Defying the odds & procuring success as a coach

After attending the Jordan Peterson seminar just yesterday (3 hours ago as of writing this piece) in Melbourne, I felt compelled to share one of the key takeaways from the presentation – what it takes to be better and reach the top of a hierarchy.

The topics of self development and industry success are conversations I am now having more frequently with the JPS online mentorship students, all of whom want to know what is required of them to reach their potential as a fitness professional. After listening to Jordan’s presentation, my motivation to share my thoughts and experiences is sky high and I thought screw it, I’ll put forth my not so humble opinion.

At the beginning of the 2-hour talk, Jordan began by discussing the plethora of issues that humanity faces globally – societal organization, capitalism, religion, politics and so forth – only to later zoom right in to analyze and discuss the challenges and struggles that we encounter as individuals and how taking responsibility for our actions can not only help further improve our lives, but also the community and society at large.

It was a captivating presentation, and for those of you unfamiliar with Jordan’s work, he is a profound individual who has rapidly become a figure head of what has been coined the intellectual dark web, a community that prides itself on intelligent discourse, debate and self-improvement. He is a clinical psychologist where his primary areas of study are social and personality psychology, whilst also lecturing on matters such as religious and ideological beliefs and the improvement of self and performance. Topics relevant to the discussion at hand.

During his presentation, he discussed why inequality and hierarchy’s exist in society, what this means for the individual and how members of the hierarchy can best conduct themselves and mobilize their efforts to ensure they get the most out of the opportunities they have, however scarce and seemingly unequal they may be.

Even more impressive than the talk itself is the fact that at the age of 56, he has now reached the pinnacle of his game, selling out his Melbourne presentations twice over. Like you and I, he came from nothing. He was once a nobody, yet has reached the pinnacle in his career at a time when most others would think about retiring.

I digress…

What led me to writing this piece was when Jordan began discussing the complexities of inequality, and suggested that perhaps inequality exists not due to an imbalance of power, opportunity or unfair distribution of resources, but rather whether or not some have more, whilst others have less, is dependent on how they play the game properly – upholding and practicing the deeply imbedded ethical values of society.

There are many parallels and similarities that can be drawn from what is required to climb any societal hierarchy and how coaches can reach the top of the fitness industry. Incumbent to such a conquering attainment of status is the recognition and understanding of what society does in fact value. Jordan went on to outline four key characteristics that society values in its members, those of which are essential to progressing in an upward trajectory with any domain:

  • Skill
  • Competency
  • Trust and
  • Being a ‘good’ person.

Anticlimactic? Sure, but in my observations and experience in working with many fitness professionals have proven that greater emphasis is placed on other areas, such as being trendy, acquiring more knowledge and social media glory. All of which definitely play a role in becoming an in demand coach, but are hardly the foundations of success.

Thus, exploration of these qualities is pivotal to any practitioners understanding of what it takes to progress in their career. Whilst I would hardly deem myself a ‘success’, I have in fact defied the odds – I am here today writing this piece 9 years after entering the fitness industry, and in this time I have managed to rack up a few accolades and triumphs to my name.

It should come as no surprise that the average tenure of a personal trainer is 6 months, a year at best, and there are many factors that contribute to such a short lived career. However, its unlikely that most young avid trainers will procure a prosperous and fruitful career, which is largely due to the improper prioritization of what is in fact the backbone of success. Having been in the game for a while now, its become abundantly clear that there are no secrets, magic or short cuts, rather the successful coaches are those who exemplify the qualities the fitness community values. Therefore, if you too wish to defy the odds, reach your potential and excel as a coach, you must re-set your priorities, understand what they mean and start practicing them relentlessly.

Developing ‘skill’

By definition, skill is the ability to do something well; expertise. Critical to becoming proficient as a coach is to learn how to solve problems. This requires an inherent level of knowledge, understanding and application of information in certain contexts, but fundamentally requires practice. Akin to riding a bike, a very basic skill might I add, coaches must prioritise repetition and rehearsal of everything that the coaching process encompasses – screening, teaching movement, taking sessions, writing programs, answering questions and solving problems. It’s all well and good to look at a bike, ride it once or twice and believe you have the skill nailed down. Whilst procedural memory for such gross motor tasks will transfer the exercise of riding a bike into your memory stores for future experiences making it easier over time to ride without falling over, coaching isn’t as basic a skill.

Personal training is a multifaceted job for sure, but the crux of a coaches role is outlined above and if you are to hone in your skill and become an expert in your field, you must practice these skills. Which means getting your hands dirty, practicing taking a consultation with your mum or dad, friend or partner. Asking members at your facility if they want a free session so you can practice teaching key lifts. Whatever it is you need to work on, you must dive in and get after it.

In the case you don’t yet possess them, you must identify such gaps and seek to ruthlessly minimise them.

