Archive for “Business Development” Category

Keeping Young Athletes Training – Brett Klika

Few things will help a young athlete develop physical skills at a higher level than consistent training. As youth strength and conditioning coaches, much of what we know from the legendary Bompa’s, Balyi’s, Drabik’s, and Verkhoshanskys of the world has been based on their observations working with kids daily, in a completely immersive institutionalized setting, for a long period of time.

We are faced with a very different model of consistency here in the United States. If you are working as a youth strength and conditioning coach in the private sector, young athletes’ participation in your program is treated more like an “additional activity” than a necessary aspect of their long-term development. 

When mom and dad’s time, money, and energy aren’t too constrained, their child gets to participate in your program. At the first sign of any scarcity of these resources, parents will find a reason to discontinue.   

To create more consistency, measurable results, and business sustainability, it’s important to evaluate how to create a business model and training environment that keeps kids and parents engaged for the long-term with our programs. 

In my over 15 years of creating youth fitness programs of all sizes, in addition to SPIDERfit Kids’ current consultation with youth sports and fitness organizations around the world, this is one of the challenges I’ve set out to tackle. 

Taking into account my own experiences in addition to parent questionnaires, market research, and other “experiments” done by the coaches we consult with, we’ve been able to identify some critical aspects of creating a business model and training experience that increases long term retention for 5–12 year-old athletes. 

While not all coaches have the ability to impact their employer’s business model, below are some simple aspects of the training environment that we’ve found to increase program adherence.

  1. Coach and athlete name recognition
  2. Parent communication
  3. Incentives for progression  

Coach and Athlete Name Recognition

One of the fastest and easiest ways to create a community where young athletes feel like they belong is for coaches and other athletes to know and use their names as soon as possible. Likewise, young athletes should know their coaches and other program participant’s names. If a young athlete doesn’t know their coach’s name after their first day of training, it’s a missed opportunity that trivializes the coach’s engagement. 

This isn’t something that happens passively for most so I encourage coaches to make it a pillar of their program. It should immediately become obvious to everyone involved that knowing everyone’s names is a critical aspect of your program. 

When a child feels like they belong, they feel a sense of accountability and community. This is relayed when they’re talking to their parents about their experience with your program.  It is more difficult for parents and young athletes to leave a program where they feel like they are part of a community. 

Parent Communication

Remember, most parents of young athletes pay for a program that they don’t’ stick around to watch.  Somewhere between when parents drop their young athletes off and when they pick them up, you’re most likely doing some cool stuff to enrich their child’s life. How do parents know that? 

I’ve learned that coaches can’t assume parents have any idea what’s happening with their child between drop off and pick up.  Young kids aren’t exactly forthcoming in sharing the details of a day of training either. 

This makes it critical for coaches to connect with parents either in person, on the phone, via email, or by text at least once per week.  Once a child is old enough to drive themselves to training, communication doesn’t have to be as frequent. 

To keep this communication concise and effective, I recommend the “4 Sentence Conversation”:  

  1. Tell the parent something their child did well that day/week.
  2. Share a unique personality trait that their child has that allows them to be successful (“Logan is really using her arms well when she runs. She’s such a good listener, she really takes coaching well.”)
  3. Share one thing you are working on.
  4. Share how this skill contributes to one of the long-term goals shared by the parent or athlete.

This level of consistent feedback brings parents into the process. It leaves no question as to where their investment of time, money, and energy in your program is going. They are less likely to discontinue participation when they understand where their child is in the developmental process. It doesn’t hurt that they get to know you better either. 

These conversations are also a very personalized forum to encourage sign-ups for future programs in addition to soliciting testimonials and referrals. 

Another step you can take to bring parents into the process is to regularly text a picture or video of their child in action. Obviously, be sensitive to parent concerns about pictures of their child, but I can honestly say I’ve never had an issue sending a parent a picture of their child in action when they are not there to see them. 

The above steps provide a consistent answer to “what am I paying for?” This increases the value of your program so it becomes a higher priority on the endless list of things kids are doing or could be doing.   

When looking at the different interventions we have taken with coaches in order to help them improve their program adherence with 5-12 year-olds, frequent 1-1 parent interaction has emerged as one of the most important factors. 

Incentives for Progression

Another way to keep kids and parents excited and engaged with a long-term developmental program is to clearly define developmental benchmarks for skills and recognize kids for accomplishing these benchmarks. 

Consider the success of the “belt” system in martial arts for keeping kids and parents engaged with the program. A young martial artist and their parents are aware of universal criteria for progression. To get the next belt, they have to do “X”.  Once they do “X”, they earn a public symbol of accomplishment and acumen; a colored belt.   

In terms of youth strength and conditioning, picture creating levels designated by a colored wrist band, t-shirt, or other designation. To earn a certain color of wristband, a young athlete has to display competency with a list of skills and accomplishments.

