Qualities of GREAT Coaching: What You Should Be Looking For – EPISODE 161


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What is coaching?Most people think about programming at first. After all, doesn’t a coach just put together really cool workouts and meal plans for their clients?

That’s obviously true. But writing workouts alone doesn’t make you a coach, just like writing lesson plans doesn’t make you a qualified teacher.

Coaching is teaching.

That’s really what you are, coach. Good coaching is good teaching. You have to fully engage and commit to the people you work with. You should be curious as to why they’ve come to you in the first place.

Meet all of your athletes right where they stand. Empathize with their perspective and goals. Understand what really motivates them, because it varies widely across personality types. Do that and you can form an honest connection with each of your athletes. You’ll quickly get a feeling of what to say, and more importantly, what not to say.

Doug quoted a great line this episode. If you want to be a great coach, “Be a guide on the side, not a sage on the stage.” Writing workouts doesn’t make you a coach, nor does barking and shouting from the front of the gym. This is an aggressive style that’s actually insensitive and counter productive.

There’s a time and a place for pumping up the intensity, but if an athlete say’s they can’t do something, for example, then it does more harm than good to shout, “No, you can do it!”

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A coach asks a lot of questions.

This is the greatest skill you could ever master, coach. The better you get at asking questions, the deeper you will connect with your athletes.

In this example, the right thing to say is simply, “Why do you think you can’t do it?” It could be nothing, but it might also be important. A hidden injury. An emotional stress. If you can always ask first then you will get to the truth a lot quicker.

Questions also allow the athlete to feel understood. This will strengthen your relationship, as opposed to building resentment when you simply dish WODs and shout generic motivational one-liners over and over.

Think about peeling back the onion. 

There are many layers to goals. The outer parts are all superficial, right? Loose weight. Get strong, whatever. Your job as a coach is to peel back the onion layer by layer to get at the real motive.

I don’t want to sound shallow, but it needs to be said. We are all humans. That means the motives aren’t actually that hard to predict. Everyone wants to achieve a higher status in life. They want to be acknowledged. Sure, if you drill down deeply enough, in the end most people are just looking to get laid. That’s OK! There’s nothing more paleo than sex. Fill your belly with good food then get lucky, what else could you want, monkey man?

It’s ok to start right there because it’s a real genuine benefit of training. If you can get people stronger then they will be a whole lot more confident. They WILL definitely get laid more often, without a doubt. But now you have an opportunity to lead that person forward, to help them develop not just in the gym, but in life overall.

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Coaching is relationship management.

Everyone is seeking status in their own unique way. Help them discover that for themselves. Once the athlete is stronger, healthier, and more confident, they can go out in the world and turn pro pursuing what they love.

And they’re going to fucking love you for leading them there, which is the ultimate reward. Sure, you might think you coach because you want to build strong, fit athletes. Maybe you want to be recognized as a great coach, whatever. But pull things back and you will find that building close relationships with athletes is what you’re really after.

Recommended reading

These books will make an incredible impact on your coaching career. We couldn’t recommend them more:

Happy reading!

3 Key Questions for you to answer…Homework that could change your life. 

We want you to becoming a better coach. So, here’s your homework. Answer the following questions honestly, then get to work improving your craft. Submit your answers in the comments below so we can see what you plan on doing to get better.

Here we go…

  1. What aspect of coaching have you been neglecting? What could you do better?
  2. What is keeping you from getting better? Peel your own onion. “Why do I think this is limiting me?”
  3. What resources can you utilize to up your game? Books, seminars, podcasts, blogs, travel. Tell us what you plan on doing to acquire more knowledge and build your expertise.

I hope you enjoy the episode. To all the coaches out there, much love and respect to you. Your job is far more important that you might realise.




For more

  • Do you know exactly how to program to become a better Weightlifter? We’ve got your covered. Check out this video.

41 Responses to “Qualities of GREAT Coaching: What You Should Be Looking For – EPISODE 161”

  1. Jeremey Tate

    Love the show guys! This podcast really made me look at my coaching and ask my self some hard questions, however I feel like I now know what to work on.

