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10 November 2020

Getting Results: The Art of Coaching Excellence

by Jacob Schepis 1

It should be common knowledge that getting results is central to the coaching process. The work a coach does and the outcomes they produce with those they work with are what separates the best in the personal training business to those who just can’t seem to crack through or ‘make it’.  What I’m not so…

https://www.jpshealthandfitness.com.au/product/jps-education-portal/

It should be common knowledge that getting results is central to the coaching process. The work a coach does and the outcomes they produce with those they work with are what separates the best in the personal training business to those who just can’t seem to crack through or ‘make it’. 

What I’m not so sure of, however, is whether getting results is given enough attention in the early stages of educating a young coach. Sure, we educate personal trainers about physiology, anatomy, biomechanics, program design, nutrition etc, but all the information in the world will have little utility if it cannot be applied in practice and elicit change or progress for the client. 

For those of you who haven’t been following JPS for long or may not know how we came to be the company we are today, let me give you a rapid run down of our history and bring you up-to-speed. 

10 years ago, I started personal training at a commercial gym in Melbourne, Victoria. I was only 18 years of age, studying a Bachelor of Law and working as a tennis coach and in retail at the same time as trying to build my personal training business. I completed my certificate 3 and 4, hardly remembered a thing and acquired all my information from bodybuilding.com and other super dicey websites and platforms. Put simply, I didn’t know my arse from my head when it came to the technical elements of coaching, nor did I have a clue about how to run a business. What I did know however was that my clients were paying me for a service and wanted results. So, my mission seemed simple – provide the highest quality service I could (within the limited knowledge and experience I had) and get each of my clients the results they desire.

Fast forward to 2020 and I can’t help but look back and feel proud of how far JPS has come. During our time operating we have seen hundreds, if not thousands of incredible transformations unfold within our four walls, coached multiple powerlifters to national records and titles and worked with pro physique athletes. All in all, we have a knack for getting the job done.

if I were to try and pinpoint the main reason that JPS has grown into the thriving personal training and education company it is today, it would boil down to our ability to get results for our clients. Our client transformations alone were the catalyst for not only my career success but how Samuel Schepis and I built JPS from a two-man-band into an orchestra of over 20 personnel with hundreds of active clients from around the globe. 

I hope you will excuse my overly arrogant and self-indulgent introduction to this piece, but I do hope I’ve got your attention. With that preamble out of the way, I will now turn to and explore what the driving forces behind getting client results are.

Instilling belief in the client

I think what helped me early on in my coaching career was that I took on any challenge a client threw at me, no matter how unrealistic. I was extremely ambitious, had huge belief in both myself and the client and as those who know me well will confirm, I’m a super optimistic go-getter of such. In retrospect, I believe my confidence in my clients played a huge role in their success. Whatever their goals, I nodded my head in agreeance and instilled in them the belief that together we could achieve great things.

This is an often-overlooked aspect of coaching these days, especially in the evidence-based community. Many of us are aware of the ‘optimal’ and ‘safe’ rates of fat loss or muscle growth and are quick to let our clients know when their goals are unrealistic. Whilst this is sound practice, I do feel that it can hinder the clients buy-in to the process and effect the process of goal attainment in a negative way.

I’m not sure what my advice here is, but I will say you should at least consider the impact dismissing a client’s goals can have on the coaching process and try to find ways to demonstrate your belief in both yourself and the client.

Goal Setting – Narrowing the Focus 

Moving on from self-exploration and reflection, what I wanted to do was list some of the theoretical objectives we need to be aware of when setting goals with a client. I find it useful to classify these goals into two categories:

  1. Physiological goals; and
  2. Psychological goals.

Having distinct areas to focus on really helps harness both your own and the clients focus. Whilst categorising a client’s goals can be useful, do keep in mind that many of these goals are not mutually exclusive.

