Mastering the Basics MUST Precede Embracing a Specific Methodology

A note from Pete - This guest post from my colleague John O’Neil (CSP Massachusetts Director of Performance) is the result of a casual conversation that recently took place in my office as we were discussing the habits of intern applicants. I mentioned my frustration in up and coming fitness professionals becoming attached to singular training methodologies as they worked to find a voice within the industry.

The need to be known as “The (insert 3-letter acronym here) Guy” has become increasingly common, and I’m not sure it is sustainable. Customers quickly outgrow methodologies and effortlessly move on to the next big thing, leaving “niched” fitness pros in their wake.

John agreed, and asked to elaborate in a written format. Heres his informed opinion:

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While it is important to have a niche as a business, young coaches can often misconstrue this message.  

If you’re a self-employed coach or gym owner, you need a sect of people to market towards, but you don’t need to limit your education to a small segment of the industry.  Our industry continues to be more polarizing and continues to move away from the goals that people come in for in the first place. I aim to make this article a valuable lesson for young coaches.

I haven’t been in the industry forever, but I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked with some great minds – Eric Cressey, Mike Ranfone, Todd Bumgardner, Charlie Weingroff, Connor Ryan – to name a few that you may have heard of, in addition to countless others that you probably haven’t. Many of you will associate these five names with specific commercial models – within the five, there’s a guy associated with the FMS, FRC, and PRI. While I learned aspects of these models during my time with these mentors, I consistently saw each of them be great at what they do independent of the acronym they’re associated with. Each of them has an incredible amount of training knowledge that can’t be taught at a weekend course, and in my opinion, their ability to integrate niche concepts into an all-around system is what makes them great.    

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In my current role as Director of Performance at CSP, I’ve had the opportunity to guide the education for over 30 interns in the past two years, and that’s not including the countless other young coaches that have reached out to me for advice because of the brand name that CSP provides. 

I’ve seen a disturbing trend in the mindset of young coaches. Instead of being attached to an end goal or outcome, coaches want to identify with a certain emblem. When asking interns what they want to learn the most about in their upcoming semester, I commonly get answers like this:

“I want to learn PRI techniques”

“I want to learn FRC techniques”

“I want to learn the arm care methods you use here”

Rarely do I hear some version of  “I want to learn as much as I can so I can help people reach their goals,” which is what our job should entail. If you were a basketball coach and ran an internship program, your interns would be there to learn about how to build winning basketball teams, not show up on day one asking to learn the intricacies of a post-entry pass.

The messages I receive on social media are often centered around niche topics as well, as if everyone in the industry has already mastered the basics. Being really, really good at coaching people to get stronger, run faster, jump higher, or lose weight, whatever their goal may be, will carry you much, much further as a coach than merely being a niche expert.

This trend has only gotten worse over the last 2-3 years. I think it’s time for us to start focusing our educational efforts on being results-centric, unless we want to continue to polarize our industry and brainwash young coaches into thinking that coaching is centered around things that look like magic tricks. In the gen-pop world, if we’re actually in this to help people, we should probably be talking about lifestyle changes and general health goals instead of tricking people into thinking a marginal skill is why they need us. If we want sport coaches to take us seriously, we should probably center our efforts of what we promote around things that happen on the field.

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Many internship programs teach interns exactly what is done at the business they’re in without ever being taught why the business chooses to do it this way. Coaches learn to execute a script, but aren’t necessarily provided with the tools to create a different script that may be appropriate for their next setting.  I’m sure our business, CSP, has been guilty of this in the past – interns leave CSP and try and run the exact same programming systems, only to find out that they don’t quite fit because the setting and population is different.

A coaches’ biggest weapon is the ability to make decisions. In other coaching arenas, this is obvious. There is no one version of the “West Coast Offense,” nor do people think this is the only offense that can win football games. If you don’t understand the overarching principles behind why you do what you do, or, what a potential counterargument for choosing this method might be, you’re not setting yourself up to be adaptable to your environment.

My goal with our internship program is to continue to push critical thinking and develop the ability to see the whole forest. Learn what you need to know about each of the trees, but don’t lose sight of the end goal or why people should come to see you in the first place.

If you’re a young coach, learn as much as you can about strength, power, speed, energy systems development, physiology, anatomy… the list goes on and on. You are doing your clients a disservice if you take a rehab-oriented course at the expense of mastering the basics.

Learn from a variety of models, but integrate them into a system that produces results that your clients will continue to pay you for. Have a niche, but don’t be a niche.

About the Author:

John O'Neil has served as the Director of Performance at Cressey Sports Performance since the summer of 2017. He returned to CSP after being a part of the first intern group at CSP-Florida during the fall of 2014. Over the past few years, John has coached people of all ages in New York City and New Jersey, as well as working as a high school baseball coach. He has previous internship experience with both Ranfone Training Systems and the Baltimore Orioles. John graduated from Dickinson College with a Bachelor's of Science in Mathematics in 2014, and holds a number of certifications in the Strength & Conditioning field.