Personal Training

Ultimate Guide to Coaching and Leadership in Your CrossFit Gym

Leadership is more than just being an owner or manager: it’s what separate the mediocre from the excellent, and this is how you lead like a winner.

James Plata
June 14, 2022
Ultimate Guide to Coaching and Leadership in Your CrossFit Gym
Leadership is more than just being an owner or manager: it’s what separate the mediocre from the excellent, and this is how you lead like a winner.

Leadership means directing your staff, coaches, and even independent contractors in a way that inspires. Micro-managing and bossing people around is a surefire way to get disgruntled employees, frustrated coaches, and an overall lack of culture and excellence in your gym.

Leadership and coaching is important. You want to lead your team and athletes to success and help them hit their goals, and this can only be done if you lead with purpose. In this post, we’re going to talk about excellence, creating and executing a framework for your coach development, and everything about leadership.

Importance of Excellence

CrossFit is admired by many and sought after as one of the fastest-growing fitness affiliate programs that exist today. This brings a commitment to the importance of excellence, which comes out first and foremost through coaching and leadership.

When you lead with excellence, you provide opportunities for other people, think of others first, and put your own needs at the end of the line. Your goal is to deliver a valuable, excellent product with the help of your staff and coaches.

With coaching, excellence is defined by results, demeanor, and discipline. Coaches should be kind and courteous to clientele while dually ensuring that they meet their goals, hit milestones, and live up to the excellence that exists in each and every one of them.

But what makes a great coach? It’s about administering change. A change of habits, a change in personal reflection. Your coaches are at the helm of your clients’ goals. The reason that coaching is so important to CrossFit is because people sign up for results, not for work.

They want someone else to tell them how to train so they can get to the body, energy level, or fitness level that they want as fast as possible. That means your coaches have to know how to get them there, and how to be excellent the entire way.

Great coaching is measurable. It has metrics, results, and a process that can be refined and sharpened over time. It may take a little while to get your coaching program on its feet, but when you do, you’ll fundamentally change the way that everything in your gym works for your clients.

Scope Practice

The scope of practice is where you wish to focus your efforts to achieve better results. It’s the field of view that you look through to find goals on the horizon, and strive towards them. This comes down to the trainers and what they provide to your clients. Your CrossFit trainer should strive to:

  • Design the scope of your CrossFit workouts for solo one-on-one classes as well as groups. These should range in difficulty and have at least one simple option, and one advanced option, though it can be helpful to have an option for people who are somewhere in between.
  • Reasonably understand their limitations. No trainer is perfect, and your trainer will have things that he or she can’t do. They have limited experience and knowledge, and if they can’t work around that, they’ll get an ego. If their skill set doesn’t match the client's needs, they have to be confident in their profession to the point that they can refer the client to someone else who can help.
  • Monitor how effective exercise programs are, where they’re working, and what difficulties they face as a result. This is a perfect point to begin expanding on exercise programs to include information about nutritional requirements, lifestyle patterns, diet, and how they all impact client training. If they assess and monitor how effective their workouts are, they can improve over time and gain the reputation for your gym that you need.
  • Train dynamic movements and educate clients on how they can take exercise and physical fitness into their own hands, whether or not they’re at the gym. Your clients should feel like they’re getting so much value that they’re afraid to miss out on more.
  • Minimize risks to your gym by ensuring exercises aren’t too over-the-top or difficult for users to do. If they’re pulling a bunch of crazy movements and running a risk of injury, it’s not a good environment. Your trainers should be actively trying to make the safest situation possible for your clients.
  • Educate your athletes to move forward and jump beyond their limitations. They should feel perfectly comfortable going beyond their means in small, gradual movements that help them push the envelope without endangering themselves. Your coaches are a source of inspiration for your clients, and it needs to be reflected in the way they break down their own barriers.
  • Maintain ethical, professional service while holding integrity above all else. Adhering to policies is a good start, and making everyone feel welcome at every single class, no matter what, is a good place to continue.
  • Prepare for emergency situations. Training can get messy from time to time, so they should be able to respond to issues that could break out in the class environment, and be prepared to help people when they need it. If they don’t have format training and certification, it would be important as the business owner to set them up for that.

Framework for Coach Development

CrossFit has a framework that they want you to use to develop your coaches, how they behave, and how they interact with clients. Obviously, the choice is up to you, but the Certified CrossFit Trainer examination outlines the best practice to continue the success that CrossFit has enjoyed for years now.

