When it comes to hiring potential coaches at your CrossFit box, candidates can be grouped into three general options:
- Intern: a trainee who observes classes in order to gain experience and learn to coach.
- Stranger: someone outside of your box who may or may not have prior experience coaching experience.
- Network Coach: someone referred by mutual connections who usually has coaching experience.
Each potential source comes with it’s own set of pros and cons. In this article, contributing author Chris Doty, reviews each type in depth.
Maybe your gym’s grown, your classes are full, and your community is thriving—congratulations! But you’re also overworked and need help managing your class load. Or maybe your second-in-command, who helped you build the gym from the ground up, is leaving for another career, and you just don’t have the bandwidth to coach all the classes you’ve added to the schedule.
Regardless of how you got here, if you’re thinking about bringing on another coach or two to help out with classes and contribute to the community, this article’s for you. In it, we’ll consider some of the options for bringing on a new coach—including training an intern, hiring an outside coach, and networking with other gyms in the area—as well as some of the pros and cons of each approach.
Perhaps the most common way that gyms add coaches to their staff is by drawing on their athlete populations to find interns. Developing interns from the gym’s current population has a number of advantages over other methods of adding to your coaching staff.
For one, interns are already familiar with the gym and invested in the community—they’re less likely to leave on short notice because they got a better offer from another gym, they’re familiar with gym policies and procedures, and they already know a significant number of your athletes. Additionally, interns drawn from the gym population are also already familiar with the way you coach and run your classes. They’ve probably learned more than they realize about how you structure your classes, the presence and attitude that you put forward at the gym, how you interact with athletes, etc., and thus how you’d expect them to behave.
However, the same familiarity that can make these interns great resources can also present difficulties. These problems aren’t insurmountable, but it’s important that you’re aware of them before you decide to take on an intern.
Transitioning from athlete to coach can be challenging for both the coach in training and the athlete population. As roles are redefined, plan for an adjustment period, and make sure that the intern knows to expect changing attitudes from others as well. You can smooth this process a bit by presenting the new intern to the community as a coach in training (for example, via a private Facebook group), as well as making sure to defer to your intern when they’re leading a warm-up, skill, or class. Your intern has to learn to present themselves with authority, control classes, and provide feedback as an expert. Don’t interrupt them and undermine their authority in front of the class just because you could do it better (although certainly interject if safety is an issue).
Another potential problem with bringing on someone who’s grown up at your gym is that they’ll see what you do and they’ll coach like you do. Although this isn’t inherently a bad thing—they’ll eventually develop their own style and perspective—your athletes will initially be getting a kind of diluted you. You can help to address this problem early on by encouraging your intern to learn outside your box—you can pay for them to get certifications you don’t have, encourage them to drop it at other boxes to see different coaching styles, and ask them to find and read books and resources that you might not even know about. This can all be part of the internship program, where they’re expected to report back to you on what they’ve learned from these adventures outside your box.
If you’ve decided to go the route of developing interns from your athlete pool, it’s very important that you get the internship program right. Although the process of developing and implementing an internship program is beyond the scope of this article, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind.
- Create a program — The process of making coaches shouldn’t be an unstructured, fly-by-night affair. Make sure you have a clear process in place for going from zero coaching experience to leading full classes, and that athletes are clear on how they progress through that program.
- Build on their L1 — Don’t only focus on the materials from the L1. Although you’ll want to train and drill you athletes on the basic points of performance and CrossFit methodology, make sure that you’re pushing them to grow as well. The internship program that we run at JP CrossFit, for example, is structured based on the materials from the L2 manual, slowly introducing more advanced concepts as interns learn and grow as coaches.
- Coach your interns — Treat your interns like your athletes. After you’ve watched them coach a warm-up, a skill segment, or a whole class, make sure you have time set aside to sit down with them and provide feedback.
Hiring a Stranger
If there’s no one in your gym currently who’s interested in interning, or you simply need a coach now rather than in the few months, you’re probably considering hiring a coach from outside the gym. With this option, you may very well get a skilled coach without investing the time or energy that you would need to set aside for an intern. They’ll bring a different perspective than you have right off the bat, and you could end up finding a truly excellent coach.
But before you publish an ad and start receiving calls and resumes, spend some time thinking about what you want in a coach. I don’t mean just in terms of their expertise and background. Do you want someone who’s still early in their career, who you can mold into the kind of coach you want to see at your gym? Do you want a battle-hardened veteran of CrossFit competitions with aspirations for Regionals? Do you want someone technically amazing, and with a knack for giving just the right cue, but who’s cold and aloof? Or do you want someone who’s warm and friendly, even if they aren’t the most technical?
Obviously, every gym owner wants everyone on their coaching staff to be the warmest, friendliest, and most competent in the business. But realistically, it’s unlikely you’re going to get the perfect coach from a job posting. So spend some time reflecting on what you think is most important and what you’re willing to work on with potential hires after they join your staff. Consider making it clear in the job offer that there’s ongoing coach development as part of the job (as there should be for all of your coaching staff anyway), and be willing to work with your new hire.
A third option to consider is networking with other gym owners and coaches in your area. Are there junior coaches locally who need or want more coaching hours to continue honing their craft? You might also find out about someone who’s been dying to intern or coach, but the gym they’re currently at doesn’t have the bandwidth to bring them on, or classes to offer them.
Although these coaches aren’t tied into your community in the way that an intern would be (and might not ever be, if they’ve got one foot in your gym and one foot in another), they are in a position to have other gym owners or coaches vouch for them, which might make them a less risky choice than a stranger found via a job posting.
Another advantage of this approach is that it can help build comradery with other gyms in the area, potentially leading to other events, like competitions and fun events, building up your local community.
As with many of the aspects of running a gym, there’s no one right way to bring a new coach onto your staff. It depends on you, your management style, your community, and a million other factors.
Consider incorporating Triib gym management software to assist you in coach assignments, coaches’ notes, payroll, and managing the day-to-day operations at your gym.
Gym owners—what are your top considerations when thinking about bringing on a new coach? Weigh in in the comments below!
Author: Chris Doty
Chris Doty (CF-L3) is the head coach of JP CrossFit, a small, community-oriented gym in Boston’s Forest Hills neighborhood.