Over time, the procurement of skills will lead to expertise. An expert has the ability to objectively analyze/evaluate information and outcomes, they develop processes for finding answers and solving problems and in turn increase the likelihood of making ‘better’ decisions, on average, over time. Experts aren’t overly emotional in their decision making, rather they are highly rational and pragmatic. Furthermore, experts are not fleeting in their efforts. They commit and dedicate themselves to learning and invest disproportionate amounts of time to their craft at one point or another. You may see an expert provide an answer to a complex question or fix a problem in a matter of minutes, but I guarantee you that they spent years and decades educating themselves before being able to reach such a swift conclusion.

Becoming competent

Competency: the ability to do something successfully or efficiently. If you haven’t yet realized, I like definitions. They help us better understand what is said, what should be understood and give exact meanings to the words we use. This was an area of my writing/lecturing that I was not competent in, as often my readers/listeners would look at me confused and uncertain as to what I was talking about, thus I lacked competency in this area. In order to be successful in conveying my message, I had to learn how I could improve the efficiency and effectiveness of delivering content to an audience, which meant defining terms.

As you can see, competency is critical to coaching. Not only do you need skill, but you must have the ability to utilize your skills, yielding positive outcomes in a timely manner.

Therefore, all coaches must continue to not only develop the necessary skills and continue to add new tools to their toolbox, but become masters in their craft. Using the example above which highlighted how an expert can not only answer a complex question, but do so swiftly, is evidence of both skill and competency.

Obtaining Trust

As my father taught me, trust is like a plate. Once its broken, it’s hard to repair. You may be able to mend the plate and put the broken pieces back together, but there will always be cracks and the structure and integrity of the plate forever damaged. Trust is of the utmost importance for the personal trainer, without it you have nothing. In an industry where client experiences and perceptions matter, coaches must be cognizant of the fact that many folks have been burned by fitness pro’s or had bad experiences with a PT in the past.

To be successful, it is a necessity to build trust not just with the clients you have, but the community at large. The catalyst of developing trust is to act with integrity – being honest and having strong moral principles. As I teach my mentorship students, if you wish for your peers, colleagues and clients to trust you, you must do what is right and not what is easy.

The minute you cheat, lie, steal or take short cuts is the minute you break trust and risk irreparable damage to your career.

Being a good person

Following on from the previous point, I don’t know many successful coaches who aren’t genuinely good people. Many of my mentors and idols within the industry are very well liked and respected humans. Far too many coaches are in the game for themselves, often at the expense of being virtuous. I guarantee you that ass sucking, being deceitful, cunning and aiming to get ahead at the expense of others will see you fall to the bottom of the hierarchy faster than you can say keto. I’ve been very fortunate to establish myself as a somewhat respected coach and human, and it’s simply because I have tried to be a decent human most of the time. Like the rest of you, I’m not perfect, have my own demons, shortcomings and faults. But I will not deviate from my core values which are to try my very best to do what is right by those around me, ensure that every client I work with is in a better position than when they first hired me and to put my own selfish needs and desires on the back burner.

If you can go to bed each night knowing that you haven’t stepped on anyone’s toes or cheated another member of society in your pursuit of success, then you can rest assured that you will be valued by the community and over time, this will play into your advantage when others are not so upright.

Unfortunately, during my time as a coach there have been a few situations and circumstances where the people I have worked with have felt wronged by me in some way. I’m not perfect, nor am I going to pass the blame entirely and say such issues have been entirely their fault. Somewhere along the lines, I made a bad call, it happens and people make mistakes.

In providing a service, there will be hiccups along the way and circumstances that may force you to question whether or not you are doing ‘good’. However, so long as you never intentionally or deliberately inflict harm, pain or suffering and are only trying to do your best and help those you work with in whatever way you can, then you are on the right path.

Furthermore, life doesn’t always reward and recognise ‘good people’ and as cynical as it may seem, there are folks out there who will try to bring you down for whatever reason. Remaining steadfast, knowing your core values and exhibiting them on a consistent and frequent basis is necessary to persist in this industry, irrespective of who will try to meddle with and bring down your career or reputation. If you do the right thing more times than not, over time people will see you for what and who you are.


In closing, I’m truly thankful to have the opportunity to share such a piece and hopefully benefit a few of you looking to achieve something noteworthy in the fitness industry. Rest assured, skill, competency and being a trustworthy and decent human are the foundation of success, so too is being able to tolerate and endure the uncertainties and difficulties life will throw at you. The fitness industry moves fast, is rapidly changing and there are very few certainties as coach. Therefore along with the qualities outlined above, as Jordan went on to outline in his lecture, we must focus our attention on becoming as tough as a boot, being resilient, developing grit and standing up tall with our shoulders back ready for whatever comes our way.

If there was a magic bullet or course that I could offer (despite the fact I offer an online mentorship course) that would see you achieve immediate success, you would know about it and so too would every other wannabe personal trainer. The reality is, no such course exists and no single piece of information or advice will help you get to the top. But, I assure you that if you become a master of your craft, are someone folks can trust and act with integrity, success is imminent.


author: Jacob Schepis

Jacob Schepis is the director of JPS Health & Fitness and one of Melbourne's best personal trainers. As Head nutrition consultant and Strength and Conditioning coach at JPS Health & Fitness, Jacob has transformed hundreds of physiques with his no nonsense, evidence based approach to training and nutrition!