Forget the Athletes...I Want to Coach Everyday Joe's

For the first time in over a year, my wife and I have snuck out of town (and the country) for a little bit of R&R. With this in mind, I've arranged for my friend and colleague, Frank Duffy, to prepare a guest post for this week. To date, Frank is one of only a handful of CSP intern alums who have ever said to me that their preference would be to coach our general fitness population clients over the athlete crowd, so I've asked him to explain why in this piece. Enjoy!

Baseball has been a part of my life since I was old enough to wear a glove. While I didn’t play at any level further than college, I consider myself extremely lucky to be an employee of Cressey Sports Performance, where I get to coach ballplayers at all levels on a daily basis. It’s not every day that you can walk into a gym where you have a high school varsity pitcher setting up in the squat rack to the right of a former Cy Young Award winner. I’m in at atmosphere that makes me feel like I’m back in a clubhouse, but it’s not my favorite part of the job.

It’s important to keep in mind that the athletes we train are usually not between our four walls while they’re in-season. Athletes will come and go based on the time of year. I find it easier to build relationships with general population clients that don’t temporarily leave our community because their sport of choice is in-season.

When I’m not on the floor during the afternoon shifts at CSP, I serve as CSP’s Strength Camp Coordinator. I train folks from all walks of life beginning as early as 5:30 three mornings per week. Our client roster features teachers, hair stylists, accountants, and even a handful of firefighters. You name it, there’s probably an individual from our program with that occupation.

You’re probably asking yourself, “what exactly makes this so great?”

Behind each individual that I work with in the Strength Camp program comes a unique story. Different personalities with various interests align under one roof as a cohesive unit to accomplish one thing: leave the gym better than they did prior to arriving. Some of our clients have made training a main staple in their life, while others have never picked up a dumbbell before stepping through our doors. My job is to create a common ground between these two individuals by developing confidence and camaraderie shared amongst all involved.

One of my mentors and good friend, Todd Bumgardner, has hammered home the importance of three simple words from humanistic psychologist, Carl Rodgers:

“Unconditional positive regard”

These three words have changed the way I train my clients, regardless of their background. With a general population client, our job is primarily to cultivate motivation in order to create consistency. A genuine, encouraging, fun and safe training environment has always been a sure-fire way to develop motivation amongst the majority of your clients. With athletes, your approach is quite different.

As Pete has said in the past, your clients don't need to play sports professionally to qualify as inspirational. The athletes that step onto your training floor are intrinsically motivated. They don’t need you to get them fired up for training. Why? For starters, professional athletes depend on strength and durability to earn a living. Additionally, your collegiate and high school athletes who take their goals seriously will walk into the gym with their programs and give 110% effort every single day. Sorry, but you telling them how great they’re doing rarely has much of an effect on their work ethic.

Athletes are driven by results. The main focus with your athletic population is to help develop certain attributes that will give them the slight edge on the field. Outside of the summer vacation and the occasional wedding, what real deadlines do you come across with your general population? I can't think of any. This gives us more time to focus on building rapport with our clients, and gaining their trust by showing them they can execute certain exercises pain-free. Rapport equals retention, which is imperative if you want to keep your lights on.

It’s much easier to connect with your soccer moms and desk jockeys that need your guidance, versus the athletes you train that have a desired end goal. When dealing with athletes, if they see results on the field, they’ll keep coming back to you for their off-seasons. A general population client is much easier to lose to a local competitor. Accountants aren’t concerned with gaining 5 miles per hour on their fastball. Instead, they want to train in an environment they feel welcome in. If you over-deliver to your 9-to-5ers by attentively coaching their training, reaching out to them on off days, and devising a plan to help them reach their goals, you’re greatly helping your chances to keep that individual around.

I absolutely love training our athletes here at CSP. It’s incredible to see some of the feats these guys are able to accomplish just by slapping some iron plates on a bar. However, you need to remember that the majority of minor leaguers live well below the poverty line. With this in mind, they are rarely an ideal target market for your gym if you plan on covering payroll and other business expenses. The presence of professional athletes can definitely help you attract younger athletes, but at the end of the day, your recurring general population clientele is what’s going to keep you happy and in business.

About the author:

Frank Duffy is the Strength Camp Coordinator at Cressey Sports Performance - MA. He’s a New Yorker who proudly (and dangerously) publicizes his allegiance to the NY Giants on a daily basis while coaching a steady stream of Patriots fans. Frank publishes fitness content on his personal website,