  • Screening and Assessment: Screen your coaches, assess their skills, and make sure they’re equipped for the job. There’s a lot of “Fake it ‘til you make it” applicants out there that don’t really know how to do their job. Make sure your trainer-to-be isn’t one of them.
  • Programming: Get them on the right program. How are your classes scheduled? What’s the structure? What’s expected of them as coaches? Let them know and don’t hold anything back.
  • Coaching: Now comes the actual coaching aspect. Can they coach people well, or are they just good at being physically fit? Leading and knowing how to do something are two totally different realms. A good trainer can combine the two and make the best out of any situation that they find themselves in while being a good leader.
  • Nutrition and Lifestyle: They’re expected to be knowledgeable about the other aspects of personal fitness and personal health as well. It’s said that around 80% of all weight is lost in the kitchen, and that’s true. CrossFit can accelerate fate burning and help build muscle, but the fat isn’t going to just magically shift because you attend two classes. This helps your coaches to set reasonable expectations for the clients that come into your gym as well, so that you can make sure they know exactly what they’re getting when they come to your gym every single time.
  • Class Management and Professional Responsibilities: They have responsibilities to you, the employer and the gym owner, and to the class. However, managing a class and being a good instructor can have fault lines. Trainers need to know how to respond to emergency situations, how to deal with potentially unruly clients, and maintain integrity and composure while trying to make sure that the class doesn’t fall apart.

Suggested Development Pathway for the CrossFit Trainer

There are six steps that CrossFit wants you to take when you look at and consider when you’re staffing your gym with CrossFit trainers. This is what your trainers need to know:

1. Teaching

If they can’t instruct individual movements and make sure that your clients are actually making strides in classes, then they’re not very good at teaching. Your instructors should understand how proper movements work to make sure people don’t get injured during exercise, and keep a class engaged.

2. Seeing

They have to observe how the entire class is moving, at all times. If they’re not doing their movements right, it needs to be addressed as soon as possible, in a kind and friendly way. Ultimately, their goal is to make sure that you clients can leave with better form, and a more structured, effective exercise in the books. There should be improvements over their last visit.

3. Correcting

Your coaches should be able to identify when mechanics are wrong, and fix them. They should be able to track each class and notice changes and improvements, that way they can also praise when necessary and help lift clients up.

4. Group Management

Group management means seeing and correcting while teaching. Your coaches can’t stop the entire class to help one client with their movements; they have to be able to help them while still keeping the pace and teaching the entire class. This level of multitasking can be difficult, but it’s doable.

5. Presence and Attitude

Exercise and class structures are both positive environments, and provide positive experiences. Nobody should leave a gym and feel worse than when they entered it, and your coaches can (and often do) directly affect a client’s emotions during and after their time at the gym.

6. Demonstration

Beyond instructing athletes how to perform movements during CrossFit classes, the instructor also has to be able to lead by example. That means performing the moves themselves and showing how it’s supposed to be done.

So what does all of this have to do with the development process? Now that we know what we want out of our trainers, we can train them effectively.

They have a path to follow.

Start with the question phase. Why do they want to be a trainer? Do their career goals fit the needs of your CrossFit affiliate gym, or are they best spent elsewhere?

Next, if they’re interested, have them practice the CrossFit methodology. They need to do this for some considerable amount of time before they can really be an asset to your gym. Ideally, CrossFit wants to six up to six months of this type of training.

There’s also the CrossFit training guide (level 1) that they can read to get a better understanding of what clients will expect in CrossFit classes, and how to drive goals throughout the entire class.

Last but not least, in their path, they also need to practice engaging with CrossFit nutrition and lifestyle recommendations. Nutrition is the backbone of fitness, and without this knowledge, they’re not going to be very effective trainers.

Trainers can also continue their advancement by taking the lesson planning course and programming course offered by CrossFit. This will help them develop the necessary skill set to hit their goals (and your goals).

Considerations When Hiring a New Coach

Your coaches will have more interaction with your clientele than you will, most of the time. You’ll be focusing on driving the business to higher heights, selling services, increasing revenue, or finally taking some time off when you can. Your coaches are dealing with your customers on the micro level.

Search for coaches that provide value to your clients by determining:

  • Shared values with your mission statement and goals for your gym
  • Ambitions similar to those of your clients (personal development, helping others)
  • Goals of employment and length of time
  • CrossFit background or fitness background

Your coaches are the face of your business. Train them like they could run the place for a month without you there (you know, the coaching parts at least).

You’re a Leader, Not a Boss

Employees and coaches want to be led, so be the one to direct them without micromanaging them. Be the leader that your CrossFit affiliate gym needs to succeed before you worry about anything else. Good leadership is often rewarded in indirect ways, such as great word-of-mouth marketing (the most powerful type of marketing that exists), a better business reputation, and more overall profits.

James Plata

James Plata is the CX Operations Manager at PushPress, a fitness-nut and hoarder of all gadgets. He brings 10+ years of experience in startup tech and fitness to help gym owners rebel against useless and overpriced software.

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