Here they are…

Physiological goals

  1. Skill acquisition

– Exercise specific neural adaptations

  1. Muscle mass

– Morphological adaptations to muscle architecture

  1. Strength

– Lift specific neural qualities

– Expression of force via available tissue

  1. Work capacity

– Overall ability to tolerate training related fatigue

  1. Aerobic capacity

– Ability to uptake oxygen and maintain heart rate during exercise

  1. Body composition

– Loss of fat mass and maintenance/increase in muscle mass

Psychological goals

  1. Basic mental skills

– Attitude

– Motivation

– Goal commitment

– Task specific confidence (Self-efficacy)

  1. Preparatory skills

– Mental imagery

– Self-talk (internal dialogue)

  1. Performance skills

– Concentration

– Managing emotions

– Managing anxiety

  1. Self-esteem & self-belief

– Autonomy & independence

– Relatedness/connection

It is inherent that there is a tremendous amount of overlap between these three goal categories. Take for example how in order to achieve a weight/fat loss goal, learning how to cook nutritious meals and being confident in performing this task is integral for achieving the desired physiological outcome – weight loss.

When starting out with a new client, you must really pay attention to this part of the coaching process and having a framework for setting goals and measuring your performance can be the difference between a client achieving phenomenal progress or spinning their wheels and giving up. See below for a simple step by step process you can use to set goals with your clients.

Stage 1 – Goal Setting

  • List your physiological goal: e.g. lose 10kg of body weight
  • List any psychological goals your physiological goal requires
  • List any nutrition literacy goals overarching goals require
  • Identify your reason why this goal is important and how it aligns with your values

Stage 2 – Planning

  • Identify time frames for achieving your goal
  • Evaluate your current starting point 
  • Devise an action plan with the target behaviours you need to perform
  • Devise a coping plan to prepare for challenges/obstacles that may arise

Step 3 – Measuring your progress

  • Identify the metrics you need to measure your progress
  • Measure your performance in completing your action and coping plans

Step 4 – Improving performance

  • If performance is satisfactory, set new action-plan goals 
  • If performance is unsatisfactory, set new coping-plan goals
  • Continue to ensure your action plan (behaviour targets) are challenging but achievable

Step 5 – Goal attainment 

  • If you achieve your overarching goals, set new goals
  • If you have not achieved your overarching goals, continue to revise action and coping plan   
  • If you have become disengaged from your goal, set new goals

I hope the above has helped clarify ways in which we can break down a client’s goal and gives you a model for setting goals, planning the process, measuring progress and improving outcomes. 

Before we round out this section of the article, we must cover what to do in the case that a client has multiple, often competing goals. It is not uncommon for a client to want to achieve several things all at once. Lose fat, build muscle, improve strength to name a few. In order to get the results your clients truly desire, you must rank order their goals so that you can set in place a dedicated, purposeful and specific plan as per the above guidelines. Failing to prioritise what matters most to the client will detriment the coaching process and squander any potential for them to commit to the process or make meaningful progress. So, be sure to do your due diligence here and try to really understand the clients top one to two goals and ensure that you are not just nodding your head in agreeance to their every wish and command.

To summarise the above…

When setting goals, be sure to:

  • Set goals that the client will be highly committed to
  • Give the client feedback on their progress 
  • Set task-related goals that are challenging enough to keep the client interested, but not too challenging that they cannot perform them.
  • Help the client create an environment that is conducive to their goals and provide them with strategies to minimise the likelihood of other factors negatively impacting their ability to perform the tasks required by their goals
  • Set focused and specific action-based behaviour targets that align with the client’s primary goals
  • Educate the client as to what to expect from their training and diet, including informing them of realistic rates of progress and what their goals require
  • Teach the client the skills and knowledge required by their goals and focus on enhancing their performance and understanding.  

Now let’s explore the process of attaining a goal and getting results.

The simple, yet complex process of goal attainment

The process for achieving a goal is a relatively straightforward 3-step process.

  1. Set goal
  2. Enhance task performance
  3. Attain outcome

Setting goals, as mentioned above needs to be specific and include the other components of the SMART acronym – measurable, attainable, realistic and timely.

The stages after setting a goal are what matters most and are often the reason that getting results can become so damn complicated and difficult. 

See the figure below for the elements of the goal attainment process.

During the process, there are what’s known as conditions and mechanisms of goal effects. These two elements of the goal attainment process are vital and can increase or decrease the likelihood of you achieving your goals. So, what are they? 