For example, for a “Level 1” wristband, youth athletes would need to:

  1. Identify relevant gym equipment by name
  2. Identify specific anatomy
  3. Recite a gym mantra or ethos by memory in front of a group
  4. Perform 1-3 fundamental movement patterns with developmentally appropriate criteria
  5. Perform an at-home chore, activity, etc. a certain number of times with parent signature 

Once the athlete accomplishes these criteria, they receive an appropriately colored wristband or other awards. They are immediately aware of what they must do to accomplish the next level.

Notice the criteria for progression involve skills beyond exercise. This allows a coach to reinforce the expectation, culture, and positive external influence of their program. 

The coaches I have worked with that have implemented this type of system report that:

  1. Kids become more engaged in the learning process. They want to master skills so they can get to the next defined level. 
  2. Parents are more aware of specific skills and why they are important to the process of development. They also value the at-home progression criteria that compels their kids to do things they usually wouldn’t do; like making their bed, clearing their dinner dishes, etc. 
  3. Assessments have become more relevant to the needs of young athletes. The focus shifts to the quality of a movement vs. merely the magnitude. This ensures that the focus of progression at young ages is skill proficiency. 
  4. Coaches are able to expand their expectations for things outside of exercise. They are seeing more at-home adherence in addition to increased attention to other aspects of their program they deem important. Imagine how much more efficient coaching becomes when athletes are expected to understand basic anatomy, equipment vocabulary, and other important aspects of training.  
  5. Kids are staying in their programs longer. 

The more I’ve worked with coaches from different organizations and programs, it’s become more and more clear that when it comes to creating a program that maximizes engagement with kids and parents, it’s not so much what we do, but how we do it. These concepts seem so simple, yet we as coaches often forget their importance. 

The best training program in the world in a disengaged, disconnected environment fails to deliver results for anyone involved. 

There are also quite a few factors associated with the business model, like how payments are collected (EFT!), how frequently programs are run (no “gaps” between programs!), and others that impact program adherence. However, not every coach in an organization has influence over these factors. 

Whether you own a youth fitness facility or work for one, remember to take the above steps to create a training environment that gets parents and kids excited to be committed for the long haul.  

Brett Klika is a youth performance expert and a regular contributor to the IYCA who is passionate about coaching young athletes.  He is the creator of the SPIDERfit Kids youth training program and has run successful youth fitness programs all over the country.  Brett is an international speaker whose passion for youth fitness has helped thousands of people learn how to create exceptional training experiences for young athletes.


The IYCA Certified Athletic Development Specialist is the gold-standard certification for anyone working with athletes 6-18 years old.  The course materials were created by some of the most experienced and knowledgeable professionals in the industry, and the content is indisputably the most comprehensive of any certification related to athletic development.  Learn more about the CADS certification here:

How to Create a Niche? – Eric Cressey & Jim Kielbaso

A lot of strength & conditioning professionals wonder how others have created strong businesses and niches in the industry.  In a nutshell, creating a niche is focusing your efforts on a specific group or sub-set of a larger population.  For example, you might focus your efforts on female soccer players, athletes 8-11 years old, adults over 65, high school hockey players, offensive linemen in football, or athletes recovering from an injury.  It doesn’t mean you won’t ever work with other people, but focusing on one group of people allows you to establish a foothold in one segment of a larger market, and gives you the opportunity to be “the expert” in a specific area.

Young coaches often look at the success of professionals like Eric Cressey in the baseball market or Jim Kielbaso in speed development and want to make that happen for themselves in other niches.  But, while most people choose their niche then try to market their services, it doesn’t always happen that way. 

“It happened largely by accident” said Cressey in an interview with Jim Kielbaso. “I think there are definitely people that are certainly forcing it. That can be a tremendous thing for people, and I absolutely see the industry going in that direction, particularly as you look at what’s happening in the industry.  I saw the first sub-pectoral biceps tenodesis in major league history. That was a surgery that they really started doing fairly recently.  Cut Schilling was the first guy in major league baseball to have it, and now they’re giving them out like they’re candy.  We’re evolving pretty dramatically, both physiologically but also  in the context of how we treat different sporting demands, so you’re gonna see more of things like Jim Kielbaso is working with football guys, Mike Boyle working with hockey, Mike Robertson is working with soccer – that’s the direction I see this going. With that said, it’s really, really hard to force these things because there are a lot of things you have to realize.”

These people didn’t necessarily set out to dominate a specific niche.  “I was just obsessed with speed training and the mechanics involved early in my career,” says Jim Kielbaso.  “Before people were really talking about it, I recognized that we (strength & conditioning coaches) have a massive opportunity to help athletes by teaching them how to move more efficiently.  I called it Movement Training back in the 90’s, but that term has obviously changed through the years.  I was working more with basketball players at the time, but I happened to help some football players improve their 40 times by teaching them more efficient mechanics.  Well, they told their friends, and those friends told others, and before you knew it I had all sorts of people coming to me to run faster.”

