During our last chalk talk, we discussed what it meant to be a Mercenary Coach, the part-time/assistant coach. We covered how you can make yourself an invaluable asset to the business, and how you can Empower the Performance of your clients and athletes, even if you’re not there full time.
Today, I want to expand on one point that all five owners I interviewed mentioned as being a crucial component of being a Mercenary Coach. So crucial in fact, that it could make or break your chances of continuing to work as a coach in a gym: connection.
Being able to connect with your athletes is a must, but for the Mercenary who may only see them once or twice a week, this can feel near impossible. In today’s mat chat, we’re going to cover some ways to genuinely connect with your athletes, build meaningful relationships, and earn their trust in to you as their Coach.
Reach Out and Touch Someone
For some people, trying to connect with individuals whom they don’t know can be very difficult. It’s like an awkward first date, filled with small talk and wondering if you have food on your face. The advantage is, you know how this date is going to end; you’re going to see them again next week. In his book Two Brain Business, Power Athlete Radio alum Chris Cooper categorizes people’s lives by separating their activities and interaction into three bubbles: the Love Bubble, Work Bubble, and Social Bubble. Learning about these will take you a long way in getting to know, and actually connect, with someone beyond just the superficial “how’s it going” when you first meet them.
We’re not talking about the radius on your Tinder profile. In this context, we mean someone’s family, spouse, children, and very close friends. In short, the people that mean the most to them. It’s obviously a very special bubble for most people, which means it’s an important one for you to learn about. This means asking about kids, siblings, spouses, and (here’s the hard part) actually registering and remembering what someone says. If someone’s family member is in the hospital on week 1, following up and caring enough to ask how they are doing during week 2 will go a long way in showing how invested you are in them. On the flip side, if you just go through the motions of asking how they are doing, without really listening, people will remember. You can’t fake caring about people, and it will come out very quickly if you’re genuinely interested in learning about them, or are just making small talk.
As a Mercenary Coach, we’ve already established you’re wearing multiple hats throughout the day; whether that means hats from other gyms, or a hat from a completely different industry, the bottom line is you were doing something before you got to class today. Guess what: so were your clients. There was a great comment posted on my last article talking about how an individual who was a Mercenary Coach was able to connect with his athletes simply due to the shared suffering of having a day job. Ask about people’s jobs; maybe that means you just have to listen to them complain about the copy machine, or Linda in accounting. Either way, this is great and unique opportunity you, as the Mercenary Coach, can use to connect to your athletes.
This one is probably the easiest to ask about. The social bubble includes things like favorite restaurants and bars, weekend activities, and friends beyond the boundaries of the Love Bubble. People love to talk to you about their favorite places to go and things to do, so don’t be afraid to ask! This is an especially easy way to break the ice if you’re coming into a new gym, or if it’s your first role as a Coach. This is also generally the lowest hanging fruit (or bubble) for you to reach to open up conversations and learn about their other bubbles.
Learning to Talk Good
Being a Mercenary Coach has its advantages and disadvantages. Advantage: you have a cool new title to print on your shirt. Disadvantage: you have a limited amount of facetime with your group of athletes, making communicating with them a game of maximizing your minutes, both in the microscopic view (each class) and the macroscopic view (number of classes per week). A great scholar once said that communication is the cornerstone to connecting in any relationship; now that you’ve connected to your athletes by asking and learning about their bubbles, it’s time to utilize this knowledge when you’re coaching them, to convey your message in a way that best resonates with them.
If you were coaching a hockey player, you wouldn’t tell them that you’re having them squat in the UAP to help aid their ability to push through the defensive line after the snap, just like you wouldn’t you tell a football player the COD drill he just ran will help him when he gets on the rink. Word choice matters, and you have to understand your audience when giving instructions or cues. If you’re coaching a workout that includes strict pull ups, telling folks that they will get lats like a cobra’s head is well and good…if that’s what your audience can understand. But, believe it or not, there are some who might not resonate with this description; talking instead about how these will help carry over into a stronger bench press or deadlift might help that light bulb to turn on.
Working bi’s and tri’s to get that party pump will click with some, while others may need to hear how it will help aid their pulling and pushing movements. Good connection leads to better communication.
For us Mercenaries, we have another opportunity, unique to us, where we can practice these and other principles, to sharpen our blade: our #mainhustle! If you’re one of the folks stuck in an office during the day, you can practice things like your tone and body language, along with your word choice, when interacting with the other rats in the race, to help improve your talkin’ skills. Sure, you might not be leading a class through a workout, but maybe you’re leading a board meeting through a presentation. Or, maybe you’re training someone in Excel instead of how to move under load. The situation is different, but the principles are the same. And if you’re coaching at multiple gyms, guess what, that’s just more reps. The beauty of this is that we’re not limited to the gym to train these muscles; every interaction is an opportunity to get some SPP in, before the big game.
link and sync
All of the owners I spoke with when writing Life as a Mercenary Coach touched on connection as being paramount to success; one went so far as stating “technical knowledge is far less important to me than someone’s basic ability to connect with a room”. You may have all the expertise in the world, with the sexiest cues and Super-Saiyan level ability to break down the technical minutiae of any movement. But, if you can’t connect and communicate this information, you’re about as useful as a vegan at a barbeque. Connecting is the first bridge you need to build between yourself and your athletes, so you can know who they are and where they are coming from. After that, you need to be able to use that knowledge to deliver your coaching to them in a way they can understand and apply.
Having the ability to effectively communicate is important for any coach, but even more so for you since you won’t be seeing this class again potentially for another week. This means that whatever you teach them today, you’re asking them to remember and carry forward to their other classes, until the next time you’re around to coach them up again. What’s going to help them remember what you taught them hinges on your ability to get your message across clearly and in a language that will resonate. Forge that bond, use it to guide your coaching, and you’ll be taking the first steps to building lasting relationships and Empowering their Performance.
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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