From Rock Bottom
A coach’s guide to helping clients who have just seemed to quit
By David de Leon
Coaching began for me when I was 19 years old as a trainer at the Texas A&M University Recreational Center. A head first dive is how I would describe it. No experience, but all the desire in the world. I knew how to program, how to teach movements, how to set appointments, and knew exactly where my 3 site measurements were. However, none of my certifications taught me how to personally interact and connect with my clients. My struggles did not come from lack of creativity with workouts, my struggles and true education as a trainer came when I started to coach those who had hit their physical rock bottoms.
Although it has been 6 years since the day I started training clients, there is still a void in the education of how to personally connect with and help clients mentally and physically who have reached their all time low. This write up is to share with other coaches the steps I have developed to help get their rock bottom clients, re-motivated and back to the top of the water. The steps are simple, but executing the task may be hard. But if you stick to these steps, I truly believe you can help anyone under any circumstances get fired up and back on track.
Here are the 4 steps I take in order to help my “rock bottom” clients get back on track:
1) Assess the situation: Do not be so quick to think a client has hit rock bottom. There may be some weeks where our clients just aren’t feeling it. It is more than just a bad day in the gym. As a coach, you should be aware of those who: Are missing classes/sessions on a regular basis, seem to be gaining weight or losing too much weight, have a temper when they feel they aren’t doing enough, or just seem not to care when progress is not obtained. As a leader in the class, you should be aware of changing personality, a look of fatigue upon arrival, and lack of cheer and joy.
If you feel there is someone who displays these traits/characteristics, the best way to assess the situation is to simply ask, “How is everything going?” Many times, your clients put a lot of trust in you and this simple question is all it will take to learn everything that may be bothering them. If they don’t come right out and say it, look at their expressions and pick up on non verbal cues such as their inability to look you in the eye, a breath of relief or a deep breath of anxiety. When you see these signs, even if the answer is no, you can still double check by asking, “are you sure?” Sometimes the second question will be what they needed in order to open up, or in some cases, they may still say everything is fine yet continue to display a depressed on uninterested personality. If they don’t want to open up yet, that is fine. Don’t be pushy, continue to show interest and go to step 2.
2) Contact them outside of class: If your client trains in a group setting, your next step will be to contact them outside of class via email or telephone call. People who are experiencing a rock bottom phase tend to be very private/personal. They may not feel as though the gym is the best time to talk. If you decide to email them, it should be done in a very professional manner. I like to start mine like this: “(insert name), How are you? I hope all is well. I have noticed you have not been attending class in the past few weeks and we all miss having you around. As your coach, I want to make sure you are feeling well physically and want to let you know if you have any questions or concerns to please let me know. You have shown a lot of improvement over the past 3 weeks and I would love for you to continue to reach new heights in your fitness journey. I am available to chat on Monday’s and Wednesday’s from 12-3. Please feel free to call me during those hours and we can get you back on track. Have a wonderful day.”
The email should be completely about them. Why? Because this entire journey is about them. Do not highlight on any negatives, simply state what your concern is and let them know you are there to help. Will they respond? Maybe, but if not, do not quit on them just yet.
3) Empathy: Many coaches tend to quit after the first email. The belief of someone not answering an email means they don’t care is a huge mistake on anyone’s part. This is where empathy comes in. We must put ourselves in their shoes. We have to hope for the best, but believe that maybe things are at their worst for our client. If you lack the capability of understanding the situation of others, it is important you work on it, or think about going into a field other than coaching. As much as you want others to have the same enthusiasm as you about what you do, the truth is, not everyone will. Do not try to push your feelings about fitness on them, simply continue to “live the code” of what it means to be a fitness professional and lead by example.
During the empathy phase, give that particular client some space. Let them deal with whatever it may be they are dealing with. This “giving of space phase” should last around 1 solid week. Just enough time to let them hash things out with themselves and anyone else who may be involved in their struggle.
4) The “Come to Jesus” talk: If you have reached step 4 without prevail, it is time for the serious talk. What your clients must understand is that you are not begging them to come back because of a financial benefit. You simply care about them. This Come to Jesus talk is a phone call expressing not only your concern, but also your final attempts. Begin by letting them know that you understand things come up in life. But, they must also know that you have probably dealt with the same if not worse in the past with other clients. Many times people want to be pitied, which is NOT what you are doing. There is a difference between caring and wanting the best for someone and pitying. The C2J talk is serious. It is letting them know that if they cannot commit, they will need to surrender their enrollment because there are others who are willing to sacrifice a lot in order to have your service. Do not beg for their return. Instead, ask if a return is in their future so further arrangements can be made. This C2J talk does not make you a mean or evil person. There are no personal attacks or anger used during this conversation. Everything you do as a coach is out of love and no other trait should be exhibited while having this conversation. This conversation should ALWAYS end with both parties understanding EXACTLY what will happen next. Whether it is a return to training, some time off, or no return at all.
Most importantly when it comes to a C2J talk, always, always, always be sure to let them know that if they need ANYTHING in the future, you will always be there to help as long as they are ready to commit. As hard as this conversation may be to have, it is the turning point for a coach to really show if they have what it takes to be a leader or not. How will you handle yourself?
If you are a coach/trainer whether it is for youth sports, CrossFit™, personal training, etc. this situation will eventually pop up. It really will be the deciding factor of how great of a coach you can and will be. Don’t expect to succeed and have a client return every time, but the effort, when put forth correctly will really show your ability as not only a coach, but more importantly, a leader.
Do you have steps that I missed? If so, share with them with us by commenting below!
– Coach David de Leon