    1: I feel like programming and tracking results get neglected in my coaching. Most of my clients I only see once a week and it really makes it hard to program, follow up with them, and track there progress. (constructive criticism is welcome)
    2: I do feel like I limit my self in regards to programming and tracking results. Just 2 year ago I jumped into coaching as a job, but have not quit my full time “real job”. If I could get to the point were I can just coach full time that would be better for my clients and myself.
    3: You guys have been some of my biggest resources. I discovered your podcast about 4 months ago and have almost lessened to every episode. I live north of Nashville (in the country) so I dive an hour to work or to meet with my clients. That gives me a lot of time to check out podcast. I have also picked up on Spartan Ups podcast with Joe, and I’m picking up books like K-star and more that you guys recommend.

    Keep up the good work!


      • Matthew Griffin

        1. I have been neglecting my personal technique with all movements. I’ve been going through WODs and such trying to get better times. Instead I need to take the time and SLOW DOWN and better my technique because leading by example is the best leadership there is, so if i’m doing the movements as near to perfection as possible then my clients will want to adhere to the same thing.
        2. What is keeping me from getting better is going to fast. In a past episode the guest said “people are way to worried about beating the people around them instead of bettering them self every time they pick up the barbell.” I think this is limiting me because I’ve always been competitive and always trying to just get a better time isn’t necessarily the best thing to achieve for.
        3. I for one plan on continuing to better my overall knowledge of coaching through books, seminars, and most definitely the podcast, which is AWESOME!

  2. James Holden-Archer

    Hey Guys,

    Great episode. This is actually something I have been working on recently.

    1. I tend to neglect tracking. I get the initial assessments and screens done, get the first cycle of training written out and then things change and go haywire and its then 3 months before I have retested or tracked anything.

    2. Organisation. I try to keep everything in my head. That is fine until next week when I have forgotten.

    3. I have just signed up for a performance coaching workshop with Nick Grantham (UK S&C coach). I have also invested in a couple of electronic diary/spreadsheet organisers so I can keep everything logged and up to date the moment it happens in my sessions.

    Thank you so much for the content you put out it is great. I drive 3 hours everyday to go to university and keep BarbellShrugged as a staple on the iPod to get me through the journey.

    Would love to see you guys come to the UK.



  3. Jesus Guillen

    1- I neglected at nutrition advices. The reason is that in group training it is hard to give so many advice’s when you are short on time.
    2-I will keep improving my craft reading books, blogs, attending seminars, and certifications.

  4. Matt

    Love the show notes Chris! Not sure if I’m the only one who find this helpful but including a list of the books mentioned in each episode would be awesome. Keep up the good work!

  5. Mark Miller

    Good shit..
    1. Kind of neglected holding clients accountable. Not saying I’m too easy on them but a better way like you guys said is to understand the kind of person they are and know when to push their buttons or get to the root of why they are there.

    2. Just need to keeping educating myself and learning more by reading books and going to seminars and such.

  6. Germain

    Great job guys and salutations from Germany, Berlin!

    Podcasts or interviews like this do not exist in Germany, so thank you for the opportunity to be always updated :)

    Offtopic but: Do I really need a credit card to buy a shirt when I’m from Germany? No paypal?

    Kind regards,


  7. Steven Vitale

    Hey Guys,
    Great job on another enlightening episode.
    1. I feel I have neglected understand what it is that causes the athlete to quit during training (i.e. external influences outside the box).
    2. Personally I am still learning, so most likely a lack of experience on my part. However, and this ties into 3., I also feel as if there is a lack of resources surrounding coaching from some standpoints. Specifically, it would be interesting to see videos of coaching actually transpiring, from a third person standpoint to analyze the pros and cons of what has occurred.

