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So you think you are a coach? – Coaching on purpose

As a new trainer, leading a group fitness class can be an overwhelming experience. First there is the material to know, then there is the people with all their needs, questions and personalities, and then you have the space and equipment to manage. In the midst of the requirement to be able to teach a movement, respond to inquiries, adjust to injuries, and keep everyone moving safely and having fun, the real essence of coaching is sometimes lost.

When I watch new coaches, the thing I most lack of intent is. Recently, while teaching a beginner trainer, I asked her what she was going to do with teaching a particular movement. Her answer was that was the programming, so that was what she was teaching. Here’s what I think – you’re not a trainer if you just show up and follow a list on a piece of paper. You’re not a trainer if you just imitate movements for me, press start on a stopwatch, or write my weights in a manila folder.

There should never be a point during your coaching where you can’t answer the question of why. Do you teach things because that is what there is to be taught or because there is a lesson in that exercise? As a CrossFit trainer, do you just do deadlifts and pull-ups and cheer occasionally? As a rowing coach, do you only give students cardio intervals? Is it just one day to do heavy lifting while doing powerlifting? Or is there something deeper – the lesson students should go away with?

What is intent

I think of the coaching intent as writing an essay. If I were to write an essay, I would have a thesis statement – something that ties my words together and is the underlying theme through all of the paragraphs. Each paragraph would contain a set of topics related to the dissertation and identifying its individual purpose.

The intent is what I want to teach today – what I want you to leave the classroom, in this case the gym, after you’ve learned it. The paragraphs are the parts of the class – warm up, mobility, workout, post workout. Each part of the class has a purpose that relates to the greater purpose of the class. The sentences are the exercises that form the basis for all of this to happen.

Create yourself:

  • Intention with every move
  • Intention with each lesson
  • Intent for the whole class

But I didn’t write the training

Not having written the programming is never a reason to lose intention. You may not have the same intention as the person who wrote the programming, but you can still have an intention. It’s like interpretations of music. The notes are on the side and each trainer has different nuances or accents based on what they see in the notes. The pieces are the same; the delivery is a little different.

Is it easier to generate intent once you’ve written the programming? My answer is no. My answer is – it’s easier to generate intent when the programming is well done. At CrossFit LA, the trainers took turns writing three-week programming cycles. Most of the time I was teaching a curriculum that I hadn’t written. The programming was so well thought out that finding intentions in each other’s workouts was never a problem.

What is it really like?

What does that mean in practice? If I were given the programming for a class, I would construct those intentions for myself before going into the classroom. For example, if I were given a workout that included the handstand, what would I consider teaching about the handstand? I could decide what I really want to talk about is the hollow position. I could incorporate shoulder presses into the warm up so that people practice the correct shoulder position, core tension, and hip position so that they understand and practice what it means to be “hollow”. I could even explain right at the beginning of the lesson: “Today our focus is on the hollow position and where this shows up in various exercises.” Because if you as a student know what you are supposed to learn, you may be more lucky to learn it learn, right? Think of it as verbal bold face.

Another example could be a day with rowing intervals. If I were given some programming that said the workout would include four 1,000-meter sprints, I could decide that the day would be learning to hinge on the hips so students would develop the correct hip swing while rowing . I could program good morning in the warm-up or do toy soldiers as a dynamic route. We were able to practice excellent form on sit-ups. Or if I have more advanced students I could decide that the day was about planning a race and we’d talk about the race start, race pace, home sprint start, etc, and practice it on each of the four sprints.

What I wouldn’t do in either scenario is just verbally go through the technique, sketch out the workout, and then say go. A coach is not a timekeeper and a cheerleader. A good student of most athletic activities can quickly get from one end of a workout to the other. You don’t need someone to say start and stop. They need someone to take their education to a deeper level. You need someone to guide you, who understands the nuances of the movements, the purpose of the exercise, and the intent of the exercise. A coach is someone who provides that for you and who can answer the question of why at any time.

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