| | | Shitty Coaching Trifecta

Author / John

As many of you may know, several of the coaches at Power Athlete HQ also double as CrossFit Football Seminar Staff.  I am one of those coaches. The goal of our seminar, in conjunction with ensuring attendees know how to effectively implement our program, is to make better coaches.

Although this is a generic and broad sounding goal, we dedicate an entire lecture called “Coach’s Responsibility” to just that.  Rome wasn’t built in two days, and nor will perfect coaches miraculously emerge from our weekend knowledgefest, but we aim to scratch the surface at the very least.  Recently, I was reminded of just how influential a coach can be in  their own athlete’s success or failure.

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During a recent team instructional situation, I was coaching up a participant who was a former field sport athlete, current sport coach, and strength and conditioning coach.  This particular gentleman did not like when I casually suggested a minor change to his power clean set up, which by the way, was dogshit, and proceeded to make a scene in protest to my coaching.  He began to question my correction and before I could finish providing him with the purpose he aggressively slammed an unloaded barbell to the ground.

One thing we do not tolerate under our instruction is disrespectful treatment of the equipment which does not belong to you.  We are very vocal about this rule and it came as no surprise to anyone when I ordered all athletes to participate in a team punishment of deadbugs.  The person in question refused to join the team, so I chose participate in his place.  Upon further discussion with this gentleman, myself and the other head coach discovered that he was neither open to learning our methods nor had plans to teach them.  He also decided he’d rather not actively participate for the duration of the weekend.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JN0qpz81XVc?feature=player_detailpage]

I certainly was not butthurt about his decisions to abandon our style of training or opt out of participating, but I did sympathize with any athlete under his command.  His attitude, close mindedness, and generally poor conduct reminded me of the characteristics exhibited by some of the worst coaches – who somehow still have jobs.

This is what I refer to as the shitty-coach-trifecta.  Similar to the illusive yeti which wander the pacific northwest, the shitty-coach-trifecta is rare but very much alive. The many flaws associated with shitty coaching can really fall into these three major categories:

1) Laziness
2) Lack of Knowledge
3) Ego

We spend so much time as strength and conditioning coaches doing our best to identify an athlete’s physical and mental limiting factors that we often overlook ourselves as part of the equation.

Could we as coaches be our athletes’ biggest limiting factor?

Short answer: absolutely.


Laziness: There is no excuse for a lazy coaching.

Seriously. This is the easiest of the three coaching pitfalls to avoid.  Don’t take a backseat to your athlete’s training.  Great coaches are focused, involved and proactive investors of their time and energy.  Awesomeness doesn’t happen on accident nor do great results.

Similarly, great coaching comes from interacting and gaining experience.  If more of your time is spent texting, coaching from afar, or believing every article you read, then your laziness will permeate into what could have otherwise been a thriving training environment.  Do not underestimate the power of things like body language, demeanor, attention to detail, etc when coaching an athlete or group of athletes.  They will mimic your level of interest or passion, and ideally emulate a similar work ethic.


Lack of Knowledge: Educate yourself.

Lack of understanding your discipline can lead to many problems in strength and conditioning.  The most apparent being improperly or ineffectively implementing a program that could hurt an athlete.

“Hurt an athlete” could mean literally injure them, or, it could imply an inability to develop optimal training.  If you don’t, for instance, know and understand the body, how to drive adaptation, how to do it safely, and then how to tweak it based on the individuals goals, you have two options.  You can either put in the hard work to understand the necessary components, or if the athlete is too far beyond your scope of knowledge, hand them off to someone who can develop them.

Regardless, the first will require effort and the latter will require humility; the two character traits counter to their respective laziness and ego.

Ego: Are you a selfish sonofabitch?

Maybe you were stellar a high school, collegiate or professional athlete who had great coaches, slayed hundreds of chicks, and “used to” bench 405.  Welcome to coaching.  No one cares.  Coaching should be an athlete-centric practice, not an opportunity to showboat your quarter-life accolades.