  8. Dakota Boring

    1. I am new to coaching and neglect more than one area. Im still trying to get a solid foundation for myself. I feel more overwhelmed trying to cover nutrition, form, recording results, digging deeper to find reasons why, and satisfying everyone’s individual needs at the same time. I think as long as i “stay hungry” and keep striving for more that i will level off and grow to a the level of coach i know i can be.
    2. Coaching is my second job and not being able to devote 100% to coaching holds me back some. My own mind also holds me back. I tend to overthink everything and “stress” over all the little pieces trying to connect it all. I feel i have a lot to give but also a lot to learn.
    3. I am reading books you guys recommend and watching all the videos posted from barbell shrugged and other People/sites. Being able to travel to other gyms and coaches and professionals and watch them work with people would be amazing and is a goal i have for myself.
    This was a great video. Thank you guys for trying to help educate anyone who wants to learn and offering so many different views to everything you talk about. Keep it up!

  9. Kyle

    Hey guys awesome episode.

    I feel like your really on to some uncharted territory in coaching. At my college they had every one do temperament tests and understand each temperament this has aided in my effective communication and overall relationships.

    From what I gather given the examples in this video,
    Doug is the model choleric. Probably loves making lists, organized, very task oriented, highly competitive and goal oriented, is greatly bothered when someone is doing something he thinks he can do better etc

    Mike and Chris seem to be model sanguines
    People oriented, interest come and go quickly, very idea oriented, also very competitive, prone to struggle with follow through, more emotional ( not in a bad way) more in tune with the artistic side of life ( may stare at a piece of modern art in admiration while a choleric like Doug would see the same picture and think its nice but what is there to gain or learn from this painting)

    Basically I think it would be a hugely beneficial and progressive to have athletes take temperament tests in order to better understand how the perceive, respond, and process situations.
    I myself am a sanguine choleric. Sanguine is my primary and choleric. This self awareness gained by understanding this has hugely impacted my life and I would love to see this huge tool become prevalent. As an example to the different types I have left out commas and neglected certain grammatical and mechanical rules. Mike and Chris probably won’t really focus on this while reading this however to Doug each missed comma or improper punctuation will stick out like a sore thumb and be hard to ignore.

    I would recommend reading up on each temperament type mentioned here and seeing if it really fits like I guessed! Also my college has professionally constructed really
    accurate temperament tests I could mail or fax over that will give you your primary and secondary temperament type. Remember temperaments are not learned but instead are something your born with. This means of you struggle with answers on the test answer as if you were the child version of you, what would 6 year old me do etc.

    Hopefully this isn’t all stuff your already fluent with!

    Thanks and keep up the good work guys I dig it


  10. Steph

    Great episode, I’m new to the site, my coach is a big fan and always gives me great stuff from you guys so thanks!
    1. I’m extremely new to coaching so it’s difficult to pick out a “neglected” area yet. My biggest flaw is confidence in front of the people I’m coaching. I catch things that I can correct or help people get better at but most the times can’t find a way to explain it to them or lack the confidence that I know I know what I’m talking about.
    2. I think time and knowledge are both holding me back from addressing that flaw. Because I’m new I obviously need more time in front of people and classes. I also need to know my stuff inside and out so I’m comfortable relaying it to clients. My coach just gave me the idea of instead of just studying movements, write them down as if you I were explaining them to someone to make sure I can write it out and have a solid grasp of it. I like that advice and am going to start doing that daily.
    3. My resources would definitely be the classes at my box. I’m only going to build confidence by coaching more classes and finding teachable moments that are going to reassure me I’m doing this for a reason. Resources like this website and books that are partially read like the supple leopard that I need to devote some time to.
    Thanks for being solid resource for good information guys!

  11. Mark Ponce II

    Great episode! Very informative and applicable. I do however have a suggestion, maybe you guys can do an episode on training/coaching youth athletes (ie. 4-11 yrs). What fundamentals should they be learning in this age, the difference of coaching younger athletes compared to older ones, how fast or slow we should progress their training, and how to make their training more enjoyable/memorable so they can continue training even after their sport ends. I am a strength and conditioning coach for a travel baseball team (9u) and I see that this business is growing especially in travel team leagues where parents are willing to pay money for coaches like me. So there are a lot of coaches out there that can greatly benefit from an episode on coaching youth athletes, whether its by you guys or a guest speaker. Just an idea! Nonetheless, thanks for this episode I always learn a lot from you guys and Im glad Dr. Galpin made us watch your episodes, because now I watch them voluntarily.

