5 Coaching Lessons from a Hungry Unpaid Intern
Last year I completed a three month internship in at Cressey Sports Performance (CSP) in Hudson, MA. During my time I was able to work with some of the brightest fitness minds in the country while training all levels of athletes from professional to youth. It was a very humbling experience that taught me the values of investing in yourself, continuously learn, and paying attention to the details.
Here are my 5 biggest takeaways from my time at CSP:
- Keep it simple
The biggest takeaway from my experience was:
- I talk way too much when coaching
- The most successful athletes are masters of basic movement patterns
It’s easy to quickly overcomplicate things by saying too much or overthinking an exercise. As a coach, you are always looking for the cue – verbal, visual, or physical – that will make the biggest impact on your client’s performance. I quickly learned that everyone has a different learning style and overloading an athlete with information only hinders their progress. CSP coach Nancy Newell talks about how to keep it simple when coaching young athletes by using context to help facilitate proper movement. Every athlete is unique, and each one learns differently. Finding the best way to communicate movement will greatly improve your coaching effectiveness.
The notion of simplicity can be used in almost all aspects of coaching. During assessments, I’ve often found addressing the most prominent movement or postural deficiency can have the greatest effect on pain and performance. In baseball players, I find anterior (frontal) shoulder pain can be improved by correcting basic scapular movements like upward rotation, posterior tilt, and protraction. Learning to see the major movement compensations and knowing how to address them will often times provide immediate changes for the athlete. The best coaches teach their athletes the importance of mastering “basic” movements and exercises since they are the foundation of building athletic success.
- Consistency drives results
Today, everyone seems to be looking for a short cut. Unfortunately, great results take time and consistency. The most successful athletes in any sport are those that are able to regularly take the field and perform day after day. This comes from consistently doing what is necessary to stay healthy and understanding that success is not the result of any single event. A successful coach is able to motivate and energize athletes through all stages of their program – teaching them to trust the process while keeping the end goal in mind.
Consistency is a mindset. Tony Bonvechio is one of the most mentally tough and consistent coaches I know when it comes to lifting, and he writes about how he does not to let his feelings dictate his training. Feelings can hinder your long term progress, which is why it is important to set short-term goals that reflect progress through various intervals of time. I feel challenged on a regular basis to complete daily tasks, but I’ve learned how putting myself in the right environment and mindset helps me consistantly accomplish my goals.
- Start in a good position
Eric Cressey, considered by many a shoulder guru, constantly talks about shoulder position when throwing and how if a joint starts in a poor position it’s likely to remain in a poor position. If an athlete is unaware of their starting position during a lift, it will dramatically affect the movement outcome. Take any overhead movement. Athletes are master compensators. If their scapula is not moving properly, they can compensate through rib flair and lumbar extension. Proper coaching and providing context to their sport teaches the athlete what good movement feels like and puts them in a better position to accomplish the movement correctly. Here is a great example of someone who doesn’t know their body position during an overhead movement…
A back to wall shoulder flexion drill is one corrective exercise I would apply to help address this movement compensation…
I like to carry over successful habits from the gym and bring them into my personal life. I am becoming more aware of what a “good position” is for me when it comes to working and having a successful day. My productivity drastically decreases when I’m at home and usually if I don’t lift before 5pm it’s not happening. Knowing these things about myself I position each day so that I lift before 12pm and will go to a coffee shop or stay at the gym until everything is accomplished for the day. Learn what positions make you the most successful and make a conscious effort to seek them out.
- Draw from your experience
The fitness profession seems like a polarizing industry, but a closer look reveals most of the noise comes from a small nuance of topics. A few examples of this could be proper squat technique, how to use extension-based exercises, and how fascia affects movement and pain. I’m sure if you asked ten different clinicians on how to integrate each of these concepts, they would give you ten different answers. This highlights the importance of developing your own philosophy based on previous experience and successes you have had with your clients. It is important to know your limitations and always have a great referral system to strengthen your practice.
Early on in my career, I found it easy to get caught up in the latest trends and tried to integrate concepts I didn’t fully understand. When this didn’t work, I went back to the basic principles of strength and movement, which became my foundation. As I continue to acquire new information I gradually integrate it into my programming and coaching. Miguel Aragoncillo is one of the most intuitive coaches at CSP and writes how his thinking has evolved over the years through blending experience and education together to create his training philosophy. There is not a perfect assessment or system for training your clients which is why I take a blended approach to achieve better client outcomes.
- Learn people’s names
“Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” – Dale Carnegie
Carnegie understood the importance of treating everyone as an individual. Taking the time to learn someone’s name creates an immediate connection because it shows you are putting in the effort. Getting to know your client’s name is the first step to showing that you are genuinely interested in their passions and invested in their growth. Creating a lasting relationship starts by learning every new person’s name when they walk through the door.
The CSP internship cultivated a lasting impression as it has taught me not only how to be a better coach but a better human being. I try to implement these five principles in my daily coaching and programing to better help people reach their health and fitness goals.