On the same token, be open minded to new schools of thought.  If you know what works and is successful with your athletes, fantastic!  However, there are always going to be more tools, better practices, and people smarter than you to help aid you in your personal development.  You just have to make yourself, and your ego, open to the opportunities.  When someone else is counting on you to take them to the next level, do not allow your ego to be their biggest limiting factor.


John Wooden – Arguably one of the greatest coaches of all time.

When it comes to coaching, no one is perfect.  The goal is continued growth through breadth of knowledge, open mindedness, and active engagement.  Your athletes are relying on you to create a productive training environment which yields optimal results.

To do this, we as coaches must take a step back from the carefully formed habits and comfortable coaching patterns and ask ourselves: Am I my athletes’ greatest limiting factor?


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John Welbourn is CEO of Power Athlete and Fuse Move. He is also creator of the online training phenomena, Johnnie WOD. He is a 9 year veteran of the NFL. John was drafted with the 97th pick in 1999 NFL Draft and went on to be a starter for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999-2003, appearing in 3 NFC Championship games, and for starter for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2004-2007. In 2008, he played with the New England Patriots until an injury ended his season early with him retiring in 2009. Over the course of his career, John has started over 100 games and has 10 play-off appearances. He was a four year lettermen while playing football at the University of California at Berkeley. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in Rhetoric in 1998. John has worked with the MLB, NFL, NHL, Olympic athletes and Military. He travels the world lecturing on performance and nutrition for Power Athlete. You can catch up with John as his personal blog on training, food and life, Talk To Me Johnnie and at Power Athlete.


  1. brianbooth on November 7, 2014 at 1:55 pm

    Nice write up Cali. Thought you handled that situation well. On a positive note, it was good for everyone to get an in person example of the “shitty coach trifecta”.

    I had to work with said attendee during the squat and deadlift demo, what a pleasure that was.

    • CALI on November 7, 2014 at 2:45 pm

      Thanks dude. Every experience can lead to an education of sorts. This definitely was one for me, and def not for him.

  2. Paula on November 7, 2014 at 5:22 pm

    @cali. I would have loved to have seen you stand your ground against that jerk. I’ve met his “kind” before–sounds like 95% ego but I’m sure there was some stupidity and laziness in him too. As usual, very well written.

  3. Cougar on November 8, 2014 at 6:34 am

    Thanks for the write-up, Cali.

    I found this helpful both from an athlete’s and from a coach’s perspective. That ego thing is difficult to deal with, no matter which side you are on.

    BUT, as much as I liked your blog article, I have one major problem with it. The Yeti is from the Himalayas in Nepal. The Sasquatch is from the Pacific Northwest.

  4. Steve (a.k.a. Booty) Platek on November 8, 2014 at 7:18 am

    as always, good stuff, @cali

  5. shredalert on November 8, 2014 at 10:48 am


    Primo article and well written.

    My wife and I were at a box that exemplified…yes f’n exemplified your trifecta. Yup. We wised up and moved on.

    My wonderful badassery wife who is in the medical profession (PT) and former D1 athlete (field hockey at the University of Maryland) has dealt with the same at our former gym. Especially from unqualified owners that “stayed at a Holiday Inn last night”.

    Yeah. We have stories to kick around the campfire.

    Thanks for the reminder. I plan on sharing the article to my fellow trainers at our new box.

    In Praxis We Trust,


  6. kmalahy on November 10, 2014 at 11:50 am

    You need one of these at your seminars… http://youtu.be/RzToNo7A-94

  7. Ingo B on November 11, 2014 at 2:42 pm

    The “Laziness” section is wildly apparent with kids. When I’m trying to get my daughter to jump across crash mats, roll, or whatever during her gymnastics class, my level of enthusiasm (and active participation) directly correlates to hers.

  8. chobbs on November 13, 2014 at 9:08 am

    Awesome write up

  9. mjfrazier1 on January 31, 2016 at 5:54 pm

    I was at this particular seminar! Awesome article.

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