“You have to realize it’s important to be passionate about something beyond just monetary gains,” continues Cressey.  “So as an example, I did a little bit of NBA combine prep towards the end of my U-Conn experience so I had some time in it.  When you get into the baseball world, you realize that you’re swamped effectively the second week in September all the way up until the first week in March. And then you have basically six weeks to gather your thoughts before you start going with your summer guys.  So I’ve had some agents who represent baseball players whose agency also have basketball players and football guys and they’ve asked me if I’d be interested in doing NBA combine or NFL combine prep.  I realized that would literally be walking away from the four weeks of quiet that I get each year. You have to be passionate about it but you have to be passionate about it beyond just monetary gains because if I try to be everything to everybody, it doesn’t work.”

It seems that niches most often grow organically rather than artificially.  It’s not so much about finding a way to make money as it is finding a need, and being the right person to service that.  But, it’s also critical that you are passionate about a nice to become extremely invested and good at it.  It would be very difficult to work with soccer players all day if you don’t like the sport or culture of the sport.  Niches evolve when there is a need combined with passion and expertise.

“Nobody can read all the journal articles about pitching injuries and on top of that know how everything is changing in the NFL or NHL,” explains Cressey. “I think you also have to be good at it. Shoulders and elbows can be really, really complex. I’m a very good shoulder and elbow guy. I’m terrible when it comes to foot and ankle.  I probably wouldn’t be a good foot and ankle physical therapist. So, you have to be able to acquire the information easily to really take over a niche.”

“I was extremely fortunate to be around some of the right people early in my career that helped me understand speed development,” explains Kielbaso.  “Then, I got lucky with the fact that there are a lot of great athletes in the metro-Detroit area who want to get faster.”

“People have to realize that as well,” continues Cressey. “We wondered if we could this baseball training mecca in Hudson, Massachusetts?  We didn’t really know whether that’d be possible. We had to test the waters and eventually high school guys became college guys and college guys became pro guys and then we ultimately decided we could expand our reach by going to Florida.  I think your business model has to be able to accommodate it. You know it’s hard to really grow a specific niche if maybe you can’t outfit your facility to accommodate it. When you walk in our facility in Massachusetts, we’ve got two big tunnels for hitting, pitching, and video stuff. If we didn’t have that it would be harder to cater to baseball players.”

While you don’t have to change your entire training philosophy or marketing strategy, it’s important that you are constantly evolving and stay current with what is happening in particular segments of the industry.  Reading journal articles, attending conferences and sporting events, and fostering relationships with key people are all part of the process.

“I believe that one of the keys to success is fostering quality relationships,” says Kielbaso.  “I don’t think I could have grown my business without truly caring about the people and organizations I work with.  I’ve worked with groups in the past that I didn’t really enjoy for various reasons, and it’s very difficult to consistently pour your energy into those relationships.  Once you find people you connect with, you never seem to run out of energy.  Things just click.”

Sometimes that’s how you find your niche.  You work with enough people and groups that eventually one of them just feels “right.”  It’s also different for each person, and there is no right or wrong niche.  There are obviously certain niches that are more lucrative or sustainable, but that doesn’t mean they are right for you.

These things also take time, but when you think you’re getting some momentum in an area that is untapped, you may be on to something.

“It’s really hard if you’re not one of the first to market,” says Cressey. “We were probably the first people to do very specific baseball strength and conditioning. As much as the term is overused, we bridge the gap between rehab and high performance. That’s what you need for baseball, so you know, it’s really hard to compete against us if someone wants us to come to Massachusetts and try to compete with us in the context of training baseball players.  It’s a challenge because we’re also very well-connected.  If you have an elbow issue, we can get you in with an elbow specialist that afternoon if we want to. We know who the best physical therapists are. So, from a business standpoint, it’s very, very hard to compete with us in the baseball niche because we were one of the first to market and we’ve really worked hard to stay on top of things and really nurture that presence nationwide.”

Growing a niche is not a necessity in the sports performance industry, but it can be a way to differentiate yourself in a crowded field.  As you can see, niches often develop organically, but it’s also important to recognize when an opportunity has presented itself.

The youth training market is currently a massive opportunity for the right coaches, but there are also great opportunities in specific sports or with specific populations.  The key is to match your skills, passions, and relationships with a need in the market.  By starting general, you will begin to generate momentum and get a better feel for the possibilities.  After that, you can dive deep into becoming the best in the market to make the biggest impact possible.


