaches, strength coaches, sports medicine professionals, parents, and anyone that has a stake in an athlete’s performance and long-term athletic career.” Athletic success cannot be achieved from the sidelines; clients will not achieve results if they do not show up for their workouts. A successful training business depends on acquiring and retaining clientele. The health club industry focus is on the former, a successful coach depends on the latter. An injury-free client is a retained client. Retention of clients translates directly into more time dedicated toward achieving their goals, and if programmed correctly, a shorter time to realize those goals. Marketing injury prevention to prospective clients, however, presents a major challenge. Injury prevention does not provide instant gratification. Instead it staves off potential calamities. Yet the allure of the instant gratification is difficult to resist. When shopping for a fitness program, most people have about the same amount of impulse control as a housecat teased with a laser pointer.
The Missing Pieces of Injury Prevention
Every weekend sales course in any hotel ballroom in America will have two staples: free watery coffee and a PowerPoint slide titled, “How to Create a Sense of Urgency!” Persuading clients to make injury prevention a priority is unrealistic, or perhaps as realistic as the trailer for a dystopian action movie: “In a world… desensitized by infomercials… bombarded with influencers…where purchases are only made after the prompt ‘Hurry! Limited spots available!’…one man, armed with performance-based prudent coaching capabilities, stands alone.”
The coach’s real responsibility to the client is to be the lighthouse of practical application in a sea of Photoshop and spray tans. The urgency for a lighthouse, however, is only present if the client is searching for land. The distraction of clever advertising keeps people unwittingly adrift until the inevitable crash into the rocky shore of burnout or injury. It is the job of the coach, not the client, to translate the benefits of a scientifically-backed program that mitigates risk factors into the language of urgency that inspires a dedicated core consumer base. People do not camp outside of shopping malls for new Air Jordans because there is an unlimited supply.
A brand is not just a stamp burned into the skin reflecting ownership. A brand is the totality of what clients believe about a product, and in the case of coaching injury prevention it represents the confidence in their coach’s program. A coach does not claim credit or take responsibility for a client’s successes or failures. Coaching is about formulating the blueprint of success and then understanding the onus of responsibility in communicating the steps to achieve success. “You can lead a horse to water”, but you have to make them understand the scarcity of the resource and the importance of hydration so that they can drink on their own. Not quite as catchy as the original proverb.
Inspiring confidence in injury prevention with urgency is a communication challenge and therefore a branding obstacle. The importance has to be translated. The need for rebranding is not strictly a fitness industry issue. John Welbourn has been heard quoting his father, “The smart man learns from his mistakes, the wise man learns from the mistakes of others.” Other industries experience brand dilution and find their corporate vision no longer connects with consumers. The need to change course is heard in many boardrooms. Some rise to the challenge, some don’t. One company that successfully rose to the challenge to rebrand is the LEGO Company.
The Instruction Booklet of a Successful Rebrand
LEGO (loosely translated from Danish “leg godt” meaning to “play well”) is an 80-year-old company and although a global brand, faced dramatic decreases in sales in the late 90’s early 2000’s. Their original vision of the brand was to encourage children’s creativity. It was captured in the company’s description of their product that each LEGO toy was “to come to life, each one needs the touch and imagination of a child” (LEGO Company Profile 2020; Gerzema and Lebar 148-155). Consumers around the turn of the millennium did not view the company in the same light. The original LEGO bricks that had captured the imagination of so many children were now seen as old-fashioned when compared to the pixels and processors of other entertainment options. The LEGO brand faced a distinctive challenge to be overcome before restoring the original vision to its consumers.
The company had stumbled by making too many extensions and offshoots of its brand. The catalog was full of preassembled toy-specific pieces that limited children’s ingenuity. LEGO also faced drastic changes in the technology of the toy market, and a phenomenon called KGOY (Kids Getting Older Younger). Children were encountering adult-oriented movies, TV shows, video games, etc. at a much earlier age than prior generations (Schultz, Antorini, Csaba, 165-179). To escape its out-of-date image, the company had to find a way to reaffirm its original product message to its consumer base (Le and Kamp).
In the track and field event of hurdling, each runner has their own lane but the same obstacles have to be leapt. Industries must also run in their own lanes, but shrewd businesses watch the company in the next lane to see how they approach and clear each hurdle. The coaching industry is fragmented into many specializations, sport-specific training, and keyboard experts. Coaches are pigeonholed into these niches. The prospective client is now confronted with a confusing litany of specialists. A google search for a coach yields a list as long as a late night diner menu. The coaching world is now perceived as outdated as a low grade “greasy spoon.” Coaches must use technology or be left behind with the luddites before them. With the advent of online training, the technological landscape of coaching has become topographically littered with competing false peaks of “fitness” goals that detract from a client’s own performance apex. Coaches must be well versed in these technologies and match their offerings to retain their clients’ attention.
The parallel to KGOY in coaching could be called “CGIP” (Clients Getting Improperly Progressed). Clients are able to view thousands of online personalities showing highlight reels of exercises without the context of the years of hard work needed prior to those fifteen seconds filmed.
