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The Five Characteristics of a Successful Coach

Coaches are more than just people who tell you what to do on any given training session. A good coach will analyse your performance, effectively instruct you in relevant skills, provide encouragement and boost motivation.

In essence, a good coach will help you become better – that can be as an athlete, entrepreneur or any other field – but what traits do successful coaches possess?

Ben Bergeron, one of the most celebrated CrossFit coaches in the sport, outlined five characteristics an effective coach displays in his podcast, Chasing Excellence. Bergeron explains how coaches should posses all of them to be great, and can use these categories to measure where strengths and weaknesses lie.

1. Enthusiasm

For CrossFit coaches, enthusiasm is a great tool to engage class members. When coaches really believe in what they’re saying and are excited to be there, athletes take notice.

“To me the number one thing […] in basically any relationship is the level of trust that you are establishing,” says Bergeron. “As I say something, how much second guessing is going through your head before you’re like: ‘Yup, I’ll give that a shot’?

“With great coaches, none of that [second guessing] comes through [an athlete’s] head.”

Great coaches are enthusiastic; they love what they do and through that, they create a big level of trust with their athletes. They get athletes to be inspired and go out of their comfort zones.

6 day split programSource: Photo courtesy of CrossFit Inc.

2. Curiosity

Curiosity is hard to teach, but it makes a difference. Great coaches do not only want to make others better, but posses a big amount of curiosity to become better coaches themselves.

They are interested in what they’re doing and are curious to learn how to do it better – an improvement which them cascades down to all athletes.

“It starts with your own disciplined pursuit of betterments,” says Bergeron. “You becoming better at your craft, you becoming better at how you engage with people, the curiosity of you wanting feedback, understanding that feedback is the shortcut to your betterment.”

Great coaches look for critical feedback because they know that’s how they can become better; they know they don’t have all the answers and there’s always room for improvement. They search for this feedback in an empowering way.


3. The Ability to Connect with People

Great coaches have the skills to see where their individual athlete or team are coming from. They understand their clients and how to get them places they could not go without a coach.

“As you enhance the abilities of individuals and you enhance the relationships of the team, those connection points get better results than would otherwise be present,” explains Bergeron. “That’s what a good coach does.”

Exceptional coaches understand where people come from, what their history and motives are, and what they hear when the coach says something. They meet athletes where they are.

Once an athlete feels like they’re being listen to, they’re open to almost anything.

Chelsey GrigsbySource: Photo courtesy of CrossFit Inc

4. Presence

The ability to command – in the sense of being able to lead – and for people to be captivated by what you’re saying is another characteristic of a great coach.

Great coaches engage their clients and hold their attention.

“It’s an overlooked aspect of coaching but one of the most powerful ones,” says Bergeron. “If you can own a room […] and people can’t wait to hear what you have to say, that to me is so powerful.”

crossfit feel goodSource: Photo courtesy of CrossFit Inc.

5. Domain and expertise

Coaches have to know their craft to be good, as well as understand how much they know about the area they want to master.

“If you want to be a successful coach, you have to be knowledgeable in your field,” says Bergeron. Yet you also have to know that there are probably many things that you are still to learn.

Every beginner knows they’re a beginner, but once people learn and become advanced in any area, they tend to think they’re on the cusp of mastery. The problem then arises where the gap between the knowledge and skills that you possess and what you’re still to learn is unknown.

“The closer and closer you edge towards mastery, the more and more you realise what you do not know,” Bergeron continues.

Domain and expertise in your area is the only trait of a successful coach that is industry specific.

CrossFit-Games-Mat-FraserSource: Photo courtesy of CrossFit Inc

Listen to the whole podcast yourself:

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