How to Retain Valued Full and Part Time Coaches

Coaching turnover or the inability for the owner operator to create a hiring process are what kills most gyms. With less turnover, your customer experience will be more consistent and you won’t spend money on constantly training and re-hiring coaches only to see them burnout from overwork and underpay.

We will share our entire onboarding process for new coaches in another podcast or article, but today I want to help you with how to retain the coaches you currently have in place. We now have a roster of sixteen which now more than ever, has increased our need for strong leadership. We have a number of built in retention practices that are meant to retain our coaches, both full-time and part-time alike.

Select Great People

Article over. The end.

I wish. 

The point though needs to lead off this article. Select good people that align with what you’re trying to do, and chances are, they’ll want to stick around and help build it. We’ve certainly made hiring blunders in the past, but we’re overall incredibly fortunate to have the people we do, and because they are genuinely good, professional, team oriented people it makes keeping them a hell of a lot easier.

Get the DNA of the people right first.

Quality Onboarding

If you want coaches to stay, then make the process where they actually come on board one that is exciting and creates a clear path to how you see their development at your gym taking form.

Our process has evolved over the years going form terrible to decent, to now pretty good (but still trending upward). 

After attending our annual Coach Academy, new coaches start out as Assistant Coaches where the are assigned a coach to shadow for 20 classes. This usually takes two months, and from there they become eligible for a Coach position when one becomes available. Once a Coach, they start at Level 1 and advance based on tenure and experience.

Is this a very involved process for our line of work?

Absolutely. Yes. With intention. We want to set the tone early that this is place where you will be expected to learn, coach, be humbled, and contribute, and we in turn will provide you with development, coaching, support, and a path to always grow. 

We do make certain exceptions for this process if we feel someone comes to us with experience but the point is to create a clear and easy to understand process for how a coach progresses once they are hired, and it will go a long way to avoiding any confusion after they are hired.

Share Control

The need to be in control is a fundamental human need proven by psychologists many times over. All of us are hard wired to desire control and input over our behavior and outcomes, and we need to understand that coaching is no different.

That becomes a slippery slope because after all, you want your gym experience to be consistent, so telling your coaches they can do whatever they want is a recipe for disaster. However, there are ways you can provide your coaches autonomy within the structure of your organization.

Class Programming – Maybe you run specialty classes? If so, find a coach who is eager about programming for that specialty, and give them the reigns. We have a different coach program every specialty class and because they take so much pride in it, the workouts are generally of a very high quality caliber.

Coaching Style – Our classes follow the same communication timing script, but coaches can use their voice and communication style in whatever manner suits them best. Some have a softer, more subtle touch. Others are a bit more deliberate. So long as that coach is following their natural personality, we tend to find mixed styles work best.

Warm-Up – Something as simple as a coach’s call warm-up can go a long way to provide control over how the tone is set.

You need to provide clear and concise direction at all times, but you should also build in ways for your team to collaborate with its execution.

Financially Support Development

An easy way to turn your culture into one of education and development is to foot the bill for your educational expenses, and proactively create opportunities for your team to advance their craft.

We pay for 100% of our full time coaches continuing education and we issue a $500 mandatory stipend that all coaches must use within the year. By footing the bill for your coach’s education, you improve your member experience, improve your ability as a place of learning and development, and you clearly demonstrate to your team that you are invested in supporting their development. It shows that you care.

In addition, we have our own internal Coaching Levels, that go Level 1, 2, and 3. Each level requires its own project that is not unlike a college thesis or a semester final project. It is detailed and thorough, and not everyone passes on the first go.

When you are eligible for a new level based on tenure and classes coached, you become a candidate for the next level. Once the project is complete, it is reviewed by our Head Coach. Knowledge, future opportunity within our organization, and pay all increase with a passing grade. 

Our Level 3 Coaches are now eligible to be Team Leaders, where they are assigned a team of coaches they help coach. This Team Leader position comes with an increase in responsibility, contribution, and pay. Team Leaders review their coach’s classes once per month and grade their performance across certain measurables.

Everyone improves their craft as part of this collaborative process, and valuable feedback circulates around the team circle as a result of it.