The IYCA Certified Athletic Development Specialist is the gold-standard certification for anyone working with athletes 6-18 years old.  The course materials were created by some of the most experienced and knowledgeable professionals in the industry, and the content is indisputably the most comprehensive of any certification related to athletic development.  Learn more about the CADS certification here:

Business Plans for Sports Performance – Jim Kielbaso

Opening a business without a solid plan is a recipe for disaster.  It’s important that you have a thorough knowledge of your business and have thought about as many different options and scenarios as possible so that you’re prepared for the ups and downs of starting a business.  Before you start a business, take the time to think through everything involved in running a sports performance business, and use your business plan as a roadmap for success.business plan for sports performance

There are two kinds of business plans for sports performance businesses – a Traditional Plan and a Lean Startup Plan.  The Small Business Association has an excellent business planning resource that explains what goes into each plan.  The Traditional Plan is more geared toward approaching a bank or investor and is typically done in a standard format.  The Lean Startup Plan is more of a roadmap that outlines your resources and the key relationships you have to help you succeed.  I recently started Impact Sports Performance in Novi, MI and I chose to use the Lean Startup Plan because I didn’t need investors or a loan.  I have created Traditional Plans before, but I thought a Lean Startup Plan was more appropriate this time.  I also find this version more helpful in keeping your thoughts organized so you can take advantage of your opportunities.  Ultimately, you should probably do BOTH kinds of plans, but I personally feel it’s important to go through the Lean Startup Plan to help guide your course of action.

While the Traditional Plan includes more detailed financial projections, the Lean Startup Plan will force you to think about the resources and key relationships you have available.  For example, do you have relationships with coaches at a local high school or club sports organization?  Do you have access to equipment or space for training?  Do you already train athletes from a particular area that you believe will help spread your message?  Do you have people that can help with accounting, business structure creation, social media, website buildout, email promotion, construction/build-out, and more.  The Lean Startup Plan will help you focus on the nuts & bolts of your business, while the Traditional Plan will help you project into the future.

While the Traditional Plan typically has a standard format, the nice part of working on the Lean Startup Plan is that you can organize it in any way you choose.  This is more for you, so you can write it on paper, type it on a computer, jot down notes on your phone, or leave voice memos.  You just want to spend time thinking through all of your opportunities.

Even if you are already in business, I believe that the process of creating one of these business plans will produce plenty of value.  You will have to do a little research, think deeply about your position in the area, and organize your thoughts on how you will approach certain people or groups.

If you’re interested in opening a sports performance business, make sure you take advantage of the SBA resource above and take some time to create your business plan.  Ultimately, your business plan should help you take action.  No business has ever been successful without taking massive action, so use this process to guide the steps you’ll take as you embark on your new journey.


Jim Kielbaso IYCAJim Kielbaso is the President of the IYCA and Owner of Impact Sports Performance in Novi, MI.  He has authored multiple books, articles and training products and has spoken at events around the world.  He holds a BS in Exercise Science, an MS in Kinesiology and has gone through multiple certifications through the IYCA, NSCA, NASM and more.  Jim is a former college strength & conditioning coach and has trained thousands of athletes at every level of competition.  He runs a successful NFL Combine training program in Michigan and has been hired as a consultant for major sports programs like the University of Michigan Football Program and the University of Kentucky Basketball Program.


To learn more from Jim, check out the IYCA Certified Speed & Agility Specialist course.  The CSAS is the most comprehensive and scientifically sound speed certification in the athletic development profession.  It truly prepares you to teach and develop speed.  Click on the image below to learn more.

speed & agility certification

Politics and Athletic Development? – Jim Kielbaso

This election season has really gotten me to think about things in a way that relates to athletic development and the business of strength & conditioning. Now, before you get upset thinking I’m gonna talk about politics, I’m not!  Instead, I’ve noticed that the way we consume politics is very similar to the way we consume information about strength and conditioning, and it’s probably not the best way for us to make decisions.

In my opinion, one of the most important traits we can have is the ability to keep an open mind, research facts, and not get swept up in feelings, half-truths, and people saying whatever they feel like.

I’m talking about strength and conditioning right now, not politics!

I’m talking about understanding complex training concepts and knowing the facts.  But, the only way you’re going to know the facts is by digging deep and finding out what actually works, not what people SAY works or what you FEEL works.

A lot of people make programming decisions based on things like “well, so and so said this” or “I’m doing this program because this other coach or sports figure does it” or “I really think this looks cool.”  I also hear A LOT of people say things like “in my experience….” Well, experience certainly matters, but if you haven’t been in coaching for years, trusting your limited experience could be a mistake. You may want to count on the experiences of people who have been doing it for 20, 30, 40 years.

And, saying you read something doesn’t automatically make it a fact. If you read it in a magazine, on a blog, or on Twitter, that is NOT the same as reading it in a scientific journal, taking a course, or learning from a coach who has been in the trenches for 20 years. These are big differences and the election cycle kind of got me thinking about this because I’m noticing a lot of people also making both their political AND training decisions based on small bits of information without getting more details.