Communication is not about “can’t,” it is about “can”. The quickest way to discourage clients and eventually lose them is to tell them that their goals are not the right ones. To tell them that their goals are unrealistic and not achievable instantly deflates clients. If clients start to put up defensive walls, the formerly straight path to their success becomes a maze. When coaches focus instead on empowerment, clients can take control of their own performances and careers. By doing so, clients take responsibility for the long term, including injury prevention.
In 2014, LEGO’s rebranding plan resulted in the critically acclaimed and commercially successful animated hit “The LEGO Movie”. It was released six years ago but, fair warning, spoilers ahead. The lead character is an “ordinary” worker who is unknowingly prophesied to become the “special,” the one who will find the “piece de resistance” (the tool used to overthrow the main antagonist). Along the way he encounters “master builder” characters who can create any object out of any LEGO bricks without instructions. The title “master builder” is eventually earned by our ordinary worker-turned-hero, on his way to defeating the villain using the “piece de resistance” (which, as it turns out, is just a normal LEGO brick akin to the one in the original logo). Any child walking away from this movie internalized more than just the catchy theme song. The movie stresses the original LEGO message through a new medium: every person is special and has the capability to bring to life anything he or she can imagine by using the LEGO bricks. Marketing gold.
Becoming a “Master Builder”
Clients hire coaches for aesthetic or athletic goals, goals that have financial or emotional significance. A wise coach resists the impulse to give a sermon on posture and position in order to convince the client to reprioritize injury prevention. If not, the coach will witness the client’s eyes glaze over like a student in Ben Stein’s class during roll call from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” To translate injury prevention into a strategy toward goal achievement, coaches must be fluent in the languages of the clients’ wants and their needs. Supplemental work toward their goal becomes the focus: rebranding “corrective exercise” and “prehab” routines into “warm up” and “conditioning” or “bodybuilding” work; translating “mitigating risk factors” into “pumps” or “vascularity” and “toning.” Coaches are limited only by the depth of their creativity and by the breadth of their knowledge.
The LEGO movie is an answer to universal challenges in the corporate world. Educated coaches are an answer to the universal challenges faced in the world of athleticism. Any coach can become a fabled “master builder” even without the chart-topping soundtrack, star-studded cast and animation.
The LEGO bricks of the coaching industry are the bricks of education and injury prevention strategies. Mixing these raw materials with ingenuity and imagination, a coach can create blockbuster programs. A client may want the athletic equivalent of a LEGO rocket ship or submarine for a program; if the coach uses the same bricks of mitigating risk factors, either program will retain its shape and perform its function. The coach is not just assembling prefabricated pieces according to instructions.
Coaches must not resemble an IKEA delivery service but rather be the architects of the clients’ experience. An educated coach will be able to design a program that fits the clients’ wants, anticipates the clients’ needs, and incorporates the same sense of urgency directed toward mitigating risk factors that is normally reserved for glute pumps and bicep curls.
If you’re a coach looking to build your brand and differentiate yourself from others in this business, we encourage you to level up your coaching and injury prevention abilities through education and application. Educating yourself with our ACL Injury Prevention course and applying our Iron Flex movement therapy program. Give Iron Flex a try warming your clients up with a 14-Day Risk Free Trial, and they’ll thank you later.
EDU: ACL INJURY PREVENTION – Power Athlete Academy PODCAST: PA RADIO EPISODE 367-Reason and Logic 101 w/ Derek Woodske
BLOG: MY ACL JOURNEY by John Welbourn
BLOG: NOW YOUR DAUGHTER DOESN’T HAVE TO LIVE IN FEAR OF ACL INJURY by Tex McQuilkin
BLOG: WHY YOUR TRUNK CAN NEVER BE STABLE by Matthew Zanis
Gerzema, John, and Ed Lebar. The Brand Bubble the Looming Crisis in Brand Value and How to Avoid It. Wiley, 2008.
Schultz, Majken, et al. Corporate Branding: Purpose/People/Process. Copenhagen Business School P., 2005.
Le, B. T., & Kamp, B. (2011). REBRANDING LEGO. AN ANALYSIS OF CAUSES AND SOLUTIONS IMPLEMENTED[PDF]. Department of Marketing and Statistics Aarhus School of Business. Retrieved July 25, 2020, from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/6703/79afc07f517f129d62c4ae1d26a890bd34e1.pdf
LEGO Company Profile 2020, https://www.lego.com/en-us/aboutus/lego-group/the-lego-brand/, accessed July 2020
Starting his training career assisting in the Biomechanics lab at San Francisco State, Cheyne’s focus on movement, posture, and position have been the foundation of his coaching. His clientele ranges from injury rehabilitation patients to professional athletes, and he has been able to consistently tailor strength and conditioning programs toward specialized needs. As a personal trainer in commercial gyms from California to New York, his hands-on experience gives a unique perspective as to what will and what won’t work in the real world. Since graduating the Block One Coach curriculum in June 2018, Cheyne has utilized the Power Athlete Methodology for developing and fostering athleticism in his clients. Cheyne credits the Block One Coach curriculum for the improvement he has seen in his clients’ body composition, strength, endurance, fitness and overall aesthetics.
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