Whenever I sit down with a new athlete (or the parents of a new athlete) for their initial visit I explain how our training model at AHP works. No, it’s not 1 on 1 personal training. And no it’s not small group training either.
Each athlete will receive an individualized training program based on a thorough assessment. They will book their training sessions and there may be only a couple athletes in at once – or there may be up to eight.
You may be thinking, eight athletes at once?! How can each individual receive the level of coaching required?
If people are skeptical at first, I tell them: if a nurse can handle multiple cancer patients chemotherapy treatments at once I, as a strength coach, had better be able to coach up multiple athletes at once. One of those tasks is FAR more difficult than the other, and quite frankly I’m not much of a coach if I can’t handle this.
That’s where the onus is on you, coach. If you are excellent at what you do you should absolutely be able to coach a small group of athletes, all on different programs simultaneously at an extremely high level. I’m going to outline some strategies to help you do just that.
1. Build rapport early and schedule the first week’s training sessions 1 on 1.
The first couple training sessions should be 1 on 1 to make sure the initial learning experience is extremely coaching intensive. You’re building a foundation so that in weeks two and three – and every week afterwards the athlete is able to be more and more self-sufficient.
It’s always crucial to be a stickler for technique, but it’s even more integral you coach this way from the get go in order to teach the athlete how to perform each exercise properly. It’s better to coach more on the front end and really get things honed in initially rather than let some stuff slide because you’re going to have to correct it down the road anyway. You need to coach your face off early – and always, but for the semi-private model to work optimally you need to get each athlete to a level where you’re just making small corrections for the most part as they all get after it. If everyone’s technique is constantly falling apart because you haven’t spent enough time coaching them up in the early stages it’s going to make for a very poor training experience for all involved.
2. Coach Teams.
I’m able to make the semi-private model work because I had well over a thousand hours under my belt coaching ten athletes at once (all on different programs) with my high school baseball academy for four years from 2012 to 2016. I’ll tell you, those first couple years were an adventure. I was just constantly treading water but I learned fast how to coach and how to stay on top of things.
There’s a great Dan John quote (a legendary strength coach) that applies here, “If you want to learn something teach it. If you want to master it teach 20 teenage boys.”
I didn’t really start to hit my groove until mid-way through the second year when I adopted a couple of the next strategies I’m going to outline.
Some of the best times in my life was coaching the Prospects Academy (and St. Albert and Seeba from 2012-2016). The countless hours in the weight room where, initially, I was in way over my head, are a huge reason why AHP has been able to succeed to the level it has so far.
3. Make it your goal to coach AT LEAST one set of every exercise of every athlete.
This is a good way to quantify and ensure that every single exercise being performed by each athlete is being executed how it should be. I’m fairly confident that after spending some time cueing somebody’s side plank and improving it a little – let’s say it’s their second set – it won’t go completely to shit a minute later when I’m not watching.
4. Know each athlete’s program inside out.
You need to review all the scheduled athletes programs for that day beforehand so you can plan for the day and have an idea of how to balance things before they happen.
5. Determine how much weight each athlete does for EVERYTHING. Systemize it.
My system is simple. Athletes know before they start each new exercise, superset, or circuit to come up to me with their program. I’ll lay out their warm-up sets and what their first working set is, and I’ll tell them what I need to see. For example if they have 3×6 on front squats I might say: do the bar x 10, 135×10, and your first set will be 185×6, I need to see it.
This differs athlete to athlete – if it’s someone newer I’ll want to coach up their warm-ups too, but if someone has trained with me for a while I know they’ll be ok doing them without my watchful eye. The same may even go for some work sets. For example, let’s say someone has 4×2 on deadlifts. I may say – complete your warm-ups, do your first set with 405, second set is 425. I need to see 425. So now they’ll come tap me or holler at me when they’re about to hit their second set.
Remember, in these cases I’ve been coaching some of these athletes for months if not years.
I also have a HARD rule that you don’t go up in weight unless I OK it.
6. Get Really Good At Verbal Cues, Build Context, and Coach Your Face Off
You need to constantly have your head on a swivel, scan the room, and utilize your verbal cues. If you have to constantly demonstrate exercises instead of using your words you’re going to get exhausted and it’ll be incredibly inefficient.
Building context is huge in this regard. For example, if I’ve spent lots of time with an athlete on their deadlift technique I can just say, “deadlift posture” to fix loads of different exercises quickly. (Row variations where they’re getting kyphotic, for example)