We see something on Instagram from someone with a bunch of followers, and we instantly think it must be the truth instead of digging deeper, doing our own research and getting the whole story.  So, whether it’s politics or strength & conditioning, it’s important to get the whole story before you make a decision.

I think we need to think about foundational concepts and ignore too much hype or what “everybody else is doing.” We don’t need to pick sides and follow people blindly based on who your friends like.  Do you really decide who to vote for by seeing signs on the road? Or do you make up your mind based on facts and digging in and actually learning about what’s going on?

Are you able to sift through the garbage on the internet? In both cases, politics and strength and conditioning, we are on absolute overload with garbage.  In politics, they call it fake news.  In S & C, it’s called bro-science.  There’s too much out there and it’s hard to sift through it all. How can we sift through it all? We can’t. It’s impossible. But you can’t check social media and call that education. It’s not. It’s just social media where there are no fact-checkers, and there’s just too much out there to keep track of everything.

It has really become a challenge for many professionals to dive deep into a topic because we’ve gotten so used to short blips of information. Many coaches make training decisions based on a YouTube video or Instagram post. If you see something on social media, that should prompt you to dig deeper into what you’re doing, what you’re thinking about, and how you’re making your decisions. It shouldn’t be your only source of information.

Unfortunately, I don’t really have a perfect way of telling you to sift through the garbage other than explaining what I do. First, I find lots of different sources of information. Of course, I use social media, but I also go to scientific journals, I take courses, I have multiple degrees, I read lots of books, I attend conferences, and I go to people who have many years of experience in the industry who put out quality information and who are in the trenches daily.  These people have been doing it for years, documenting the results, analyzing their experiences and their programs, and then making decisions based on those analytics.

I try hard to determine what the actual training effect is going to be from any exercise or stimulus.  You need at least a basic background in anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology to understand how the body might adapt to a particular stimulus, but this is very, very important.  You also need to have an understanding of HOW MUCH of a stimulus is necessary in order to elicit an adaptation.  We also know that our nervous system can learn new skills, but if we don’t know a little about motor learning, we may not understand exactly how to get the nervous system to learn quicker.

Yes, you actually need to understand the processes involved in adaptation. Otherwise, you’ll watch a cool looking exercise on Instagram and decide to use it just because it’s new.  New might look cool, but it is not always good or useful.  There may be a reason that no one has ever seen this exercise.  Maybe it’s fluff.

Along with the effectiveness of a training stimulus, you have to weigh the risk vs. benefit to help determine whether it’s the right choice to include in a program.  For example, when I see kids standing on stability balls or doing circus tricks, I feel like the training benefit is incredibly small while the risk is fairly high.  Or, I’ll see kids stacking a bunch of plates up on top of boxes to see how high they can jump.  Again, the training benefit of jumping onto a box is no greater than jumping in the air as high as you can and landing on the ground, but the risk is MUCH greater.  So, I personally don’t feel like the risk outweighs the benefit.

I will also try to determine if something is economical.  Basically, is this new exercise or training method worth the time an athlete will have to put into it?  Does it give you a good “bang for the buck” or is the potential benefit so small that it’s basically wasting time.  And, every time you choose to do an exercise, you are simultaneously deciding to NOT do every other exercise in the world.  So, it better be worthwhile.

Finally, I have to decide if a particular method is right for every athlete or just for certain athletes.

I like to find multiple people or sources to discuss training so I can understand several angles. I try to take in as much as I can and keep an open mind while I’m doing it.

It is okay to change your mind. It’s certainly good to question the validity of new things, but it’s also OK to learn something new and admit that you’re either wrong or didn’t know something.  Mike Boyle is one of the most respected coaches in the profession, and he has changed his mind many times.  In politics, it would be called a flip-flop.  In training, it’s called learning and evolving….which is good!

So, I hope you can see that this wasn’t supposed to be political at all, but the way we consume politics has many parallels to the way we have been consuming training information.  I think it’s time to take a step back, slow down, and dig deeper into topics.  We should have a thorough understanding of training methods before we use them with athletes.  If we don’t, we are walking blindly through the forest, hoping to find a path home.

And, I think we can all agree that we can be better than anything happening in politics.


Jim Kielbaso is the President of the IYCA and owner of Impact Sports Performance in Novi, Michigan.  He has authored multiple books, articles and training products and has spoken at events around the world.  He holds a BS in Exercise Science, an MS in Kinesiology and has gone through multiple certifications through the IYCA, NSCA, NASM and more.  Jim is a former college strength & conditioning coach and has trained thousands of athletes at every level of competition.  He runs a successful NFL Combine training program in Michigan and has been hired as a consultant for major sports programs like the University of Michigan Football Program and the University of Kentucky Basketball Program.

