The essence of CrossFit coaching is to get our clients to move better.

Good coaches can see faults and have the tools, knowledge and ability to correct these faults. If you can get your athletes to consistently move better, you are a considered a “good coach.”

But what then makes a “great coach”?

I believe great coaches have the ability to go beyond the movements and connect with their athletes. I call this the “deeper side of coaching,” which is developing an awareness of your athletes’ potential, building trust and creating an atmosphere of success. The deeper side of coaching is about establishing and nurturing a strong relationship between an athlete and a coach. And I would argue this relationship is the foundation of our true goals as coaches: to improve the lives, health and happiness of our clients.

In business, it’s easy to go after strangers. Strangers (people that don’t know you or your business) offer small business owners a cushion, a safety net, an easy way to spend their marketing dollars and energy. The thought process is, “There must be someone out there that doesn’t know about our business yet,” so the eager entrepreneur casts out marketing messages to the universe in hopes that they might snag a new customer

The reality is, going after strangers is the lazy approach to building your business. Fancy brochures, shiny business cards, high profile speaking engagements, exciting referral programs, TV, print and radio ads, widespread PR releases, and other traditional marketing strategies don’t create better products or services, they just cast out more lines into the big pool of strangers. True and lasting success comes from building your business the right way, which is much harder and scarier. It comes from listening and over-delivering to your small pool of current customers.

The latter approach of ignoring the universe in favor or your current customers is much scarier, it’s more personal, and takes much more effort, but it is exactly what smart businesses are doing. They know there are potential customers out there that don’t know about them yet, but they ignore them. Instead of taking the easy road, creating yet another marketing campaign, they take the difficult route of listening to their current customers, building relationships, tactfully resolving customer service issues, and improving the quality of their products or services.

True and lasting success comes from building you business the right way, which is much harder and scarier. Instead of strangers, focus on those you know…your customers.

This article is greatly influenced by John Maxwell’s terrific book “How Great Leaders Lead”.

The 5 phases of coaching describe the development of a coach. You cannot skip steps, and you will be on different levels with different athletes. For example, you may be a Phase 3 Coach to someone that you have worked with for years, but a Phase 1 coach with an athlete you have just started working with.

Phase 1 Coach

In this phase of coaching the only reason athletes listen to the coach is because he or she has been given the title “Coach”. There is no real leadership or respect. Trust is minimal and there is not much of an athlete/coach relationship. Athletes only follow Phase 1 coaches because the have to. Phase 1 coaches see high turnover in their memberships, minimal results and often feel threatened by other rising coaches.

Phase 2 Coach

Phase 2 coaches have transcended the role of “Positional Coach”. Athletes follow Phase 2 coaches because they want to. This level of coaching is attained by building relationships with athletes. At this level coaches are emotionally and psychologically invested in their athletes. These coaches are skilled in reading their athletes. They know their athletes goals, what motivates them, if they like to be yelled at or sympathized with. Phase 2 Coaches know when to push their athletes and when to back off. Coaches at this level are entertaining, friendly, get along with their athletes and are genuinely liked. Phase 2 Coaches characteristically have fun classes, and their affiliates are very social. The dangers of Phase 2 is that if you do not develop your leadership past this level you will most likely loose highly motivated athletes that are looking for more direction and results.

Phase 3 Coach

Athletes follow Phase 3 Coaches because of what they have accomplished for others. A Phase 3 Coach can point to a handful of instances where they have helped athletes achieve measurable results such as; a member who has lost 60+ lbs, getting someone get off diabetes medication, training an athlete to a sub 3-hour marathon, multiple members of the gym having sub 2:30 Fran times, or developing an athlete to a Regional-Level.

Phase 3 Coaches are respected in their fields. They are knowledgeable, educated, and able to communicate in a language that is understandable and has direct impact on the performance of their athletes. These coaches can identify good and poor movements and have the skills to correct them tactfully while keeping their athletes engaged and motivated. These coaches can teach/lecture, give the “why’s” behind theories, and expand on areas if needed. At this level momentum comes into play and more and more athletes get results. The issue of getting people to “buy in” seems to go away, and there is more confidence in the coach/athlete relationship on both sides.

Phase 4 Coach

A Phase 4 Coaches get results for every athlete on a personal level. Athletes aren’t following the coach because of what the coach has done for someone else – they follow and believe in Phase 4 Coaches because of what the coach has done for them on a personally. You are only a Phase 4 coach to an athlete if you have made THEM better. What you have done for someone else is what Phase 3 is all about. Phase 4 coaches are completely invested in their athletes emotionally, intellectually, psychologically, physically, and every way possible. These coaches entertain, inspire, and educate almost organically. Their communication and interpersonal skills seem second nature and people are drawn to them.

Phase 4 coaches have the skills and ability to coach groups of athletes efficiently, and are able to make every athlete feel as if they are getting one on one attention. These coaches have the ability not only to see and correct faults in beginner and intermediate athletes, but can improve the movements of Olympic, Professional and Games-Level athletes.

Phase 5 Coach

This is the pinnacle of coaching and is reserved for coaches who have been in the game long enough to develop several other Level 4 Coaches of their own. Athletes follow Phase 5 Coaches because of who they are, their reputation, legacy, and what they stand for. As a Phase 5 Coach there is no need to work through the phases with athletes – they are sought after and respected even before first introduction.

As a responsible small business owner, you review your numbers at least every month, right?

I have an accountant that sends me balance sheets, which explain my expenses, my revenue, my cost of goods sold, payroll, and more. I also have membership tracking software that gives me all the valuable stats I need: member attendance records, personal training sessions, member retention, and how many t-shirts were sold.

I am happy to tell you that these stats are crap.

It’s fun and rewarding to see how many members you have and how much money you made last month. But, if you are running your business by the numbers and using the numbers to guide your decisions, you are doing your business (“members”) a disservice.  

What you should be focusing on is the unmeasurables: the emotions in the gym, the level of connection you have with your clients, the vibe of the business, and your reputation. It’s the intangibles, not the measurables, that matter.

One of the popular questions at my business seminar is, “What is your member retention rate from your on-ramp program?” I am proud to say I don’t know the answer to this question.

We all have a set number of hours we can put towards working on our business. Regardless of how many hours that is, we need to prioritize where we spend that time. If you are spending hours scrutinizing over balance sheets, cash flow projections, and break-even analysis, those are hours not being spent on building relationships with your customers or training your staff to be more amazing.

I imagine if I did track retention rate, and saw it drop below a certain threshold, it would be a rallying cry to me. My staff and I would then refocus our efforts into delivering an even better service. Why not just start with delivering the best possible product in the first place? This of course requires spending time building relationships with our members – not analyzing numbers.

If you focus on the numbers, you could miss the forest through the trees.  Instead, focus on the intangibles and the numbers will take care of themselves.