There is an epidemic crippling the fitness industry. Graduates from Exercise Science, Kinesiology, Health and Fitness, and Sport Performance programs are entering assistantships, internships, and full-time positions with practically zero hands-on coaching experience. These individuals can walk you through the Sliding Filament Theory, Excitation Contraction Coupling, and Kreb’s Cycle, recite the ACSM’s risk factors for cardiovascular disease, and administer a YMCA Bike Test with their eyes closed. Yet, ask them to teach a Squat, identify and correct faults, and/or lead a group and all hell breaks loose! Why is this happening? Where is the disconnect?
“The only source of knowledge is experience.”- Albert Einstein
The majority of Exercise Science and Kinesiology curriculums contain variations of the following classes: Anatomy, Exercise Physiology, Biomechanics, Fitness Assessment, Exercise Prescription, Principles of Strength and Conditioning, Nutrition and Exercise, and Wellness. These classes are critical to the development of the knowledge and skills necessary to become a practitioner in the field and/or continue education. However, knowledge will only get you so far. Superior trainers and coaches are distinguished by their ability to condense, simplify, and ultimately convey that knowledge to clients and/or athletes. In 2013, while completing my internship at Reebok CrossFit ONE (RCF1), Austin Malleolo (Head Coach and six-time CrossFit Games competitor) and I had a discussion regarding the attitudes, attributes, and abilities necessary to be a phenomenal coach. During the conversation, Austin said something that I will hold on to for the entirety of my career, “You have to take the knowledge of a PhD and break it down to something a kindergartener could understand.” The only means by which one can become proficient at this skill is through experience. Most individuals (general population and athletes) are not impressed by scientific names and proper terminology such as the frontal plane, external rotation, Rectus abdominis, or Biceps femoris. Typically, people are not concerned if you can name the origin and insertion of every muscle, describe, in-detail the energy systems of the body, or write a “perfect” exercise prescription that meets all of the ACSM and NSCA standards. What people care about is getting better.
The only way to make people better is to be an effective coach. Becoming an effective coach requires patience, passion, devotion, determination, and the willingness to learn. To assume that a 22 year-old college graduate with a degree in Exercise Science or Kinesiology has the competency to be an effective trainer is outrageous. Learning to coach is a process, one that demands guidance and mentorship. It requires countless hours of observation, research, professional development, and practice. Hence, it is imperative that Exercise Science-related undergraduate programs design and implement courses that develop and refine the skills necessary to be an effective trainer. These courses would provide students the opportunity to utilize their knowledge of anatomy, exercise physiology, and training methodologies while simultaneously learning to correctly demonstrate and teach movement, identify mechanical faults, effectively cue individuals, efficiently manage groups, and create an atmosphere that exemplifies accountability, community, and camaraderie.
I’d like to take a moment to thank my good friend and mentor, John Main. Without this guy, I would not be the coach I am today. When I started my internship at Reebok CrossFit ONE in 2013, I had just received my CrossFit Level 1 certification and had zero coaching experience. I still haven’t figured out why John devoted so much of his time and energy into helping me become a better coach (actually, on his interview, after dinner, I was supposed to drive him back to his hotel…took us 15 minutes just to find our way out of the damn apartment complex! At that point, I assumed he thought I was an idiot). Regardless the reason, John taught me more about fitness, coaching, and programming in 12 months than I learned in four years of undergrad. How is that possible? The answer: passion, patience, consistency, and time. From June to September, John and I spent a minimum of one hour per day talking Fitness, CrossFit, and/or programming. There was never a plan or intended topic of discussion. We just talked. Often, we would pick a ball of some sort: baseball, soccer, football, etc., and throw or kick it as we spoke. As it says in CrossFit’s Fitness in 100 Words, “regularly learn and play new sports.” It was hands down the most beneficial and influential experience in my career as a coach. Ultimately, John and I became close friends, relocated to New Jersey where we lived and coached together, and still keep in touch to this day. John is an absolutely incredible coach, and in my opinion, the most knowledgable and skilled coach I have had the privilege to meet. I will never be able to thank him enough for all he has done.