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The Importance of Client-Coach Relationships

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This article is centered around the dynamics involved in successful and unsuccessful coaching relationships. The information in this article can seriously change the way you view your: Coaches, trainers, mentors and teachers. It can help you save countless wasted hours, money and resources. Most importantly it can be the difference maker for achieving exactly what you want vs. failing or falling short of your expectations. The following is an example scenario of a failed client-coach relationship that could have been avoided by accounting for the 5 Principles discussed later on in this article. Ensure you read and analyze your current and past coaching experiences based on the principles presented below.

It was Becky’s first day at the gym, she had done a few sports in elementary school gym class but never really participated in that much physical activity growing up. She was more of a bookworm, she liked reading and writing and it reflected in how she chose to spend her time. She became an incredibly successful teacher and went on to teach academic english at some of the top highschools in the country. Over years of inactivity Becky had put on some weight and began to develop a high body fat percentage. At her last annual check up the doctor told her that she was pre-diabetic and needed to make some changes. She decided to try the gym the next day.

Becky walked through the doors and immediately was approached by a man with a red shirt that said “Personal Trainer” on it. He was a tall man, veins popping out of his forehead and biceps as if they were about to explode. He welcomed Becky and helped her through the check in process. Becky had mentioned that it was her first time working out in the gym. The man immediately insisted that he gave her a free personal training session. Becky agreed as she would have not known what to do anyways.  

The first thing the man said as they approached the weightlifting area was “You ever leg press before?”. Becky responded by saying no but she was willing to learn. The man let out a short laugh and said “cool try this, I wanna see what you’re made of” as he loaded a plate on each side of the leg press and motioned for Becky to sit down. His instructions were simple enough… “Put both your feet on the platform and push off, try and do as many reps as you can so I can ballpark where you’re at”. Not even knowing exactly what that meant, Becky did what the expert told her to do. As she is going through the reps, she starts to get tired, 9,10,11,12, thirtee– Becky yells “It hurts I need to stop now” as the platform starts coming down towards her the man grabs it and racks it for her. Becky starts to get up from the leg press and immediately feels light-headed and sick to her stomach. The man goes “not bad rookie, but we need to work on that”. Becky politely declines to do any more work that day, gets changed, walks out of the gym and sits in her car. After sitting there for a few moments, collecting her thoughts she starts to sob and says to herself quietly “You should have never tried the gym, it was a mistake”. Becky drives off feeling hopeless, scared and worried that she will never be able to do anything to combat her impending condition.

The above scenario is an obvious example of an unsuccessful coaching relationship. But what went wrong? Where did the gaps in communication come from? How would a change in coach have brought Becky a different, more positive result? This article will outline 5 major principles that you should follow when choosing the right coach for you.

Principle 1: Expectations

In any relationship there will always be inherent expectations. All successful relationships must have two qualities that are equally shared among all the parties: transparent expectations and realistic expectations. In the above example Becky had no expectations because she was in a brand new environment and clearly did not know what to expect. The trainer in this scenario did have preconceived expectations. As the scenario played out it was soon apparent that the trainers expectations were much greater than Becky’s ability levels and that created the result. So, how do we fix this? Answer these simple rules to ensure your coach and you have expectations that are in alignment with each other.

  • What are you expecting to receive from your coaching?
  • Is it reasonable for the price you are paying?
  • Does your coach have unrealistic or realistic expectations of you?
  • Do your expectations match your effort and vice versa

Principle 2: Experience, Knowledge and Specificity

To become an authority or expert in a given field or area of study it takes a lot of time, research and practice. How does this apply to picking your coach? Moving back to the example with Becky, her trainer obviously had lots of training experience given his body shape and size. But did his training experience match the type of training Becky was looking for? No it didn’t, he was clearly looking for a more intense training experience while Becky needed something for BEGINNERS. If Becky had asked herself the following questions prior to her session, she could have avoided this uncomfortable experience:

  • Have they worked with someone with your demographic before?
    • Eg. age, gender, body fat percentage, injury or chronic characteristics, similar goals etc
  • Have they researched or are they educated in what you are trying to achieve and where your starting point is?
  • Were they successful when working with clients like you in the past?

Principle 3: Planning Makes For Perfect Execution

One of the many problems with the way the Beckys trainer handled the session was he did not get any information from Becky to formulate a PLAN. In order to create an experience for a beginner like Becky that is positive and helpful it is imperative to lay out a plan and educate her on why you are doing what you are doing. Empowering your client by teaching them; not just telling them what to do, is part of the coaching role. Consider a new coach if the answers to following questions are below your expectations.

  • Did you get a detailed action plan?
  • Do they educate you on why you are doing what you are doing?
  • Do they teach you or tell you?

Principle 4: Build Rapport and Trust Through Communication

Effective communication is one of the most important concepts in any coaching relationship. Your results will directly relate to how well you and your coach communicate. Unfortunately, common problems affect the way information flows between you and your coach. You need that communication to flow freely and openly so that your coach can make the correct adjustments to your immediate and long term program. These questions can help guide you in exploring whether or not your coaching relationship has free flowing communication.

  • Are you open and honest about everything?
  • Can you trust your coach? 
  • Does your coach actually listen? 
  • Do you give your coach enough information?

Principle 5: Goals, Beliefs and Values

The final piece of the puzzle when choosing a coach that is right for you is analyzing what your goals, beliefs and values are and comparing them to your coach. Becky and her coach clearly had different goals and values when it came to training, and this effectively ended their relationship very quickly. Becky needed a coach who understood what her personal goal was, and that she valued her health and longevity. Ask yourself the following questions to ensure your coaching relationships don’t end up like Beckys.

  • Are your goals and your coaches goals for you in line?
  • Do you value the same principles when it comes to health and fitness
  • Do you believe in the same methodologies when creating solutions and solving problems

Outlined in this article are simple rules to follow when choosing the right coach for you. Considering all of the above questions and context will ensure that you are not wasting time, money and resources. The relationship you have with your coach sets the stage for the success or failure of what you are trying to achieve. Take the time to choose a coach that understands you and your individual needs and goals by asking yourself some of the tough questions posed throughout this article. The goal of this article is to ensure we can prevent failed coaching relationships like Becky’s and inspire change in preexisting relationships that are not achieving the desired goals of the client.