If you’ve had the opportunity to drop into more than one CrossFit gym, you are aware that they are not created equal. There are many factors that attribute to this, but the biggest one is the quality of coaches. It’s what makes or breaks a gym. Not the fancy equipment, not the cool logo, and not even the programming. It’s the coaching that keeps people in the gym!
When looking up the definition of coach, I noticed a few interesting synonyms. Teacher, mentor, and guru were the ones that stood out the most. CrossFit uses the word coach intentionally. A great CrossFit coach is more than just someone who rolls out the equipment and explains the workout of the day.
If you are a CrossFit coach, these are some things you should be striving for every day when you teach a class. If you are a prospective member looking to join a gym, these are the things you should be looking for in your coaches. Here are my top 5 qualities of a great CrossFit coach.
Sure it’s important (and a prerequisite) to know the basics of CrossFit. No coach can pass the Level 1 Certification course without knowing the 9 Foundational Movements of CrossFit. But do they really understand fitness, nutrition, and movement? A great coach has a deep knowledge of human movement, different exercises, and what each workout is intended to achieve.
A coach needs to understand how your body is supposed to move (and that every body moves slightly different). Your coach needs to have a broad understanding of exercises. This is especially true for making substitutions and modifications for when an athlete cannot perform a certain movement. The coach needs to have a deep understanding of what each workout is trying to accomplish. This will help tremendously when the coach gives advice, makes modifications, and primes your body for the workout to come.
Finally, a great CrossFit coach needs to understand the benefit and value of “non CrossFit” related exercise. They need to understand that bodybuilding, power lifting, yoga, pilates, Orange Theory, Barry’s Bootcamp, and all other forms of fitness have value. Not only is this the mature thing to admit, it also allows you to think about how those fitness programs can help your CrossFit program.
By understand other programs, it allows you to be a more complete fitness expert. When someone asks you why we don’t do X, Y, Z in CrossFit, you’re more prepared to give them a thorough, thoughtful, and accurate answer. This also allows you to think about CrossFit’s limitations as a fitness program, which will again help you better address an athlete’s questions.
Does your coach want to be there? I mean, truly truly want to be there? Do they really want to help you? Or are they just there so they can workout right after they coach?
Passion is arguably more important than knowledge on the heirarchy of what makes a great coach. I have heard this over and over again from members’ reviews of coaches. One common response is, “Yea, he/she knew their stuff but they seemed like they weren’t excited to be there.” On the flip end, I’ve heard people say, “They aren’t all that great of a coach, but I love their enthusiasm!”.
I’m not saying we need to be jumping up and down all class like an NFL cheerleader. What I am saying is that if your coach has passion for helping you, that passion will show in one way or another. It won’t always look the same, but you will know that they want to be there and they want to help you. A great CrossFit coach has a passion for fitness, helping people, and CrossFit as a sport/exercise program.
Your CrossFit coach is there to help you. For that one hour of the day, their needs come second. They are not there to workout themselves, they are not there to socialize, they are not there for a free membership. They are there to help you get to where you want to be. Your coach needs to have your best interest in mind.
This means knowing when to pull you back. One of the most selfless things a coach can do is to tell an athlete to dial it back. Why? Because ALL coaches want their athletes to be at the top of the leaderboard. To brag to the other coaches and say, “I got Johnny his first Muscle Up today!”
We coaches believe that everyone is capable of more. To PR their lifts. To go harder and faster than before. It’s easy to encourage everyone to go 110%.
But it takes a selfless leader to know when someone is about to get hurt going for that big deadlift PR. To know that their safety is more important than bragging rights. It takes selflessness to say, “It looks like you’ve had a long day, maybe today is when you dial it back and just go 50%”. If you ever hear your coach say something like this, they have your best interest at heart. And that, is selfless.
Empathy is often overlooked, and is not to be confused with sympathy. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Is your coach able to understand where you’re coming from? Are they able to put themself in your shoes? Are they able to get out of their own head and understand what you need?
This is HUGE for the person who is getting back in shape, needs modifications, and doesn’t necessarily have the competitive drive that we see in a lot of CrossFit gyms. Your coach needs to be able to place themselves where you are and understand where you’re coming from. This is necessary in order to help you get to where you want to be.
Just because things work for your coach, who is an advanced level athlete, doesn’t mean it will work for you. Your coach needs to understand that things don’t always come naturally for most people like they may for him or her. Empathy is what it takes to understand you.
How many times have you heard your coach repeat the same thing over and over and over again? And that’s just within the 1 hour you were there! That requires patience. Waiting for people as they show up late, take a mid warm up bathroom break, or are conversing off to the side while the coach is trying to say something. That requires patience!
Patience comes in many forms. Primarily in the form of answering the same questions from members multiple times within a 1 hour class. Your coach needs to answer that question as if it is the first time, every time.
The other way patience shows is when working with the same athlete for multiple months and years. This is especially true when it comes to coaching a particular movement that the athlete is struggling with. Does the coach think of new, creative ways to get them over the hump? Or do they get frustrated and keep giving the same instruction? Do they remain patient? Or do they lose interest in coaching that athlete and move on to the newest member?
If a coach doesn’t have patience, they’ll never be a great coach.
As you might have noticed, all of these qualities intertwine with each other. It’s a difficult gig being a great CrossFit coach. Athletes, when you see a great one, you’ll know it. And when you do, let them know it and never let them go! Gym owners, this goes for you as well!
If you are a coach, ask yourself if you have been displaying these qualities in your role. If the answer is yes, continue to hold yourself accountable every day to meet these expectations. If the answer is no, strive to attain these qualities.
Coaches, lets all strive to be at the top of the coaching food chain!
About the Author
My name is Danny Burde and I am a Level 2 CrossFit Coach with 25 years in the fitness industry. From 2018 – 2020, I was the head coach at one of the world’s premier CrossFit gyms, NC Fit in Redwood City (California), where I trained the trainers. During this time I prided myself in mentoring, guiding, and teaching other coaches on how to be the best they can be.
If you are a coach and want any information on what I’ve learned throughout my time as a functional fitness specialist, do not hesitate to reach out. I’d love to hear from you!
If you are an athlete, gym goer, or someone new to fitness and want to work with me remotely, check out my services!
Check out my fitness programs HERE!
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