Our modern definition of “Coach” comes from Oxford University, around 1830. The word had previously been used to describe a passenger vehicle on a train, but Oxford’s slang definition referred to a tutor who“carries” a student through an exam.
An instructor tells his class the answers. A Coach carries them through the exam.
An entry-level coach should know her cues, her faults and her standards. But a professional coach is more: a professional is a leader.
If we placed fitness coaches on Elliot Jaques’ model of competence, the hierarchy would look like this:
Level 1: Group fitness instructor. “Here’s the playlist, here’s the sequence of movements.” No variance, no individualized attention.
Level 2: Functional movement group instructor. “We’re squatting today. I teach the squat with these cues. If someone can’t follow these cues, then I use this cue instead.”
Level 3: Trainer. “Jim can’t squat properly today, but he usually can. What’s different? He seems to be falling forward at the bottom, indicating his glutes might not be firing. I’ll ask if he’s been sitting more than he normally does.”
Level 4: Coach. “Jim, I’ve seen you do a better squat, and I know you’re not one to slack on your potential. What’s going on in your life?”
Jim: “I’ve been sitting more than normal. Work is crazy right now.”
Coach: “Well, let’s focus on giving your brain a rest. Follow my lead, don’t worry about the clock, and just squat as low as this box. Your goal today is to just keep moving.”
Level 5: Head Coach. Develops Level 4 Coaches in her own image. If this were a real model, Pat Barber would be a fantastic example of a Level 5 Coach (so would most of the L1 Staff.)
If you agree with my logic and stratification here, you might also like “The 5 Levels of Leadership” by John Maxwell. Because in the higher levels–ta-da!–we’re not really developing fitness instructors anymore, are we? We’re really developing leaders.
Not every gym needs 5 leaders. If you’re working with several part-time coaches who trade for membership, you might prefer people who fit at Level 2. They show up on time, do things exactly the way they’re told, and then go home right away. Don’t expect them to do anything else, but rest easy knowing the lights are on.
Not every coach WANTS to be a Level 5, either. Especially if this is a part-time job, there’s really no incentive to do more than the minimum. But even “career” coaches aren’t always happy being entrepreneurial. They don’t want to sell memberships, call members, or empty the garbage: they want to COACH. I don’t blame them. That’s why we specialize our staff: to place the best person at each role instead of trying to spread all roles across all staff.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll post characteristics of each Coach level: how to motivate them, how to keep them around, and how to move them up!