So You Want to be a Professional Coach – Part 1

“So You Want to Become a Professional Coach?”

Part 1 – Foundations and Learning HOW to coach

If I had a dollar for how many times I have been asked “How did you become a coach?”…I would still be a coach…but, I would be a lot wealthier!

The next question (after the you version) that I get asked the most is “How can I become a coach?”

Often, after they hear about the process I have undertaken to get to this point in my career…the prospective coach is NOT interested in following my path. I get it and endorse taking a different path…because it exists today as opposed to when I started decades ago.

I am focusing exclusively on people that are NOT coaching right now and have NO coaching experience. For those of you reading this that ARE coaching and DO have experience this might be of interest, but, this blog is not aimed at helping you. We will be doing a five part blog series detailing each of the five stages of becoming a professional coach.

Here goes nothing…

First, if you truly want to be a professional coach (ie. charging $$ for your coaching services) you need to be able to visualize it as a multi-stage journey. I am going to be discussing a more organized and structured path for the prospective coach because of the lack of it in my evolution professionally.

That is not to say that you can’t get there’ on your own. I am just sharing what, in my personal and professional experience, I believe to be the path that is likely to be more successful for the largest percentage of aspiring coaches.

Let’s talk about what I consider to be the prerequisite and foundation to even considering professional coaching as a career:

Being an intentional and passionate learner

You must be a voracious learner and to be specific you must be a serious and intentional reader of actual, physical books. There are scientific reasons why, in almost all cases, reading a physical book (not your Kindle) is significantly better than anything else. Note: I am not saying that you cannot supplement your reading with Audible, listening to podcasts or watching stuff on YouTube.

What I am saying is that the physical and cognitive components to reading an actual book are superior in my opinion and based upon my research. Add all the other stuff on top of reading a great book for a specific purpose one per month.

I drive a ton so I use Audible to make better use of my time while I am driving…but, (listen to me here) I am PRIMARILY driving and thus, I am not learning as well as if I am sitting down in a quiet space ONLY reading a real book.

If you are actually able to learn better while you are listening to a book as you drive…I don’t want you driving…you are a menace to everyone else on the road.

Time is short…you must understand what is most effective and prioritize your efforts, and especially your clients, accordingly. Without exception, the clients of mine that are readers of real books…are more profitable and, most importantly, the most at peace of all my clients.

The books you need to be reading (and then supplementing with all the other media) should have two different general areas of focus: (1) General books about overall performance improvement (habits, leadership, focus, etc.) and (2) Very specific books by established and respected coaches/teachers that show specifically how to help athletes/clients apply knowledge to their lives.

I always learn an immense amount about how to help my clients perform better at work by studying the physical, emotional and cognitive aspects of how strength and conditioning coaches have improved athletes at the gym and in the game over their careers.

One thing I think is critical for the aspiring coach to understand is that many of your clients will get massive impact from your ability to possess a large and general knowledge about how people improve and then be able to share that knowledge with your clients in a way that they can personally execute upon with certainty and confidence.

Remember, we are getting paid for results in our CLIENTS lives…not how we make them feel.

Bonus: I personally find so much help for coaching business professionals from my reading about how strength and conditioning coaches that have decades of experience work with their clients to physically improve. I literally will learn a technique for coaching from how these experts help a client learn to do a barbell back squat and get incredible insight into how to help one of my business owner clients approach a completely different situation at work.

Here are the stages as I see them:

Developing the skill of coaching
Growing as a coach outside of the ‘craft’ of coaching
Developing the ability to sell coaching services
Developing your own ‘style’ of coaching within a consistent client experience
Finding and working with more experienced coaches to coach you through the different stages.

Now that you have some idea of how I envision this process let’s dive into each stage one at a time. This blog is focused on the foundation of being a successful professional coach and Stage 1.

At the end, I will share some broader observations and provide some resources.

Stage 1: Developing the skill of coaching:

This is the first stage for a very specific reason: I don’t believe that learning to coach and learning to sell coaching services are useful skills to develop at the same time. It can be done (I did) and it may be where you will find yourself, but I highly recommend dedicating some time without the pressure of earning money towards education first.

If you accept that you need to learn HOW to coach the next logical question is where to acquire the knowledge? I am going to suggest, for 99% of you, that you first take a course on how to coach nutrition even if you are planning on coaching another specialty (business, fitness, etc.). There are two very important reasons why I say start there:

Generally, nutrition coaching is less expensive for the prospective coach, and most importantly, the prospective client once you are ready to coach. Risk is a huge factor when evaluating the prospective likelihood of any endeavor having the result you desire. In all my years of attending coach training (and quite frankly conducting certifications in my own methods) the most powerful and significant coach training I ever experienced was in a nutrition coaching certification program. In my organization, every coach has to go through my favorite one before I will consider having them work with clients.

Nutrition coaching, imho, also allows coaches to work with clients on foundational issues common to all coaching practice with more precision. The outcomes are relatively simple and yet the process for helping clients to lose weight (for example) shares 99% of what you would do working with a multi-millionaire business owner. People are afraid of change and they experience similar ‘sticking points’ emotionally with any change…by focusing your skill development on nutrition first, you can quickly establish a base of coaching experience that will translate into anything else you might want to coach. On the other hand, there are nutrition coaches that build incredible incomes and have massive impact on clients all over the world…you might just love it and stay there.

If you are with me so far, the next logical question would be: Which one do I choose?

My suggestion, currently, is Precision Nutrition. I found their program to be far less dogmatic about any particular aspect of nutrition science or practice. Instead, they have a year long system for clients that is based upon building successful habits over time and resulting in a far happier client with reasonable results they can maintain for the rest of their life.

In addition, their curriculum addresses first the knowledge about how nutrition really works and then has a very concise and thorough section on how to help clients (ie. how to actually coach). I distinctly remember thinking as I was going through the material that this was how I was going to have employees of mine first start developing as coaches. I can’t thank John Bernardi and his team enough.

The program is self paced and I was able to get through it at a very fast pace because of my experience coaching, but I still found it to be the most helpful coaching training I personally had experienced. I am absolutely confident that you will as well.


Books I believe that are required for you and your clients:

Essentialism by Greg McKeown – Sometimes the most important thing I do with clients is help them to define what is really important and then be able to respectfully and effectively communicate with others about why they will not do what isn’t. Seriously, you will find that if you and your client can get on the same page about just that…the results will come and they will be life changing. This one is required reading for prospective clients of mine…I literally will almost never start working with a client that hasn’t read this.

Atomic Habits by James Clear – Once you and your client have the ability to define and defend what is essential…you need to be able to build habits that support that. James does, in my opinion, the best job of laying out the foundational elements of building habits that last for any endeavor. Another required reading for prospective clients of mine.

Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin – Quite possibly the most important book on developing the basics of leadership I have yet to experience. Being able to first focus on what you need to improve is maximally important when leading others. Not required, but almost every client ends up reading it within the first year of working with me and when I meet a prospective client that has already read it…I am far more likely to consider working with them.

The Barbell Prescription by Jonathon M. Sullivan and Andy Baker – The one stop shop for anyone interested in aging capably and independently. Does a great job of illustrating how real performance improvement can be grabbed and held onto as we age.