  12. John Lapp

    Neglect: I think the why something I tend to leave out. Also really digging and helping them find their why and understanding what motivates them.

    Getting Better: I need to continue to educate myself on all aspects of fitness. I see myself faking the funk on certain topic. It sound good and my clients buy it but I know I ballpark some things off the top of my head. Thank you to Barbell Shrugged, I have converted this as my number#1 resource for online knowledge

    Resources: A resource that I have been using lately as I get ready to open my own gym, is my network of coaches. Having only 2 crossfit gyms in korea 3 years ago and now having 70. I have seen the growth and have met a lot of the coaches during this expansion. I will go and spend a few hours at other boxes helping out, volunteering my time and learning from other coaches. It’s a great way to expand the network, learn and help.

  13. Daniel Hallanger

    1. I have neglected the use of questioning around the reasons and goals for our members to be there. What is their motivation? Have them reflect for themselves and for me as a coach to understand, then build that rapport.
    2. There are two things holding me back. Practical: I need to be available more before my first class and after my last for allowing time to that informal chat with our members, as I see them little outside classes or events. Secondly, awareness and reflection upon that this is an important subject.
    3. Thanks to Barbell shrugged and Chris I have started to really dive into multiple of the books you guys have recommended lately. That is helping me understand how we humans work emotionally and what we want and what is important to us.

    4. Thanks for encouraging to share other ideas around coaching that is worth spreading. Would there be anything else I think should be mentioned – yes :)

    Coach what is good, not only correcting the bad
    SUPER important is to provide specific positive feedback to our members. Too often we can get into a state of mind to ONLY look for faults to correct. They also need to hear what they do well, and they will LOVE YOU for it. Or even those that are very proficient – tell them what you like about their lift and leave it at that if you can´t find any adjustments to make. They desire feedback too.
    You may choose to include it in a “shit sandwich” = good-bad-good. I like this method that you may want to try (if you are not doing it already): “good-what next?”. Ex. “I loved how you kept the bar close! Next rep see if you can… (constructive feedback)”

    Much love and respect to you coaches out there – keep striving for perfection and reach excellence.

    Thanks to the guys at Barbell shrugged for an inspiring podcast.

  14. Patrick Ekstrom

    Love the stuff keep it coming there is a lot of good info in these podcasts and you guys are fairly entertaining which makes listening a lot easier.
    1. Probably the biggest aspect of coaching that I neglect is having a large library of knowledge to draw form so to speak. More or less taking the time and energy and money to learn more so that I have more to draw from when running into the specific challenges of addressing an individuals needs. Good teaching/coaching is very dependent on speaking the particular language that the individual needs to grasp what is being taught. So often I find that what I am trying to convey, especially with teaching a new movement, is not working and I need to take another approach. However I find that I am at a loss for a different approach to go to sometimes.
    2. Time and money are certainly for me the most limiting factors. Right now everything I do is part time and on my own time. All the time my real job and different responsibilities in life infringe on taking more time to learn more. This can be very very frustrating. What it comes down to is making that transition into being more permanently dedicated to coaching and training.
    3. The hard part is getting a specific plan and agreeing on something with family on what would be the best way to achieving those goals. As of yet there isn’t a specific plan. For now gathering as much information as possible and taking the time, when available to implement the knowledge gained is the most immediate step forward.
    thanks again for the great material

  15. Patrick Ekstrom

    Back again just thought of this video. It is in fact all about classical music however some of the principles transfer really well into any type of teaching and even lifestyle. If anyone has the time it is very interesting and thought provoking. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r9LCwI5iErE

  16. John Greaves III

    1. I think that I neglect retention although I think I do a decent job of being understanding when someone can’t make it to training, I think I could do a better job of making programming more flexible so that my athletes have alternatives for when they can’t come to training.
    2. I need to get better at nutrition both in my own life and in giving advice to my athletes.

