The three hats to great coaching

A lot of our fundamental members are fast approaching the stage where they’re ramping up what should be the number one lead generation strategy at any CrossFit Affiliate; referrals.

But why is it that some boxes have referrals on tap, while others really have to grind away to generate the ‘golden-goose’ members that are happy to spread the good word about your box?

In answering this, ideally at the start, maybe mid-way through, or in the very least, at the end or your response, you should mention the word coaching.

There are two key elements of coaching; in-the-box coaching and out-of-the-box coaching. For the purposes of this article, I’m talking about in-the-box coaching. The coaching you do when your members are at your box, the day to day sort of stuff.

Long live the king?

To run a successful box that has referrals on tap, coaching is the king. This is not to say that being a great coach that runs incredible classes will get your members referring. Nor is it to say that being an average coach that has great referral systems will stop your members from referring. But what it is saying is that if you want to know what your box is truly capable of, for your box to hit referral capacity, you’ve first got to dial in the coaching.

Now from the very first moment that we do the CrossFit level 1 cert, we get an incredible insight into some kick-arse coaching. As CrossFit affiliates, we generally know what a good coach looks like. We see it in every single interaction a great coach has with his/her athletes and the way their athletes respond. But unfortunately, it’s not enough just to know what a good coach looks like. As box owners, we need to understand why they’re a good coach and what is “it” that makes them a good coach. We also need to know how we can replicate this so that we have a box full of good coaches and the end response being, a hugely successful business (obviously with the correct referral systems) driven primarily by the word of mouth from its members.

The Three Hats

A great coach has three hats that he or she has to wear. Each of these hats serve a different purpose with regards to the member experience. And in wearing these hats, the coach needs the ability to change the hat at any given moment – instantly.

So what are these three hats that each and every great coach wears?

Drill Sergeant

The drill sergeant is the leader of the group. This is the coach that stands up and commands the attention. When the drill sergeant speaks, everyone listens. The drill sergeant is the one that dishes out the tough love, when it’s needed. They’re the one that maintains the standards and holds everyone accountable. The drill sergeant is the one that shapes the culture of your box, gives it the personality and makes it a fun place to come to. They’re honest in their feedback – never token or false. They play no favourites and will challenge the fire-breather to harden up and get under that bar, while also challenging the fifty-five year old grandmother to make sure she squats to full depth.

A key element of a drill sergeant (while not essential, it makes the whole process a heck of a lot easier) is they lead by example. This is not to say that they are the best athlete. But respect and credibility for a drill sergeant is best earned by providing a leading example of the desired qualities they want to see in their athletes.

Unlike the stereotype typically given to this role, the really great drill sergeants have an arsenal of very powerful motivational cues. They understand how people tick and cues that inspires a positive response when the cards are down. A brilliant drill instructor knows that it is not about yelling or being critical, rather it is about being that positive voice that echoes in his/her soldiers head, convincing them they are strong enough to find one more rep, when everything else is screaming at the athlete to stop.


The educators role is to have answers (or know where to look). The educator is the person that has one of, if not the best understanding all of the movements and the critical coaching sequences for each of these moves. On the floor, the educator is the person that people go to with questions. An educator can spot deficiencies in an athletes technique and provide corrective advice or offer a ‘game-plan’ for athletes that are wanting to put up the best score possible on a given WOD.

A great educator is continually seeking to learn. At no stage do they cap their knowledge or assume they know everything. Rather, brilliant educators are always hunting around for better ways to do things, be it attending clinics, workshops, reading journal articles or even watching you tube. They become a hub of knowledge that (here’s the really important part) works incredibly hard at disseminating their acquired knowledge.

Much like the motivational cues of a drill sergeant, the educator has a full arsenal of coaching cues that helps demystify movements. They make a complex movement, seem ridiculously simple. And it is delivered in a format that is easily digested by the athlete.


The counselors primary role is that of support and to provide the empathetic ear. When wearing this hat, the coach adopts more of a nurturing role and it is often worn when a coach is dealing with more negative emotions typically surrounding disappointment or frustration.

A truly great counselor understands the difference between empathy and sympathy. A great counselor will never validate an athletes need to feel sorry for themselves, rather they will empower them to not accept their position – no matter how unfair – and do something about it. A great counselor knows of the power of questions, and how by asking the correct questions, athletes can create solutions for their own problems.

It’s all about the timing

Now I’m sure we can identify with all of these hats. And in accordance with our individual personality, we often run the risk of developing a preference with one or maybe two of these styles. But in saying this, being a great coach is much like cooking a brilliant meal. Having all of the ingredients is not enough. You need to know what to add and when to add it.

Enter the truly great coaches

A developing coach will often buckle under expectation and not get their athletes to do what is in their best interest – but have their athletes leaving happy, while not necessarily doing the best thing to progress forward.

Other developing coaches will be more hard-nosed and get their athletes to do what is in their best interests – in which their athletes will be progressing, but potentially leaving the sessions not feeling so positive or enthused about the session or their CrossFit experience.

A great coach however, has developed all three hats and they know the ideal times when each one of these hats has to be worn. Such a coach has the ability to get his/her athletes to do what is necessary and in their own best interests, while also having his/her athletes leave the session feeling better than when they walked in.

Gotta love free stuff!

If you want a hand with the assessment of the coaches in your box (maybe even yourself), simply click here and in the subject and message fields, type the words “Coaching Assessment” and I’ll email you with a great tool you can use immediately to help ramp up the coaching in your box.

Keep striving for that virtuosity.


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