The IYCA High School Strength & Conditioning Specialist is the only certification created specifically for coaches training high school athletes.  The course includes several hours of video instruction (including a complete Olympic lifting instructor course) and two textbooks with contributions from some of the top strength and conditioning coaches in America.  Click on the image below to learn more about how to become a certified high school strength & conditioning coach.

Autonomy: Building Relationships & Buy-In – Jared Markiewicz

This is Part 3 of a 3-part series on developing relationships and buy-in as a coach. All of this comes from Self Determination Theory, and Jared Markiewicz has used these exact processes to work with his staff and clients. Part 1 addresses the concept of Relatedness. Part 2 addresses the concept of Competence, and this edition addresses the concept of Autonomy. We highly encourage you read all three parts of this series and consider implementing these concepts into your coaching or business activities.


Autonomy is the ability to have or make decisions that lead to a direction. 

Basically, you get an opinion that is heard regarding the direction that is taken. And since adolescent athletes have LOTS of opinions, what better way to motivate them than by listening to their opinion.

Additionally, there are levels to autonomy that we will break down simply into two categories:

1) Low control choices are simple THIS or THAT questions guiding simple task selection.

2) High control choices are more complex, necessitating a greater understanding of the variables that exist to drive a team or group towards the mission.

As it relates to motivation levels, the level of control rises as it’s recognized the individual’s motivation is more intrinsically driven.

So, how do we apply this concept to a gym full of coaches and athletes? Simply put, those wanting more autonomy need to EARN THE RIGHT (ETR).

Stated over and over again in this series, “Earn The Right,” gives the person looking for motivation a reason to stay engaged. The more they push to get better, the more they will receive feedback demonstrating your confidence in them.

The end result, they are more in control of their path to achieving greatness than most anyone has offered them before. And you get to be the one providing it to them!

Coach to Staff

When issues or new opportunities arise, they are great times to utilize your team, give them their first amendment rights and often come up with great ideas or solutions.

But to do so, you as the leader need to establish some firm guidelines.

To explain this, let’s compare the process to creating a beautiful house.

The first step to building a beautiful home is laying a solid foundation so it lasts a long time.

In your gym, that is simply your mission or value statement and your core values.

Then a house needs a frame, something it can stand on and can handle most anything you add to it without collapsing over. It’s unlikely to be noticed unless it’s a problem but people are drawn to certain layouts over others.

In your gym, that is the training environment: the actual organization, structure and feel of your facility.

Once you have those pieces in place, your staff understands enough to get involved in the process of how to complete the house and make it incredible.

So when an issue arises or an opportunity presents itself, your team has the tools to weigh in on a solution and be a part of the process.

You as the leader are no longer expected to have all the answers. More importantly, the solution will likely be one with far more insight than if you sat in your office staring at the wall struggling for hours on end.

But insight doesn’t mean perfection. Mistakes are likely to happen. It can be difficult for a business owner to shoulder the mistakes of his staff and not want to step in to just do the job right. That is NOT delegating.

Action Step: offer low control choices for your staff members to allow them to build confidence and truly take ownership in their role on your team. If they make mistakes early, it shouldn’t be devastating to your business.

And, if your approach is slow but consistent, the long-term result will be a collaborative think tank of ideas and solutions by your highly motivated staff members.

Coach to Athletes

Picture this: you are first learning how to bowl.

One coach says, “to bowl well you must take 5 steps, hold the ball in your right hand exactly and cross your right leg behind you after you toss the ball.”

A different coach says, “I’m going to show you a number of ways to get a bowling ball down the lane effectively and then I want you to choose one and try it yourself.”

Which coach do you want? Or, which coach do you want for your child?

Giving athletes choices with constraints allows them to explore, feel empowered and still maintain a safe and effective path to higher performance levels. It’s all about autonomy with constraints.

Choices in a training session can be provided at a young training age as long as the constraints are narrow.

For a new athlete to your program, a simple question of, “did that feel hard OR easy,” will be enough to help you gauge their abilities/attitude while allowing them to be involved in the process. It’s a choice no matter how minuscule it might seem.

As they Earn The Right, the conversation can evolve towards the actual program makeup, recovery from training/practice/competition and optimization of their training cycles.

Providing choices has also highlighted an unexpected outcome for some of our athletes.

Occasionally we come across the “problem athlete.” We have all coached this boy or girl. They struggle with the standards of a school curriculum and a, “do this or else,” approach doesn’t jive with them.

We have found athletes like this thrive when given choices and a say in what goes on. They don’t always get what they want, but the fact that they have a voice and we acknowledge it makes for an adherent and driven athlete.

Action Step: Start giving choices to your athletes during warm ups, as they go through their ramp up sets or in the conditioning portion or play portion of the training session. Areas that will be minimally affected by options and are unlikely to cause you stress about them not doing the right thing (because we all know we will!)

We have the ability to improve the processing and learning of our athletes while instilling confidence through choices; so let’s do it!

