#1 Predictor of Coaching Success – Karsten Jensen

This brief article is inspired by a recent newsletter posted by Jim Kielbaso on the topic of diving deeper with respect to educational knowledge.  If you’re not getting the newsletter, sign up HERE.  


For some individuals, diving deeper into a topic appears as natural as walking. If you fall into this category, you may question the usefulness of an entire article on the topic.

At the other end of the spectrum, however, are coaches and trainers for whom diving deeper does not seem to come as easy. How can that be?

There appear to be at least two pre-requisites to diving deeper.

  • Motivation and willingness to learn and grow – without this element diving deeper will not happen.
  • Skills to ask the questions that guide the process (the dive) – without this skill, there might be uncertainty about what books to read, which courses to take, etc.. Trainers/coaches might feel that they read a lot but that it is not helpful in their work.

This article discusses practical tools to: 
1: Increase motivation to learn and grow as a coach or trainer.
2: Determine how to dive deeper.

1. How to increase motivation and willingness to grow

A component of my work is to teach a fundamental certification course for the Certified Professional Trainers Network in Canada. Within the first hour of the four-day workshop, I typically mention the following quote:

I jokingly say, “If you truly live and apply this, then we can all go home.”

Do you accept the idea that a willingness to learn is a powerful attitude? If so, consider the following statement that takes Zig Ziglar’s quote one step further and applies it in a training context:

Make the next program better (than ever before).
Make the next session better (than ever before).

If you truly live this attitude, you might experience a couple of really cool benefits:

  • Your growth as a coach/trainer skyrockets from daily incremental improvements. It is really the law of compound interest applied to the learning process.
  • Your motivation during program creation and the sessions with your athletes may increase. It is no longer: “I have done this before.” It is now, “What am I going to learn today? How am I going to grow today?”

If you are still not–on a visceral level–excited and committed to the idea of constant learning and growing, then fill out a pain-pleasure diagram. This form of diagram relates to the saying:

“If you have a big enough WHY, then you will figure out the how.”
Jim Rohn
(Please check the work of Anthony Robbins for more information).

To execute the exercise, make 4 big squares on a sheet of paper, and label them as in the example below. Begin by writing the components that come with the strongest emotional drive. Next add elements that you intellectually agree with, but do not necessarily feel on an emotional level.

Your goal is to reach a point of an emotional shift that “locks you in” to constant learning and growing. Below is an example:

Learning Just showing up
  1. Faster growth as a trainer
  2. Increased motivation
  3. Potentially higher compensation due to increased skills
  4. Increased referrals due to better client experiences
  5. Learning skills that might be useful if you ever leave training/coaching
  6. More fun
  1. It is easy
  2. More free time in your schedule to do other things
  1. Time commitment
  2. Cost of books,  workshops, etc.
  1. A subtle feeling that you are winging it
  2. Frustration because you don’t understand why the athletes are not motivated to follow your program
  3. Frustration because you don’t understand why the athletes cannot execute the cues you give
  4. Lack of results and lack of promotions
  5. Boredom during sessions because you feel it is just a chore and you don’t really know how to be involved
  6. Frustrated with program design because you feel it is just about getting it done

One of the big challenges for many self-employed coaches is that they have to be both a coach and a business person. On one hand, they want to learn and grow as a coach. On the other hand, they may find their coaching growth is sacrificed in order to stay on top of the business side of things.

Personally, the coach/business dichotomy has never really sat well with me. On the deepest level, I feel like a coach or a teacher. For that reason, I absolutely love the following sentence that merges the objective of the coach and the businessperson into one.

“Be so good that they (the athletes) can’t stop talking about you.”

I first heard this quote ascribed to Disney and I do know a couple of very successful businesses that are built completely on living that statement.

Let’s assume that you are motivated and locked in on learning. The last part of the article discusses a process for actually doing it and diving deeper.

2. How to Dive Deeper and Learn Every Day

In some of his workshops, Paul Chek talks about how his career in fitness and healing began.

He was stationed at Fort Bragg as (I believe) a paratrooper and was simultaneously boxing and doing triathlons. He did well and his superiors said that if he trained the other soldiers he would get extra time to train on his own.

