We spend a lot of time here at @powerathletehq dropping knowledge bombs, repeating jokes, and dropping knowledge bombs with repeated jokes, to help prepare coaches across the world to Battle the Bullshit and Empower the Performance of athletes. Today I want to focus on a very specific subset of the Power Athlete Nation that is sometimes overlooked, but definitely not forgotten: the part-time/assistant coach.
For the purposes of this article, we’re not going to use those terms. Instead, we’re going to call them “Mercenary Coaches”, as it better describes who we’re talking to.
Maybe these coaches are finishing one class at a gym, only to hustle across town to a different gym to lead the next class. Or, they’re hammering the keyboard during the day, and hammering on athletes in the evenings. As a coach myself, I’ve fallen under this category since 2010. Coaching has always been much more than just a #sidehustle; it’s a passion. Right now, I crank out power points, spreadsheets, and spreadsheets about power points during the day, and then get the opportunity to work with athletes from all different backgrounds at night.
In this chalk talk we’re going to discuss how you, as a Mercenary Coach, can bring value to your gym or gyms, become a solid team member to any coaching staff, and most importantly, transform from someone your athletes see just a couple times a week to someone they can rely on for solid and sage training guidance.
Give the People What They Want
As a Mercenary Coach, you may sometimes feel powerless when it comes to the goings-on in the gym or weight room. During the research for this article, I polled five gym owners, each with different backgrounds, experience, and populations, and asked them two questions: what are you looking for when bringing on a Mercenary Coach, and what are you looking for when elevating these folks to a full-time position. Despite their differences, all their answers fell under these categories:
Do you believe and buy in to what the gym is selling? Do you fit in with the gym’s culture? Do you want to work there because it’s a status symbol to be “a coach”, or are you truly there for the right reasons? To paraphrase one owner, are they applying because they love fitness, or because they love our approach to fitness? Another owner said they exclusively hire from within the gym, after someone has been a member for no less than two years. He’s only broken this rule twice, and guess what, those two didn’t stick around very long. They know that if you have passion and buy in for what they are selling, you will bring that passion to every class you coach. And more importantly, that passion will be felt by the athletes and members.
Can you connect with the athletes you’ll be coaching? Can you keep people engaged and get your message across, or are people glazing over when you’re speaking to them. Books, podcasts, and more podcasts have all touched on this topic. Connection with your athletes is crucial if you want their buy-in (which by the way, you do if you want to keep coaching). To quote one owner, “technical knowledge is far less important to me than someone’s basic ability to connect with a room”.
Movement cues and coaching gimmicks are great, but if you can’t connect you might as well be telling them to a wall. Looking for a good place to start? Humor is always the best and easiest way to connect, especially at first. Not funny? Try watching Fletch. Or take the advice from PA Radio Episode 267 with Gunnar Peterson and take an improv class. Or just try repeating the same jokes over and over again until they become funny.
Are you able to do more than just coach? Are you comfortable wearing multiple hats, and sometimes having to wear them both at the same time? Do you bring skills to the table that the gym might not have at the moment? All of the owners cited this as being a key factor in deciding whether to elevate someone from part-time to a full-time position. As one said: “can they create more revenue than it costs to retain them”.
This applies both to the coach and business side of life. As a coach, are you attending seminars, reading, learning, and continuously looking for ways to expand your toolbox? Or are you happy knowing what you know and keeping your cup full. Are you looking for ways the gym can expand its market and reach new athletes? And, of equal importance, are you willing to stand up to the owners and challenge them on their ideas? After all, Iron sharpens iron, and you may bring in a new perspective that hasn’t been considered before. empty your cup
Movement not Methodology
I think it’s necessary to make one distinction here. We touched on how these owners felt buy in and being aligned with the principles of the gym were important, but this doesn’t mean you stop being the unique snowflake that is you and become a carbon copy of someone else. One owner said it best: “you don’t need to be a clone but you do need to align on the important stuff”. And we already said, being willing to challenge ideas is very useful for growth and development. But, let’s make one thing clear: in this position, your job is NOT to change, rewrite, or otherwise manipulate a day’s program beyond reason.
Scaling or modifications for newer or injured athletes is one thing. Deciding to manipulate ordering, remove or select different movements, or worse, outright change the training day because you think your way is better, is a big, big no no. You’re there because the leadership trusts you to be #MastersofMovement, and as such your job is to ensure the people in your class are moving properly, safely, and with a purpose. You’re not there to pass a value judgement on the programming for the day, and no one really cares what you “would do if you were in charge.”
The head coach or coaches set the direction for where they want the gym to go, but as the person on the ground, it’s your job to make sure you take their vision and help turn it into tangible results. They put out the programming, but it’s you delivering the product. This means the quality of what’s delivered falls directly on you, Coach. When you’re running the session, you need to switch ON and lean in. Take ownership of your classes, and understand your role in the bigger picture of the gym. Connect with your athletes, be a doer (and not a don’t-er), and make yourself useful.
New to a gym and looking for some ways to connect? Find some folks at your gym you might not know very well, and ask them why they specifically chose your gym to come to, any why they’ve chosen to stick around. Or, try to get to know something about their family and work life. Or just even ask about their favorite bars or restaurants around. You may be surprised how quickly they’ll open up to you, and I can guarantee they will remember that you cared enough to ask about them as a person, instead of just seeing them as a client.
What are some other ways you all have had successes in connecting with your athletes? Drop some ideas in the comments, and let’s keep the discussion going!
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.
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