Staff to Athlete

It’s your job to create structure for your staff to best coach the athletes they work with.

Therefore, it’s time for your coaches to better manage their groups by implementing the Earn The Right mentality with their athletes.

When they provide athletes some control over the direction of their training, it can generate authentic leadership within the team or group.

It all comes down to questions. This is probably the most difficult systematically speaking. You need to teach your staff not only how to ask quality questions but also how to listen and respond accordingly.

To make it simple and gain traction for your staff with their athletes, they can use the image of a dangling a carrot in front of a horse.

At the beginning of the session, ask the athletes this, “we have 5 minutes at the end of the session that I want to leave open to you to decide how we use it. We can either foam roll or play a game. Tell me your decision and if we are efficient, we can possibly have 10 minutes for Spiky ball hoops (crowd favorite at FIT).

Not only will you get more efficient work done but also you will start to have athletes step up and shepherd the flock when someone is getting off track.

Action Step: Have your coaches ask the athletes what they want. Then provide them an opportunity to earn it without making it a guarantee.

When you create a system for choices with constraints by simply asking questions, it can breed leadership and buy in like no other.

And what leader doesn’t want a staff that has efficient training sessions full of motivated athletes, stepping up as leaders.

It’s a win/win/win!

Wrap Up

As leaders, we all aspire to a weight room culture of massively bought in athletes and coaches.

But, your motivation and passion isn’t enough. You have to put the effort in to learn what drives your team and your athletes.

When you lay down a foundation based on a well-researched model like the Self Determination Theory, you can then build your own creative structure on top! Then the process can be fun and inclusive.

And when you set expectations for your staff and your athletes that ownership isn’t given but EARNED, you are on your way to massive buy in from everyone involved.

jared markiewiczJared Markiewicz is the founder and CEO of Functional Integrated Training, in Madison, WI.  Jared has worked with a wide array of athletes including middle schoolers, collegiate and professional athletes, as well as adults – all looking to find the best version of themselves.  He sits on the IYCA Advisory Board, has gone through many IYCA certifications, and is a regular contributor and speaker for the IYCA.

Jared holds a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology with an emphasis in Exercise and Movement Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He’s also a Certified Personal Trainer through the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM-CPT), an Advanced Sport Performance Coach through USA Weightlifting, a Level 2 Functional Movement Screen Specialist, a Precision Nutrition Level 1 Coach (PN1) and a golf fitness instructor through Titleist Performance Institute.


If you want to be better at coaching young athletes, the IYCA Youth Fitness Specialist certification is the industry gold-standard for youth fitness and sports performance.  Click on the image below to learn more about the YFS1 certification program.

Brett Bartholomew – “Valued” Webinar

Brett Bartholomew has quickly become the leading expert in helping coaches become better performers, leaders, and professionals.  He has made a huge impact on the sports performance industry, but his principles and methods are also being applied in corporations, government agencies, and small businesses.

Brett’s “Valued” course, is a little different than some of his other training programs.  In Valued, Brett has created a self-paced online course for coaches who want to land a job they’ve always wanted, make more money to provide their families with stability, and stand out within their organizations for all the right reasons.  A lot of coaches have discussions about this that turn into nothing more than complaining about why they aren’t paid more, respected more, or feel like they can do their job for their entire career.

Brett took a drastically different approach and spent over a year researching, learning, creating, and developing a curriculum to help you become the best version of your professional self.

He took some time to speak with Jim Kielbaso and a group of professionals on a live webinar where he laid out many of the most important pieces of this puzzle.  You can now watch the entire webinar with Brett Bartholomew right here:

You can get the entire Valued Course by going to ValuedCourse.com.  You can also hear Brett speak in-person at the IYCA Summit in metro-Detroit, MI April 24-25, 2020.


Competence: Building Relationships & Buy-In – Jared Markiewicz

In the first installment of this mini-series surrounding the Self Determination theory, we discussed using relatedness to better motivate your staff, athletes you coach and structuring a system so you can teach your staff how to better motivate athletes.  It’s highly recommended to go over Part 1 first, so take a few minutes to review that if you haven’t already.  

The second part of this mini-series focuses on competency and using it in the same way to drive motivation. So let’s dive in!

Competence: Coach to Staff

Motivating your staff to continually improve can be challenging at times. They may seek out education on a regular basis,  but the question is: How do they actually take what they learned and apply it?

Our solution for a few years now has been a weekly “Trainer Talk”

It occurs every Thursday and all coaches are expected to attend or have a damn good reason why they can’t be there. At the beginning of every quarter, each coach chooses one week in which they will present on a topic of their choice.

