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Is Certification Worth it?

I recently read a blog post over at Cressey Sports Performance written by a recent intern.

What I realized was many coaches in the industry were very technically smart, but lacked the most basic people skills. Instead of addressing this issue, most accumulate more degrees and certifications, thinking a new certification will have clients lining up to train with them. The problem is most clients don’t know what the certifications mean. Once I truly understood that client’s retention was heavily dependent on their relationship with their coach, I became more cognizant of the experience I was providing clients. Despite not really knowing what I was doing, I decided it was best to start with simply enjoying myself. My thought was if I was in a good mood and wanted to be at the gym then maybe the clients might feel the same way. It seems stupid simple, but look around and notice how many coaches suck all the enjoyment out of training.” -Brett Velon

Brett goes on to list 3 ways coaches can improve relationships with their clients. While I agree wholeheartedly with Brett’s emphasis on the importance of building authentic coach-client relationships, I also think it is a mistake to de-emphasize certification. I have had experience working with both-certified strength and conditioning coaches and a coach who didn’t think the certification was worth the money. My personal opinion is that there needs to be a way to vet coaches, and certification is one perfectly acceptable way to do that-but it should not be the only source of information used when selecting a coach and personal trainer.

Based on my experience sitting in the “client” seat, being a “nice guy” and having a fun place to workout simply does not cut it, but then again, I guess it depends on your clientele.

Determining your role for each client is vital to developing a positive connection. You’re not only a strength coach, but possibly also a motivator, guide, mentor, therapist, and babysitter. Understanding the reason why someone is training will guide you as to what role to take on. While not mutually exclusive, most reasons fall into one of the three categories: money/scholarships, parent/coach, and social/health.


Brett is correct when he shares that clients often can be categorized into sub groups- and it is vitally important to know which category each of your clients fall into. He is probably correct when he says that people who join a gym or work with a trainer for social and health reasons could care less about certification-however, if you are training athletes (or people who consider themselves athletes) then you had better up your game, and certification shows you care enough to bring your “A”game. Holding a certification also ensures you continue to educate yourself without relying on Instagram and Facebook for your professional development and training.

There is another side to coaching and that is the continued professional growth and development necessary when working with clients coming from a wide variety of backgrounds with varying personalities. Being a coach is more than knowing about energy systems and body parts ; it is vitally important to understand where people are coming from and what their emotional needs are as well.

As a former classroom teacher I have shared before the importance of getting to know each and every student in front of you. Like coaches, teachers must continually learn and grow professionally. The difference between coaching and teaching (unless you are a private school teacher) is that your clients-your people- have a choice, and so do coaches.

So it is not only important to know your people, but to know who you want to coach. It is not enough to simply act like you care; sometimes caring means knowing when you do not have the expertise, and caring enough to learn more, and continuing to grow and learn even when you think you have it all figured out. Humans are complex and coaching-like teaching- requires complex interpersonal skills.

So yes, I agree that certification alone does not mean a coach or personal trainer is “good” at what they do, but it also does not mean they don’t care. Clients should look for both- a degree from an accredited college or university combined with continued professional learning which may or may not lead to certification, and someone who cares to nurture a relationship -long after the free trial membership ends -will have a client for a very long time.





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