Conditions of goal effects are the factors which dictate the likelihood of your success, whereas and the mechanisms are the things that drive you toward your goal.

The 4 conditions for goal effect are:

  1. Goal commitment
  2. Feedback on progress toward goals
  3. Task complexity
  4. Situational constraints or resources

The 4 mechanisms of goal effect are:

  1. Directing attention and action
  2. Focusing effort on goal-relevant task(s)
  3. Persisting at the task over time
  4. Motivating use and acquisition of required skills/strategies/knowledge

As you can see, there is a lot going on after someone sets a goal and gets stuck into things. Without making this a thesis length post, I just wanted to point these things out and bring them to your attention. They can all but make or break your client’s results, so think about the conditions and mechanisms listed above and which of them need to be addressed.

Planning for success & failure

Upon reflection, I was never really all that great at planning my clients training or nutrition. I have improved this area, but I did unknowingly have a knack for getting the job done in a timely fashion. Call it intuition, luck or what have you, but I guess I would never have been able to produce the transformations I did if I didn’t have some form of plan. Perhaps it was that I internalized the plan and never formalized things. 

Who knows?

Nonetheless, these days I try not to rely on my memory or intuition as much and do my best to formulate and detail a structured and well thought out plan. This has become increasingly important as the volume of clients I work with has increased.

See below for the questions I ask myself when going about the planning process for both goal setting and how I approach designing and manipulating the plan.

  1. What are the physiological and psychological factors for success?
  2. What are the gaps to success?
  3. What are the long/short term training, nutrition and recovery periodisation decisions that can be used to address the gaps?
  4. What is the macro, meso and micro-training/nutrition adjustments that can be made to support and facilitate goal attainment?
  5. What are the potential bottlenecks, barriers, limitations and obstacles that may present themselves?
  6. What strategies/tools can I use to overcome any bottlenecks, barriers, limitations and obstacles?

By asking yourself these questions when devising a client’s training or diet plan, you will be able to better conceptualise the process that lies ahead and navigate the client towards their goal. 

Making it happen, the magic sauce to getting results!

This is where the magic comes in.

Once you have set a goal, devised a plan and communicated that to your clients the real work begins. When looking at what it is that successful coaches possess, we typically identify their knowledge, education and experience. What is lesser known or discussed is how important the personality traits of a coach are in their success.

What follows is arguably the most bitter pill I have ever had to swallow.

A few months back, I had a client end their coaching with me. I was a little shocked to be honest. They were doing great, making progress and there were no glaring issues that I thought would warrant them to call it a day.

As I always do in these situations, I reflected on the period we worked together. I considered all the possibilities that could have led them to cease working with me, and critically evaluated my performance.

What did I do wrong?

What could I have done better?

Why wasn’t I good enough?

The crux of what I suspect to be the reason they ended their coaches was that I wasn’t as desperate as they were. I relied too heavily on my knowledge, was complacent and content with how things were going and didn’t invest into their goals as much as they did. Instead of being desperate for results and doing whatever it takes to help my clients like I used to back in the day, my arrogance and over reliance on my ‘expertise’ meant that the client didn’t feel I was on the journey with them.

This is the secret sauce to making it happen and getting jaw dropping results.

You ride the journey with the client and commit wholly and solely to their goals, irrespective of the investment on your end.

You can’t have one foot in and the other out.

If results are what you want, then you must be all in. 

Period.

It’s not easy giving up your time, energy and resources to another human; paid or not. But, if you care about getting results, you must be willing to go the extra mile, time and time again, without question.

It was this attitude that made me the coach I am today. I have given up my weekends, time with my family, money, sleep, food and emotional energy to ensure I did what I had to for my clients.

This won’t be for everyone and that’s fine. But if you are sitting here wondering why your clients aren’t getting the results you expect they should, consider how invested you are.

If it’s less than what they are, there is your problem. Fix this and I can almost guarantee you will see a marked improvement in their outcomes.

Well, that’s it for today folks.

Thanks for listening to my TED talk and as always, I appreciate your time. If you have questions or anything you’d like to add, feel free to drop a line in the community chat and discuss things with me further!

One Response

  1. Edwin A Espinosa says:

    Great read! Thanks for sharing this one, I needed this! 🙂

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