  17. Lisa

    1) one aspect of coaching I’ve neglected is pushing proper form, especially with the new members. I will give one or two things to correct, but if they don’t get it, I usually let it slide. I guess my thought is, eventually they will become proficient in these movements.
    2)I am new to coaching. I’ve been a coach for 2 1/2 years. Each day or class I coach, I improve. Partly, I’m getting over my stage fright to be a leader. Yes…it used to make me soooo nervous to get in front of a class and go over technique and proper form. I’ve remedied this by inviting a class participant to show the movement while I talk through it. I still get nervous though : )
    3) I would like to get my level 2 soon…but feel I need more experience?!?
    Please know…. I read, watch videos,a listen to podcast to get as much information as I can.
    Also, loved watching this video on coaching. You guys are awesome! Thank you for taking the time to put out great information. Greatly appreciated!!

  18. Forrest Sparks

    1. I haven’t been getting to the deep root of why my athletes truly want there goals (pealing the onion) and with that getting on there same level to understand what steps they best need to take to achieve that.

    2. Just not being aware that I am not doing first off. Secondly time is some what of a factor to try to get these things in in the small amount of time that I see them. But this is my time that I am running out of, not theres, Being a college student, coaching at one gym, running/managing a CrossFit organizations at my school, doing program design for 2 groups of athletes, working out on my own, and keeping up with school in life is tough. No tougher than any normal persons problems but I feel like I need to better organize my life and activities in an orderly fashion, to be able to thrive in all these things (programing my life)

    3. I am planning to find some shadowing opportunities for the summer (Possible Travis Mash if my buddy/mentor Conner Moore can help me out). Use the studying that I usually neglect for school and get the most out of it (approaching everything as student willing to learn from every situation). I can continue to add to my future reading list once college is out of the way, but while I am here making sure to learn as much as I can with the resources I have.

  19. MC Burpee

    It was hard to concentrate with that blonde in the background half the time! I did manage to get a few take aways though, good stuff as usual BS crew! Getting to the “why” and connecting on a deeper level will be more of a focus for me now. To answer the questions: 1) I am neglecting actively listening to my athletes. I am quick to let my “I know” voice take over, either inside my own head or even worse blurting it out loud, and short circuiting the conversation when an athlete comes to me wanting instruction. I have accumulated a lot of knowledge and do know at least something about almost every question/issue that comes to me but need to take more time to listen. 2) What is typically holding me back is being more present in the moment instead of thinking I need to rush through my next task or conversation so I can move on to my next item on the never ending to do list. When in actuality I want to be grateful for my to do list consisting of coaching athletes and living my mission in life instead of dreading each work day in an office as I had in a past life. Also holding me back is a voice in my head that at times tells me “I don’t know enough about lifting/CrossFit/fitness to be coaching it”. In actuality I’ve been coaching for 2 years now, have always worked out on my own before then (have more experiental knowledge than most), have my L1, spend countless time researching how to be a better coach online and reading. I am a helluva good coach, I hear it all the time from my athletes, I just need to do a better job of convincing myself sometimes. 3) I am hoping by learning more about lifting in the Flight program it will increase my confidence to really dive into teaching my athletes the Olympic lifts. I am the kind of person that has to know how to do things well myself before I want to teach it to others. The old “practice what I preach” For that reason I do not program the snatch or clean and jerk very frequently because I don’t want people developing bad habits from my piss poor form. All that said, I have attending some workshops on the lifts and I do have useful information on the basics. Enough to teach athletes the basics and safe form. Just not confident or done them long enough myself to be able to answer all questions athletes may have as I’m teaching them these lifts. Is that a long enough answer for y’all?!!! Burpees and belly laughs to you. Go Seahawks!

