5 Qualities of a Great Coach

5 Qualities of a Great Coach

5 Qualities of a Great Coach and How You Can Build Them

I have always believed the best fitness coaches are the ones who:

  1. Charge the most money
  2. Have the most clients

That sounds super simplified, but think of it this way: You have a four-year academic degree in exercise physiology and you know your stuff about how the body works and how to get people fit, but if nobody is hiring you and paying for your coaching, are you really a great coach?

The reality is, it’s the client who decides what they value most in their coach and how much they’re willing to pay for the service. Higher value = more willingness to pay.

So let’s reverse engineer this for a moment and consider what the client wants and needs. The client needs:

To get fit and healthy and happy and stay fit and healthy and happy

Sounds straightforward enough, but if you’re a coach you know it’s harder than it sounds. Human beings are like snowflakes, and what each of us needs to get fit and stay fit—from the training program to the emotional support—is vastly different.

What the OPEX Coaching Certificate Program (CCP) seeks to do is develop versatile coaches who basically can do it all: Who can take on any client, meet them where they’re at, and help them get fit and stay fit. And generally speaking, for most people, this goes well beyond just knowing how to prescribe an effective training program (although that’s important too, and it brings me to the first quality a great coach must have).

5. Technical knowledge

From being able to properly screen and assess a client’s movement, to understanding how to correct movement, to knowing how to build an effective training program, a great coach has an underlying knowledge of all of the above.

Craig Massey, the owner of OPEX Manchester, said this was the first thing he got out of listening to James FitzGerald speak back in 2013.

“I spent three days sitting there listening to James talk about program design and it was pretty mind-blowing. That was absolutely the turning point for me,” said the 38-year-old Massey. 

Undoubtedly program design is important, and what OPEX CCP coaches say is that going through CCP provides them with actual structure around assessing and building programs in a systematic way they never had before.

Bobby Scott, the owner of OPEX South Shore in Pembroke Massachusetts, said this:

“(CCP) pretty much gave me guidelines and a process to follow—exact assessments to work with and how to create a program based on that assessment. It structured things for me a lot better, whereas most personal trainers are just kind of winging it. This was a much more systematic approach.”

4. Confidence to talk about nutrition

Many fitness coaches are hesitant to even broach the subject of nutrition with their clients. They’re scared to offend them, or scared to give bad advice, because they don’t have a four-year degree in nutrition. 

Here’s the thing, though: Even the most expertly qualified nutritionists and dieticians seem to disagree more than they agree, so the nutrition industry is incredibly polarized and pedantic.

I truly believe the best coaches are less interested in arguing about what the one and only best way to eat is, and more interested in working with the individual client by considering their unique needs and goals, ultimately to help them make positive changes that work for them.

The science of nutrition is constantly changing, and CCP coaches say they learned through their OPEX education that nutrition isn’t black and white, which helps them help their clients (sometimes through trial and error as opposed to blanket prescriptions) to see huge nutritional and body composition gains. 

Like many coaches, Nicole Zapoli was hesitant to talk to her clients about their nutrition. Then she did CCP and her view changed. 

“It just really simplified it for me. Implementing new habits doesn’t happen overnight, and it just comes down to making small changes, like making sure you’re getting enough water. It doesn’t have to be obsessive like making sure your macros are totally dialed in,” she said.

As a result, Zapoli’s clients today are receiving effective guidance when it comes to both their training program and their nutrition.

3. Ability to look beyond the movements 

While we think about fitness as being all about what we do in the gym, the best coaches recognize the gym for most people takes up one to two of the 24 hours available each day—meaning fitness doesn’t happen in the vacuum we know as the gym. 

This is the concept behind learning to get to know the other important areas of your clients’ lives—their nutrition habits, their sleep habits, their stress, their career, their personal lives—as all of these things will impact what type of training should happen in the gym. More importantly, discovering these things gives clients the opportunity to improve all of the areas of their lives associated with health and fitness. 

CCP coaches go through consultation modules in their education so they have the tools to do just this.

Firass El Fateh, the owner of OPEX Abbotsford in British Columbia, said learning how to connect with clients on a deeper level through consultations was a game changer for him as a coach.

“The consultations with clients also really resonated with me, and so did spending the time to find out their why. That was a big one for me that I had never really thought about before—actually finding out why people want to exercise, and then helping them create consistency and alignment around their why,” he said.

CCP coach Andy Ewington added this:

“When you see someone get a personal best on a lift, that’s great, but when you see someone have an ‘aha’ moment, when something clicks with their lifestyle, I think it’s where you can make a bigger difference in their lives.”

2. Be humble and less black and white

Like nutrition, many strength and fitness coaches are more interested in being right about best practices on any given fitness topic than they are in helping provide their clients with the best service possible.

Every single CCP coach, however, seems to say the exact same thing about OPEX founder James Fitzgerald: He isn’t black and white, doesn’t pretend to know everything, and takes an it depends approach to health and fitness. 

Michael Pilhofer put it this way:

“I loved that James (FitzGerald) is a man without black and white, concrete answers because it’s all contextual. It’s about investigating the person or the situation or the context. Everyone always wants one plus one and here’s your answer type of solutions. But there are no answers like that when it comes to someone’s health. It’s frustrating, but I loved it and ate it up.”

1. Constantly learning

Although we just said a great coach doesn’t pretend to have all the answers, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t always be educating themselves to discover new answers and new ways.

Being part of the OPEX network means you’re connected to a group of gym owners and CCP coaches who are constantly educating themselves in formal and more informal ways. Many CCP coaches say this is the biggest thing they get out of being connected to the OPEX network: constant education.

This is certainly the case for CCP coach Henry Torano.

“I think the number one thing that I think separates Big Dawgs is how much we meet. I’m on three different calls a week with other Big Dawg coaches and OPEX-licensed gym owners. We’ll do brainstorming calls and case study calls. It’s always forcing me to be better,” he said.

Torano added: “And I’m continuously reading and listening to podcasts and reading studies and learning from other coaches. I think the biggest thing I get from OPEX is that I will never stop being a student.”

Continuous education is the differentiator between professional coaches and just average instructors. However, this division is optional. Join our leagues of professional coaches and get a free introduction to our coaching methodologies by signing up for The Free Coach’s Toolkit.

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