As I’m sure anyone reading this will know, Im a big fan of consituining education in the world of heath and fitness. I often say in workshops that completing your mandatory training and ‘getting your wings’ is really where your learning journey starts, not where it finishes and have myself travelled far and wide to further my technical knowledge – having studied in Russia, Japan and the US.
However….. (and there’s always a however!)
I would confidently say that the most important skill in the success of and personal trainer or S&C coach is not a one that you’ll find in an anatomy book. As much as having sound technical skills and a detailed knowledge of functional anatomy will set you head and shoulders above the norm. What really makes an outstanding coach is the ability to empathise with your client.
The term “empathy” is used to describe a wide range of experiences. Emotion researchers generally define empathy as the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling. In the worlds of sport, health and fitness this is of paramount importance – as we’re asking others to do things with and to their bodies that only they really and truly can feel.
We can be experts of planning, periodisation, and prescription, but that is only one part of the overall picture.
My good friend and collaborator in the Strategic Strength workshop series, Tony Gentilcore stated that in answer to the ‘whats the best program for…’ question, his stock answer is 3 x 52. In other words anything that your client or athlete will consistently do 3 times a week, all year round, will get you results. Whereas of course there are poor programs, good programs, and great programs – just the same as there are poor, good and great coaches. But the point I believe Tony was trying to make here is that consistently working hard at a good program will yield better results than sporadically approaching a great program. So our challenge really is to build consistency and adherence, as much as it is to build the perfect program.
To achieve consistency and adherence with our clients requires buy in, that elusive and magical element that means you’re working as a team together with your client or athlete, not simply handing out instructions or waving a research paper at them. Your client needs to know that you understand their goals, their motivations and their needs. That you understand that their session in the gym is just one part of their overall sports program or lifestyle. That you appreciate that factors beyond your control influence not only their physical performance, but also their emotional wellbeing.
Empathy with your clients is, in my opinion, the number one determining factor in improving buy in, and increasing adherence to a program. If you combine that with a program that considers all of the physical individualities of the client – and their specific movement goals – then you’re on to a winner.
Becoming a successful coach requires not just being an expert assessor and programmer, but also an expert listener.