Your Harshest Critic and Your Biggest Fan – the Value of (quality) Coaching

It seems that every 2nd person you bump into these days is a personal trainer or a CrossFit coach, not saying that this is a good or a bad thing but with the more people that are doing something then the more the variance in quality that occurs (a bit of a metaphor for CrossFit in general).  It got me thinking about coaching, what defines quality coaching, why I coach people and the role that the coach plays (and what I’m bringing to the party; apart from dip and crackers)


If someone put me on the spot and said – what is your primary role, my immediate answer would be “to make people better”, it’s a pretty broad statement and one that I don’t think people would believe when I’ve just got them to do another 500m row repeat (but do it with feeling this time) but at the end of the day my sole purpose is to help improve the people that walk through the gym’s doors at whatever it is they are doing.  Often this is done by pushing you onwards and upwards in terms of numbers (faster pace / more kg’s etc.) but sometimes it’s through pulling you back that we’re trying to help you move forward – this is one that people often forget, if I’ve said take 5kgs off a bar and tidy something up – it’s not because I’m trying to rob you of your sweet gains, it’s because in the bigger picture I want you lifting 10-20-30kgs more, but doing it right – the whole goal is to make you better (and sometimes you need to be cruel to be kind!)

Get Fit.

I’m not the most experienced coach on the planet, there are grizzly old men that have been coaching athletes for 50 years (and probably wearing the same tracksuit for most of them) but on the flipside I also didn’t roll in last week and decide I wouldn’t mind trying my hand at coaching people.  I’ve been training people full time for 7 years – I don’t have another job, during the day I don’t go and work “a real job” to pay the bills and then at night change hats and train people for a hobby or a sideline – I consider coaching people to be a career and that it should be treated and respected that way, too many people get into it thinking that it’s a hobby. During this time, I’ve seen a lot of people do a lot of exercising, I tried to do some crude calculations on how much exercise I’ve looked at over the years – in the last 5 years alone I would have taken around 15 classes per week (not including PT sessions) – 15 x 5 = 780 classes a year x 5 years = 3900 classes, avg of 12 people per class = 46800 people working out.  Now say each of those people working out did just 10 squats (and you know some classes you do more than that and others less but averaging out between squatting vs non squatting days) that equals 468000 squats, so give or take in the last 5 years I could assume I’ve seen around half a million squats.


What does me seeing half a million squats do for you though? Well it means my eyeballs have seen a lot of stuff and that can save you a lot of time and make you better (which is the goal after all) faster.  Experience means less guesswork and more confidence in what you’re doing, less guesswork means more progress.  Often newer / less experienced coaches will over cue / over correct movements and this is often due to a lack of confidence, often less is more – I’ve found over the years that the most effective cues are the simplest ones (but the art is knowing which ones will work when), too often the right piece of information an athlete needs is lost in a sea of excessive words and cool catch phrases (you need more joint mobilisation capsule distraction torque generation or Ï prefer – your hips are tight, do this stretch).


The big one for me when I think about how I approach training people is – I’m your harshest critic and your biggest fan wrapped into one.  Despite what some of you may think, I seriously believe in you – if I load up 2kgs above your PB on a bar, it’s because I KNOW you can lift it, I’m not putting it on there because it seems like a good idea – I know you’re capable of it and I want to see you lift it.  On the flipside (and this is one I think a lot of coaches forget, particularly in the fitness industry as opposed to sport) if you have undersold yourself or not pushed as hard as you know you could have on something – I will let you know.  This is an important thing – if you do a shit job of something – you shouldn’t be told how good it was, I’m not going to give false praise, that doesn’t help you to be better (and as I keep saying, that’s the goal after all).  It doesn’t mean being overly harsh about it but a big part of the process of getting better is acknowledging failure and learning from it, you’re not going to win everything every day, but if you take something from the failures then they are just as (if not more) useful than the successes


When I started CrossFit (back in the dark ages) there wasn’t many people doing it and conversely when there aren’t many people doing something – there is a good chance you’re going to be better than a lot of people at it (especially when they are just starting).  Now one of the super interesting things I learned pretty early on with CrossFit and coaching is that I’m training myself and trying to get better (and of course you want to be better than other people – it natural to compare your performances to others) but also my role is to make those I train better.  So essentially if you consider yourself an “athlete/coach” which many people involved with CrossFit do – you’re in a situation where you are trying to train people to be as good as they can be but secretly you want to be able to kick their ass at everything.  It’s a real funny line in the sand, especially for more competitive CrossFit athletes that are working as coaches – who is their priority with? Their own training and performance or that of their athletes? I’m not saying that there aren’t good athletes that are equally good coaches, what I am saying is that there is definitely a lot of athlete/coaches that don’t think about this line in the sand and where their priorities lie.  I learned something early on – I’m okay at CrossFit, I can do the stuff and I love doing it but I am a WAAAAAAY better coach than I am an athlete, I’m perfectly okay with someone I train out lifting, outperforming, out everything ing me – I enjoy going head to head with people in the gym and throwing some numbers up but if (and it happens often) I get beaten my hat goes off to them.  My definition of personal success is seeing you guys do well – whether that be – beating your time in a workout or helping someone make it to the CrossFit Games.


On a final note – I have no issue saying that I love coaching people, I seriously wouldn’t be doing anything else, I’ve had some fairly obvious success over the years helping people do well at some fairly large competitions but this is just one aspect of it – but as cheesy as it sounds it’s the things you don’t always hear about that truly make the job awesome – someone entering their 1st 5km or their 1st marathon or taking 3min off their time for something that makes you realise why you do it, every so often someone tells you about something they’ve done that they wouldn’t if not for the gym and that for me it seriously the definition of success right there.



Ben Norman

“My fitness sporting background is fairly diverse, over the years I’ve done quite a few different sports including racing Mountain bikes, Muay Thai (spending a bit of time in Thailand), distance running (including 6 marathons) and of course CrossFit which I discovered for myself in 2007.

I’ve been hooked ever since and one of my big passions is exposing as many people as possible to it, I’ve been running the Fit Wars competition series since 2011 to give people a chance to compete as well as show the public what it is that we do.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have coached athletes to the CrossFit Games Regionals every year since 2010 and various divisions of the CrossFit Games (both Individual and Masters) since 2011”

> CrossFit Adelaide Affiliate since 2008

> Certified Level 3 CrossFit Trainer

Ben Norman

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