Having a set date early in the quarter allows the coach the ability to discuss:

  1. Key topics in our training systems or the industry
  2. Key takeaways from clinics/workshops recently attended
  3. Specific topics of interest that can evolve our training programs 

Once they get comfortable, it allows them an opportunity to teach everyone on staff, head coach included.  As a result, when a coach who has largely been in the student role is given the teacher role, motivation skyrockets!

Additionally, it gives our coaches the ability to seek out training philosophies that excite them and then collectively think tank on how we could implement pieces into what we already do.

Action Step: Implement a version of “Trainer Talk” with your staff at least 1x/month that involves your entire coaching staff.  

Initially, it might be difficult to get volunteers to step into the teaching role so I suggest starting with a mini TED talk day where you and a few other coaches present short education pieces. 

Goal: Bring to light the vast competencies on your staff to foster growth and development of professional knowledge.

Competence: Coach to Athlete

What would your answer be if someone asked you what your biggest strength is athletically? Harder yet, your biggest weakness?

Tough questions, right? 

Self-awareness is such an important part of any athlete’s ability to achieve the best they are capable of. 

Asking difficult questions like this during the initial conversation with an athlete provides 3 advantages:

  1. Create a framework of process vs. outcome based goal setting
  2. Recognize who they are as an athlete and develop a continuous improvement mentality in ALL facets of athleticism and sport skill
  3. Help them understand what they excel at, while recognizing other teammates likely excel at something different, catalyzing high level teamwork

As a coach, understanding their answers can provide a foundation to build an individual’s motivation while training.

During training, we can coach an athlete up on how a particular program or movement will help them overcome their weaknesses. Make sure when you reference this, it’s about them getting better, not matching those that already excel. 

More importantly, when they are performing something they excel at, empower them to be a leader. They have the competence, so acknowledge it and encourage them to help teammates and lead by example. 

Action Step: Implement a question or series of questions early on in the process with a young athlete. The big key here is to keep revisiting it. Part of self-awareness for a young athlete is the coach reinforcing competencies. 

Goal: Improve self-awareness for your athletes

**If you coach in a team setting, asking these questions will provide you the knowledge to position athletes in a role they will be comfortable with. Then you have set them up to thrive individually and collectively!

Competence: Staff to Athlete

Martial arts has this down to a science: if you achieve a set series of skills and can demonstrate them repeatedly, you will earn the next belt. 

Why is this such a motivator?

  1. It’s cool as heck to progress to the next level, developing a sense of PRIDE
  2. Athletes want to keep growing and learning by continuing their progress to the coveted Black belt!

At FIT, we use colored rubber bands in a similar fashion.

Our athletes need to demonstrate competency and proficiency of the core lifts: bench, squat, press, deadlift and clean, to earn the next band.

Testing week is exciting and motivating because if they have put the work in, there is a good to great chance they will level up in the band they have. 

Consistency builds competence, building performance enhancement!

HOWEVER, not all athletes are motivated by this. Many are, but almost every group will have one outlier, maybe more. 

That’s the human element we as coaches have to ALWAYS take into account.

So engage and ask those athletes how they are motivated. And then follow through on that during testing periods. (Just don’t let them tell you they are motivated by money, I only fell for that once!)

Ultimately, it’s about the athlete visualizing a path to “level up” and working to achieve that. Athletes will buy into a good training program over time, but it’s helpful early on to give them opportunities to achieve success, via bands or belts or whatever. We have found this significantly helps motivation when they plateau slightly or even lose some strength during a sport season.

Action Step:  Enlist the help of your staff to identify what structure already exists and figure out where there is the potential for levels or progressions to be created. It’s highly likely you already do something where you have pre-requisite steps that must be completed to get access to doing a movement. For example, to power clean, an athlete must demonstrate the ability to deadlift well and show the ability to get into a good front squat rack position and do a balanced front squat.

Then display it prominently to your athletes and give them SOMETHING as recognition of leveling up. It can be really simple until you get great buy in from them and your coaches.

Goal: Improve ADHERENCE to the training and therefore the speed of skill development by formally recognizing an athlete’s ongoing mastery.


jared markiewiczJared Markiewicz is the founder and CEO of Functional Integrated Training, in Madison, WI.  Jared has worked with a wide array of athletes including middle schoolers, collegiate and professional athletes, as well as adults – all looking to find the best version of themselves.  He sits on the IYCA Advisory Board, has gone through many IYCA certifications, and is a regular contributor and speaker for the IYCA.

Jared holds a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology with an emphasis in Exercise and Movement Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He’s also a Certified Personal Trainer through the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM-CPT), an Advanced Sport Performance Coach through USA Weightlifting, a Level 2 Functional Movement Screen Specialist, a Precision Nutrition Level 1 Coach (PN1) and a golf fitness instructor through Titleist Performance Institute.


If you want to be better at coaching young athletes, the IYCA Youth Fitness Specialist certification is the industry gold-standard for youth fitness and sports performance.  Click on the image below to learn more about the YFS1 certification program.