| Mentoring For the Mercenary Coach

Author / Adam Campbell

5 - 8 minute read

Listen up nation, we’re doing something different with this article. I’m going to be talking to you real men (and women) of fitness out there: the gym owners.

In the mid-2000s, the strength and conditioning community saw a massive shift as semi-private group training facilities started popping up faster than anyone could imagine. This explosion of elite fitness meant that these gyms needed coaches, and needed them now. There wasn’t time to train and mentor your coaches, because every class you didn’t hold was money out the door, or worse, to a competitor.

And though this boom has waned, unfortunately this practice of not offering much of a mentoring tracking for young coaches is still commonplace in many of the gyms I’ve seen.

Don’t get me wrong, that is by no means a blanket statement; some out there really put time and money into their coaches, to help them grow and develop, which in turn increases the quality of their coaching, and by extension the quality of experience of their members. Others…not so much

Sometimes you have to hire out of necessity, and I get that; birds have to fly, penguins have to swim, and businesses have to run. But sometimes you have the opportunity to be more selective with who you bring onto your team. The goal of this article is to give you a quick manual, written from the point of view of both coaches and other owners, to help you mentor those brand new coaches on your staff for long-term success.

Know Thy Coach – What’s Their Lens

Everybody got into coaching for some reason. This means that some driving force pushed this person to pay money out of their own pocket for a certification (or certifications) so that they could potentially coach other people.

So why did they?

Call it an Ethos, Principle, Philosophy, Creed, whatever you want, this person has something driving them to coach. To speak in the language of author and speaker Simon Sinek, what’s their “why”?

Understanding this is the first step to understanding how you can mentor them.

Did they start coaching to because they wanted to help people feel more comfortable in their own skin? To help people improve their performance? There’s no wrong answer here. The question is, do you know your coaches’ whys? If you’ve never asked, I challenge you to. Maybe you’ll have a common connection, and can point them in the direction of a book, seminar or other tool that helped you. Or maybe you two are on completely opposite ends of the spectrum, and can learn something from one another.

Knowing their why also becomes important because their why will drive how they interact with clients in the gym, and this interaction could mean lifetime members, one or one-time drop in.

Use Their Why, Grow Their How

A coach’s why will, as mentioned, play a large role in influence how they deliver their coaching to a class, everything from word choice to management, and this provides you, the owner, with another potential route to grow your coach(es).

One of the many reasons I got into coaching overlaps with the main purpose of everything we do here at Power Athlete: to Empower Performance. When I started training way back when, it was to improve performance. This was my why, and when I coached classes, I related everything we were doing to performance, explaining why certain rep ranges and time domains were being used. This had been my mindset for so long, it was second nature.

Then one day, one of the gym owners I work for made a very astute observation: not everyone in the gym is there for performance. And, if I only deliver a message of performance, I might lose them. He then challenged me to try giving walkthroughs where performance wasn’t the star of the show; it could be mentioned, but wasn’t the end all be all.

It was hard. A lot harder than I care to admit; it requires a conscious effort for me to take off the performance hat whenever I get in front. But, it’s bettered my coaching game, and expanded my toolbox.

He knew my why, and understood the reasoning behind how I coached. Instead of telling me what not to do, he encouraged me to take this why and shape it to a different audience, which ultimately helped me to become a better coach.

Mentor When You Can, Manage When You Must

Having the time and space to mentor your coaches can yield great results for them as individuals and for your business as a whole. But like I mentioned in the beginning, sometimes as a business owner you gotta do what you gotta do, and you might not have the time you’d like to screen for the “right” person, let alone invest in the new hire to help them grow.

New businesses can be hectic, and sometimes as the owner you don’t have the time and energy to pour into someone as much as you’d like; you need to get them in the door and onto the floor. For instances like these, the owners I spoke with recommended having a “road to success” or “crash course” program in place, to provide you with some opportunities to target areas for mentorship, while not taking the coach off the floor.
Ironically, these crash courses shared a lot in common with some of the other new coach onboarding processes I learned about that larger gyms have, just with shortened timelines. Some things they all included were:

Movement Screen

How does your new coach move? Do they have limitations that they are aware of? This person will be out in front, leading classes and honing their coach’s eye. But, do they have any holes in their game? This doesn’t mean they need to move perfectly, as everyone has their own limiting factors, but it’s more of an opportunity to test their kinesthetic awareness and to see if they know their own limitations.

Shadowing Period

Here’s a chance to see your new coach in action, and get eyes on how they work on the floor and interact with clients. Usually these shadowing periods were done with either the owner themself, or with more senior coaches on staff. The keys to the car aren’t handed over, but you can see them in one-on-one interactions as a start. Eventually, they can lead the warm ups, until finally you can let them lead the class while you’re on the sideline, stepping in if and when needed.

Feedback from Veteran Clients

Finally, when it is time to push the bird out of the nest, they get to start coaching their own classes. But, this doesn’t mean it’s time to go completely hands off the wheel. Asking some of the more veteran members in their classes for feedback is a quick and easy litmus test for how they are doing now that they are the captain now, and may provide insight into how they coach and behave when the boss isn’t around.

Whether on a short on long timeline, each of these steps provide you, the owner, with the opportunities to step in and mentor the new coach as you are growing your business. These also give you steps along the way to know if you may have to part ways with the new coach as your business is growing. Yes, it’s important to get your classes out there to start bringing in membership, but if you are doing so at the expense of developing quality coaches, you’re harming yourself in the long run.

Mentors Need Mentors Too

Just as coaches need a coach, owners and mentors also need to be mentees too, in order to help themselves grow. Looking for a place to start? How about December 5th-7th in Austin, Texas and the Power Athlete Symposium? You’ll get the opportunity to rub elbows with like-minded folks from across the country, swap stories over beer and barbeque, and make professional connections across the industry. Or looking to get plugged into the ever growing Block One network? Head on over to the Power Athlete Academy and enroll for the next semester of the Power Athlete Methodology Course, to join the army of Block One coaches across the World.

Owners, sound off! What have you done in the past to mentor your coaches? Keep the conversation rolling in the comments below!

Related Content:

EDUCATION: Power Athlete Symposium

EDUCATION: Power Athlete Methodology

BLOG: Coaching Conversations: Life As a Mercenary Coach by Adam Campbell

BLOG: Coaching Conversations: So You Want To Be a Mercenary by Adam Campbell

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Adam Campbell

Adam grew up a lifetime athlete, playing soccer, baseball, basketball, and practicing martial arts, earning his black belt at age 12. While in college, he decided to join the Navy and earned his commission in 2008. While on active duty earned his CrossFit Level 1 in 2010 and CrossFit Football certification in 2012. He was part of the first class to go through the Power Athlete methodology course, and the first group to earn their Block One certification in September 2017.

Adam continues to stay active, earning a spot on the All Navy Rugby 7s team in 2023 and playing Rugby for a local men's club in San Diego, California.


  1. Jill on September 25, 2019 at 10:47 am

    Thank you Adam! Great framework that makes the task seem a bit less daunting.

    • Adam Campbell, CSCS on September 25, 2019 at 3:41 pm

      Thanks Jill! Hopefully some owners will find it useful in empowering their people!

  2. […] Now: Mentoring for the Mercenary Coach by Adam […]

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