3 Skills Every Coach & Trainer Can Implement On DAY ONE

3 Day Strength Overhaul

Improve your mobility by 30 degrees, injury proof your workouts, and avoid self-sabotage.

Coaching for Newbies

Every coach has been there – It’s your first day. You’re standing on the training floor watching a group of athletes or a new client. You don’t know whether to cross your arms, put them behind your back, or take a knee and observe from a lower altitude.  You should be saying something, correcting technique, yelling, or at least clapping.  But at what?  At whom?  This feeling hits almost everyone, and it sucks.  

What if you could diminish those feelings?  What if there were some skills that could help you fake it while you earn your stripes?  

I’m here to tell you that there’s hope. I’ve worked with hundreds of interns and they all have a deer in the headlights look when they start.  Below are the first three lessons that I give each one to help them settle in.

#1 Spot Em’

You’ve always done it with your buddies when you work out. Don’t abandon it now!  Spotting someone builds a bunker mentality, where you are jumping down in the hole and getting dirty with them. It’s an easy way to build trust and rapport. The athletes will notice that you are attentive and it also makes them feel a tad bit safer. Here are a few examples of when to apply:

DB Bench Press

KB Overhead Press


#2 Time Em’

Look for opportunites to time someone. Isometric holds, strength work with tempo, stretching protocols, and conditioning intervals all provide windows to grab a stopwatch and be useful.

Pressing a button is only half the battle though.  When you are timing you must be aware of your volume level.  I don’t care whether you are timing sprints or a round of charades – use your voice for God’s sake! Nothing gives away a newb like a voice of a church mouse. Your voice should be like a blast of a referee’s whistle, where the athletes live and die by your words.  

Remember, too, that people are in a state of stress when they are training. Their heart is pounding and they’re breathing harder. It is physiologically harder for them to hear you. Add Future and Migos pumping from the speakers and it is even more imperative that you break out your megaphone.  

So you have your watch and your volume level is there. The last piece is to make sure to say the right things.  

Here are 2 tricks:

  1. To get someone to start try, READY…..GO! and to get them to stop yell, TIME!.  I know this sounds too simple, but I can’t tell you how many newbs use lengthy commands like,“Ok, and relax” or “Take it up”.  Your words should be commands that are irrefutable. The fewer words the better.  
  2. Don’t countdown “Three…Two….One….Time”. When does everyone stop?  When you get to one. Instead, give them a 5 SECONDS or ALMOST THERE warning and then the next word they hear is, “TIME!!!”.
  3. Bonus Tip: Wear a digital watch.  It’s not easy to be an effective timer when you’re having to squint to see a clock on the wall or track the second hand on your Fossil watch.  Oh, and don’t think you need an Apple watch. Go to Amazon and buy a $15 Casio watch. It will last you years.

#3 Touch Em’

Dating experts will tell you to look for THE sign on the first date – the light touch on the knee.  That subtle touch point is literally breaking new ground on your relationship. Touch builds trust.

So, how can you use the power of a subtle touch to build trust when coaching? Here are some scenarios:

Help them up: You don’t need to rush to help someone up every time that they are on the ground, but you can still pick and choose spots to clasp someone’s arm and give them a boost. It usually happens naturally if you are already in conversation with them and continuing the process as they get up.  So how do you naturally start a conversation with them?  An opportune time is usually while they are on the ground stretching, which leads us to our next scenario.

Stretching: You don’t need to be a Level 3 yoga instructor to help someone get more out of a stretch. Considering that most athletes suck at stretching anyhow, this is an easy time for you to help out.  Here are some examples of how to get hands on with mobility work while staying well within your scope of practice as a coach or trainer:

Quad/Hip Flexor Stretch

Supine Hamstring Stretch

Arm Sweep Stretch

Heel Sit Mid Thoracic Stretch

Dap: No matter your preference – high five, butt slap, fist bump – just let them know you appreciated their effort and you’ll see them next time.

Oh, and if you can conjure up a special shake, you’re on another level.  Now it is something that only you and them share.  I love this video of elementary school teacher, Barry White Jr., who has a unique shake with each kid.

Those are the first three.

  1. Spot em’
  2. Time em’
  3. Touch em’  

The beautiful thing about these skills is they’re bulletproof. Even with a low knowledge base or experience on the training floor, you should be able to implement these tomorrow morning. They’re basically cheat codes for building presence. Start here while you build and mold some of the finer points of coaching over time.  

Oh, and one last thing: make sure to accelerate your learning curve by putting in some work OFF of the training floor as well. Dig into the Tier 1 reading list found in the Ultimate Resource Guide for S&C Interns.

About The Author

joel sanders

Joel Sanders coaches athletes and clients out of the renowned performance center, EXOS, located in Phoenix, Arizona.

For more from Joel, check out his:

Twitter & Instagram: @coach_jsanders  

YouTube: Joel Sanders

Facebook: EXOS Education Community

One Comment

  1. Thaddeus March 14, 2017 at 6:37 pm - Reply

    Awesome article. I definitely could have used this advice when I was an S&C intern, especially the bit about the church mouse voice. I also like that you used the phrase “building presence”, as “presence” to me is a much more visceral, tangible term. Confidence is hard to gain, but I feel like if you can establish presence it will come much more easily. Thanks!

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3 Day Strength Overhaul

Improve your mobility by 30 degrees, injury proof your workouts, and avoid self-sabotage.

3 Day Strength Overhaul

Improve your mobility by 30 degrees, injury proof your workouts, and avoid self-sabotage.