He accepted that premise and started training the other soldiers, even though he had no formal education at the time. Thus, during this early stage in his career, the sequence he experienced was:

1: Someone presented him with a specific problem.

2: He had to figure out how to fix it.

The point is not that learning in advance (such as through longer formal education) is not useful. The point is, regarding your continued education, one of the best approaches is to choose education (books, workshops, conferences) based on where your biggest questions are with respect to working with your athletes.

The approach is the opposite of trying to “stay updated” (impossible) or to follow what is “new” (big risk of wasting time). To help you determine your areas of focus, download my continuing education self-assessment here.

The 5-hour rule

With the overall approach laid out, the first thing to do is to schedule time weekly to learn. The 5-hour rule is great, but something is better than nothing.

Whatever time you assign should be divided between:

    1. Reading
    2. Thinking about and structuring what you read so you are able to apply it to your program design, sessions and career

Learning during sessions

From my experiences, there are three sources of learning during the session that can be used as guidance for how to dive deeper:

    1. Direct questions from athletes or clients.
    2. You instruct an exercise in a certain way and the athlete is not able to execute it correctly.
    3. The session goes as planned but you get a subtle feeling – or you consciously ask the question, “What could be improved?”

Always take quick notes and address them during the designated learning time.

Learning after the session

The following questions tie into the three areas above. However, additional insights may arise when you sit down with time to think. The sooner after the session you get the time to sit and contemplate, the better. Ask yourself:

  • Is there any aspect of the program that did not work and must be adjusted?            
  • Is there any aspect of the program that is not adequately defined and should be refined?                                                           
  • Is there any aspect of the program that works but could be improved?       
  • Are there any questions that could provide the basis for future research?

If it is not natural for you to ask questions, you might not feel that there are any answers to the questions listed above. If that is the case, you must be more aggressive and put your subconscious mind to work.

Ask the following questions with complete awareness, but don’t force an answer:

  • What is the most important question about < insert topic> that I have not asked yet?
  • What is the most important insight about < insert topic> that I have not had yet?
  • What is the most powerful strategy or tactic with respect to <insert topic> that I haven’t applied yet?

The answer will appear as an idea popping into your head seemingly out of nowhere, from a fellow trainer mentioning a specific book or workshop, or a Facebook post that “magically” seems to be just what you were seeking.

When you read, watch videos or attend workshops, one of the easiest traps to fall into is the thought that I have heard this before. I know it already.”                                                        

If you feel that this applies to you, then contemplate the following:

  1. Does the fact that I have heard something before make my programs better? (No.)
  2. Does the athlete/client benefit from me having heard something or “know” something? (No.) 

Only information that is applied to creating, supervising, instructing or evaluating training programs is beneficial to your work and to the client. Therefore, after reading material/attending lectures or workshops, ask yourself:

  1. Have I heard this before?
  2. If I have heard this before, am I applying the principles, and if so, how well am I applying the principles?  
  3. How can I apply these principles better?


Don’t ever accept the idea that you can’t execute a particular element of your work better. One of the worst situations you could be in is to not have a clear vision and plan of action for how to get better.

There is a great story told about legendary Spanish cello player, Pablo Casals. At 86, he was asked:  Why do you still practice?

He answered with the trademark of a true master, “I think that I am still improving.”

We find the same type of thinking within our own field. I spoke to Dr. Stuart McGill after the recent SWIS Symposium in Mississauga, Canada. He said:

The best assessment that I will ever do is the last one before I die, because I will be the wisest and most experienced.

Karsten Jensen has helped world class and Olympic athletes from 26 sports disciplines since 1993. Many of his athletes have won Olympic medals, European Championships, World Championships and ATP Tournaments.

Karsten is the first strength coach to create a complete system of periodization, The Flexible Periodization Method – the first complete method of periodization dedicated to holistic, individualized and periodized (H.I.P) training programs.

Karsten shares all aspects of The Flexible Periodization Method (FPM) with his fellow strength coaches and personal trainers through The Flexible Periodization Method workshop series (Levels I-VIII).  Find more information at www.yestostrength.com.

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