  20. Irishcrossfitchick

    Thank you guys for touching on this subject. I feel as though coaching is not only a big part of what can make or break your experience in crossfit and Olympic weight lifting. I have met more coaches in the San Francisco bay area who should not be coaching because they do not have the right mindset to coach the lower. I am currently working to restart my crossfit experience after long term injuries, but I find that most of the coaches in my area are ignorant on how to properly train the beginners as well as people with mobility limitations. I have been injured more times in various boxes only to have a coach tell me to “suck it up” through the pain and the injury. I hope as time goes on more coaches will educate themselves on how to train the beginners. Keep doing what you do guys. I am a loyal fan and I have learned alot.


  21. Shelby Marsh

    1. I have been neglecting on checking up on people that i give homework. Giving the athletes homework to be doing outside of the gym to help with there performance inside the gym. Now i need to work on checking up with them and make sure they are keeping up with it, re-test them, and then give them more challenging homework to keep them improving.
    2. My confidence in myself. I have struggled with this more this past year than i ever had in my life. Starting this new job with Iron Tribe Fitness, moving 14 hours from home, and working with two people i have never met before can be challenging. I am my own worst enemy when it comes to my coaching, i strive to be the best. If i mess up i beat myself up about why i let that happen. Just really letting things go and believing in myself is something i am really working on this year
    3. This is a huge reason why i listen, follow, and read everything you put out. I can never get enough of learning about the body and not only bettering myself but my athletes as well. I am trying to read a book a month, which is very good for me to achieve. I also am trying to go to more seminars this year one in particular fitexpo in NOLA that was supposed to be in march but got moved to october :(
    I am currently reading ready to run, listening to barbell shrugged, ben greenfield , and rob wolf podcast; and talking to other coaches to see what they would do.

  22. Chris

    1. I think the aspect of coaching that I could definitely do better with is meeting a person where they are at. I think I get caught up in the information that I am learning and relaying that, that I forget the information I am talking about doesn’t resonate with that person, yet. I need to speak to them in the language they know and understand and the longer they are involved with fitness, then they will understand the higher order stuff.
    2. I think the biggest thing that is getting in my way of being a better coach is myself and my own insecurities, especially in regards to programming. I always get nervous about programming the wrong things or making a mistake in my programming that leads to an injury or stunted gains. I know you guys are busy, but if you could offer any advice to get over that I would really appreciate it.
    3. As far as upping my game, I am currently taking the program design course through OPEX. I plan on finishing their level 1 CCP course with their business design, life coaching, and nutrition courses. I also plan on taking the advice from your barbell business podcast to find a niche I really like and getting further certification in that area.
    Thanks for all you do guys. It really helps to advance my knowledge on strength and conditioning.

  23. Julie

    Lots of good comments about peeling the onion and helping to find the “why.” I’m a CPR coach at some of the local doctors’ offices and maybe I can encourage them using some of your ideas.
    Accountability was one of your topics. The woman who was convinced to finish her practice caught my attention. I think if my trainer wandered from my side to talk with someone else, then I would want to call it a day too. The trainer is accountable to the client, and should not be socializing during my paid time. I’ve noticed my trainer stays with me at the gym, correcting positions and counting reps. I’m a swimmer and the gym is new and confusing.
    I’ve only just been introduced to the podcast by my chiropractor, and I am catching up listening to past shows. It’s great.

  24. Jason Chin

    1. Pealing the onion is defiantly something I lake in. Its something I knew about but I wasn’t great at it so I gave up on it, but give the great examples of how to implement it i’ll defiantly pick up my game.

    2. I don’t have a great deal of guidance and I’m not quite sure about what it is that I should be working on.

    3. As far as the coaching subject goes you guys help a lot as well as watching what other coaches do and recommend in your other shows. I do read books but they don’t relate a lot of the time to or industry. i think it will be a good idea to hang out with some good S&C coaches pick up on what they do well.

  25. Jared

    1. Assessment and empathy
    2. Too worried about what people think (how ironic)
    3. Books (reading a ton lately), barbellshrugged podcast, headed to Tony Robbins in November.


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