Share the Wealth

While it’s been proven that people do not choose their job based on pay, we have two primary tools for increased compensation because we want to try and have finances be as little of a stressor as possible: our quarterly bonus system and profit sharing plan.

Bonus System
Every quarter, we set gym goals for operational growth. We want our team to understand the importance of revenue and what it means to provide all the things we want to provide, but we never want to make it part of the actual job description. We want the focus to always be on coaching and engaging the members.

So, one of the ways we can keep it top of mind without having it effect job happiness and performance review is by incentivizing outstanding performance. When we hit certain operational goals for team trial conversion and new member retention, the team gets a bonus that can be worth up to $3,600 per person, per year.

Profit Sharing
Going with the theme of turning your culture into one of shared success, why not share in the actual profit of the gym?

Tenured coaches receive anywhere from 1 to 6% of monthly profit BEFORE we pay ourselves as owners (we follow an eat last approach). Level 3 coaches are eligible to receive this profit sharing, and the more classes you accumulate, the more your share increases and longer tenured coaches currently can receive close to $1,000 per month.

We want to be place where every person shares in the success. It’s a great way to unite the vision of your gym, and it’s also the right thing to do as a company for the people who work hard to position it as successful. 

Give People a Cause

Why are you different? What makes you so special from the other gym down the street who literally does the exact same thing that you do? What beliefs do you plant your flag behind?

We want to be the best gym in America. We want to help people become more. We want to empower and educate people daily. We want to set and keep the standard for what a group strength and conditioning experience should entail. We want to have an amazing team and dedicate ourselves to development. We want to show beginners they can do this. 

What do you stand for?

Chalk me up among the believers that purpose and impact defeat pay when it comes to fulfillment. 

Benefits: Traditional or Creative 

We don’t believe that coaching is any less of a profession as anything else, and we try our best to put our money where are mouths are with that. Our full-time coaches are eligible for medical stipend and 401(k) matching.

Not everyone can afford these benefits, but perhaps there are creative ways that you can improve the quality of life of your coaches without an elaborate retirement or medical plan. Maybe you provide paid leave if they go on vacation? Bonuses at the end of the year for classes coached?

Also, don’t 1099 coaches. That’s just a dick move. W2 your people. 

Communicate Regularly and Well

Have recurring meetings where the entire team is present, and clearly outline who communicates what within your organization on a daily and weekly basis. 

As a team, we meet prior to the start of every new training cycle which for us is every six weeks in 2019. We review the programming for the upcoming cycle, as well as anything we’re working on as a collective team, and how we performed as a team in the previous six weeks. The hopeful outcome of those meetings is that every person knows exactly how we’re doing and what we need to do to continue to improve. 

Confusion or doubt on what coaches should be focused upon is a sure way to create workplace stress, which leads to unhappiness. 

Be Mindful of Workload

People who don’t coach have no idea how emotionally and physically draining it is. It is one of the most rewarding and emotionally empowering feelings, but it also comes at a huge daily cost.

In our early days, Pritz and I loved coaching 20 classes a week, handling a dozen privates, and running the gym all at the same time. It was our baby, and we didn’t grasp the aspect of overworking full time coaches in the same manner so we lost them after around the two year mark. Now, we understand that there is a tangible limit to what most coaches can handle and still be able to fulfill their off-class responsibilities like programming, follow-up, management, continuing education, scheduling, or anything else. 

We typically don’t let our coaches go past 20 classes in a week, and if someone is at that mark, we don’t like to keep them there for more than a year. 

Where We’ve Whiffed

As I’ve mentioned, our track record is not perfect but can be boiled down to three main mistakes.

  • Not Being Prepared — When we’ve had to hire a coach immediately it almost always resulted in a poor decision. Luckily, we haven’t been in this position in a long while, but up until about three years ago, this was an issue.
  • Not Trusting Our Gut — If you get that weird feeling, pass. Always.
  • Not Prioritizing Culture Over Knowledge — There’s a lot of knowledgeable coaches out there but few who will work for what you’re trying to build. Knowledge holes can easily and quickly be filled. Culture gaps are too wide to ever fully close. 

Keeping coaches takes more effort and more resources, but the payoff is that you develop one hell of a culture that people want to be a part of and bring their fastball to everyday.

That’s worth it every time.

Dave Thomas-Dave Thomas




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