3 Steps to Becoming a Better CrossFit Coach

So you started CrossFit, fell in love with the idea of coaching, got your Level 1 cert (aka $1000 T-shirt), and even found a coaching gig or internship – now what? We all know that you don’t magically become a world-class coach in a weekend, but how do you get better? Whether you’ve been coaching for five years or five days, these tips should help you on the road to coaching virtuosity.

#3 – TRAIN
If you’re going to talk the talk, walk the walk. If you are coaching CrossFit, you don’t have to look like the next Mr. or Ms. Olympia, but you should obviously be training. And don’t be afraid to play around with all different programs: Outlaw, Invictus, OPT, CF Football, mainsite, your home box, and yes, specialty programs like Westwide (powerlifting) and Catalyst (olympic lifting). Notice that I did not say that you needed to be an “elite exerciser,” but by trying these programs, you’ll be able to give firsthand testimony to the efficacy of each instead of the common “I read on the internet that this program is good.” I’ve personally spent 6 months to 2+ years each doing mainsite, CF Football, Outlaw, Invictus, and my home boxes, and I think it has helped tremendously in terms of knowing what does and does not work. If you are in charge of programming for your box, I think it’s even more vital that you try other programs. 

And since CrossFit is about doing the “unknown and unknowable” why not take a yoga class, run a road race, and play other sports? You don’t have to be a Pilates-addict, but it can only help your credibility as a coach if you can say “I’ve tried that.”

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Competing – photo courtesy of Lam Nguyen

#2 – LEARN
The best teachers are also the biggest students of their craft. I could probably write a few thousand words just on continuing education, but let’s keep it simple: keep learning! While there are a good amount of CrossFit coaches out there with an exercise science or kinesiology degree, there are just as many (probably more) that do not. And both groups could stand to continue their education through formal and informal channels. Here are a few things to think about:

  • Formal certificates/degrees – these include degree programs (part-time school anyone?) and certificate programs. Check out your local colleges/universities to see if they have exercise or nutrition programs. With technology these days, you can also turn to online degree programs, just make sure they are accredited. CrossFit has plenty of their own coaching and specialty certifications, but look to outside certs as well. Since weightlifting is such a big part of CrossFit, I would highly recommend (almost mandate) a weightlifting certificate from USAW, Catalyst, or CrossFit. Other areas that can be highly technical are gymnastics, running, powerlifting, strongman, nutrition, rowing, and if you are kid-friendly, CrossFit Kids. We are generalists, but the best people to learn from are the specialists. The advantage to these programs is that you can add that credential to your resume, but the downside is that they are usually long (full weekend to a few years) and costly ($500 up to a few thousand)
  • Informal clinics/seminars – Besides official channels, some of the best ways to learn are through non-certificate clinics and seminars. Your local boxes or fellow coaches may host a running clinic, weightlifting seminar, mobility class, or strongman clinic – these are usually very active, hands-on events that last a few hours or even a day, where small groups of people are led by an expert in that particular field. You tend to get a good amount of personal attention and can pick up some nifty cues for coaching. These smaller clinics/seminars are probably the best bang for your buck since they tend to be shorter and cheaper than official certificates. One of the best clinics I went to was Natalie Burgener’s private class she did for us, and I didn’t even lift because I just had shoulder surgery!
  • Books/videos/blogs – there are a MILLION (maybe even a bazillion!) resources out there when it comes to videos, articles, books, etc. about weightlifting, nutrition, endurance, etc……so you better get started! Consume as much as you can, but keep a critical eye out for everything. Question what you read and hear, not with the intent to be cynical, but so that you don’t get wrapped up in shiny marketing and important sounding words like “vestibular.” When I heard about CrossFit in 2007, I didn’t even start working out – I only watched videos on mainsite for about a month. I’m sure many of you have a similar story, but there are so many good resources out there now.
  • In the interest of time, I am not going to link everything here, but these are just a FEW of the resources I have gone to in the past:
    • Weighlifting – Catalyst Athletics (Greg Everett), USAW, Diane Fu, Mike Burgener, Glenn Pendlay, Spencer Arnold, California Strength, All Things Gym
    • Powerlifting/Speed/Power – Westside Barbell (Louie Simmons), Mark Rippetoe, CF Football (John Welbourne), J&M (Jim Laird and Molly Galbraith)
    • Nutrition – Gary Taubes, Whole9 (Dallas and Melissa Hartwig), Robb Wolf, Mark Sisson, Chris Kresser,
    • Competitor programming – Outlaw (Rudy Nielsen), Invictus (CJ Martin), OPT (James Fitzgerald), Competitor (Ben Bergeron)
    • Other specialties – Kelly Starrett (mobility), Brian Mackenzie (running), Chris Sommer (gymnastics), CF Journal (general CF), Jon Gilson’s Mic’d Instructor (general CF)
  • I would also recommend reading about psychology, business, and other personal “improvement” books and blogs. While the technical knowledge is important, so are the interpersonal skills! One of my favorites is How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. 
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attending the Catalyst Athletics Weightlifting Certification

#1 – COACH
It’s not enough to just be an “internet coach” – you know these people: they see a video of a clean or snatch and immediately critique it with “gotta open the hips more,” or “didn’t lock out right away” and yet they’ve never coached a person in real life. While it’s great to read books and watch videos until your eyes blur, the BEST way to get better at coaching is to actually coach! Nothing beats the experience of seeing something in real-time, and going into your toolbox of cues and corrections to help your athletes get better. This is where you will find your own voice and put your own spin on coaching. Put in the hours and it will reward you. You won’t notice any immediate changes, but there is something to be said about that 10,000 hour rule of simply putting in the time. You’ll realize that the same cue for Athlete A doesn’t work for Athlete B. That just because you say “open your hips” doesn’t mean they’ll do it right away. That coaching is less about the technical corrections and more about listening to your athletes. The best coach isn’t the one with the most certifications – it’s the one who cares for their athletes and helps them towards their goal in a safe and effective manner. If you can realize this, you’re already on your way to becoming a better CrossFit coach.

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Coaching the clean

Are you a CrossFit coach? What helps you on the road to coaching virtuosity? What resources do you turn to?

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