The Coach’s PersonalityExperience and research suggest that there is no “best” coaching personality, and the most successful coaches are often those who are precisely the opposite of what’s expected. Effective coaching is the result of a relationship, and as with any relationship, the outcome depends on the interaction between personalities, not whether one is “wrong” or “right.” Any image of a “right” coaching personality takes a too-narrow view and misses the range of what’s possible.
You Already Have the Coach’s Personality
By: CJ Gotcher, BLOC Academy Director
You want to coach, but you’re neither extroverted and dynamic nor are you authoritative and loud. You might share a common concern that because you’re not some mad cross between Tony Robbins and a drill sergeant, you lack the “coaching personality.” You might make a good hobbyist, but you couldn’t coach professionally.
And even if you don’t have a specific image in mind, you likely have a mental picture for what makes a “good” coaching personality, based on a model from your past—perhaps a sports coach, teacher, or your parents. If you have that picture, and it doesn’t align with your self-image, you might tell yourself the same story: “I’m just not made to be a coach.”
Experience and research suggest that there is no “best” coaching personality, and the most successful coaches are often those who are precisely the opposite of what’s expected. Effective coaching is the result of a relationship, and as with any relationship, the outcome depends on the interaction between personalities, not whether one is “wrong” or “right.” Any image of a “right” coaching personality takes a too-narrow view and misses the range of what’s possible.
In the Eyes of the Beholder
Most broadly, coaching is the process of inspiring people to change what they do until their actions change who they are. This process applies to coaches across fields—from strength to business, sport, nutrition, and style—and coaches share a great deal with other helping professionals like therapists, social workers, and teachers.
The technical tools unique to strength coaching don’t depend on personality. Movement coaching, program design, nutrition, and lifestyle changes that support recovery are a matter of science, applied and tested through personal experimentation.
An anonymous stranger can watch videos and list off errors and fixes. A template or an app can manage your programming up to a certain stage. And, if a dieter can manage their lifestyle to track every bite, computer algorithms are about as good as any coach at adjusting macronutrient and calorie counts.
Where personality gets involved is in the “inspiring people” part of coaching, and that’s where new coaches often get confused about personality. They assume that to inspire means they have to be inspirational—a descriptor that comes wrapped up in visions of Patton, JFK, and Jiminy Cricket.
Whether something is inspirational depends entirely on who is being inspired and what kind of action they’re being inspired to take.
A wise word of insight from the Dalai Lama may inspire us to do good deeds and love our fellow man, but I’m not sure how inspirational he’d be in a locker room at half-time.
The “Right” Personality
So we have a dilemma—when we’re just starting, how do we know if we have the right coaching personality?
Researchers asked this question of schoolteachers, applying the scientifically validated Big Five personality trait inventory to see how these traits separated the teachers professionally. What they found is that personality affected which subspecialty the teachers chose, but traits that seem like they should be connected with teaching success—like extraversion and conscientiousness—had no measurable impact on performance.
I’d suggest that we start by rejecting the idea of the “right” coaching personality altogether. Just like with teaching, there’s an apparent similarity across coaching that hides a wide diversity of client needs and effective approaches. Know you have the right personality, then take these steps to develop a practice where you can excel with the personality you have:
- Improve your technical skills. There’s no getting around the ability to coach movement, design useful programs, and provide nutrition and lifestyle guidance that will get results. If you lack confidence in the basics, you’ll fail to express your unique style.
- Practice presence. When you’re working with someone, or coaching online, make sure that’s all you’re doing at that moment. Nothing kills the richness of a personal interaction like a distraction.
- Develop a coaching story that has integrity with your values, identities, and priorities. This is an ongoing process, but as a starting point for reflection, fill in this sentence:
“My lifters don’t just want _______; they want _______.”
“My lifters don’t just want sets and reps; they want to be part of a community of warriors.”
“My clients don’t just want macro recommendations; they want to feel more control over their lives.”
“My trainees don’t just want to be stronger; they want to win on the platform.”
None of these speak to me, but each one resonates with a range of people and may resonate with you as a coach, and that connection serves as the anchor for how you design and align your coaching practice.
The Coaching Spectrum
This is true regardless of the means and methods you use. At Barbell Logic, we use a variety of tools for different goals, but our primary tool is the barbell—it’s in the name, after all—and most of our lifters identify increased strength as one of their top interests.
Despite the similarities, however, we’re hardly clones:
Karl Schudt takes an even keel on the platform, giving short cues with a level pace and tone. He motivates his lifters with appeals to health and the value of a life that isn’t just long but glorious, with a smattering of quotes and poems from the ancients for good measure. An engineer, teacher, and musician, he brings his experience in music to coaching, breaking down complex movements into easier chunks, just like a music teacher breaks down complex music into easier passages that the student can handle.
Brittany Snyder, on the other hand, brings a distinctly different mix of warmth, supportiveness, and energy to the platform. An extraverted people-connector and community-builder, her coaching events calendar is as full as her range of karaoke songs. Although she doesn’t have an engineering bent, she’s motivated to learn the core coaching disciplines because it builds client trust, knowing that trust builds the close relationships that are at the heart of her practice.
Because we at BLOC know these coaches and watch them at work, it’s intuitive to us that we’re all different. To get a better picture of just how different, a sample of our coaches took a test of the Big Five personality traits. The results ranged across the board.
We have social animals and stay-at-home types, curious experimenters and cautious skeptics, meticulous organizers and messy masterminds. Despite the similarities in our methods and background, having this spectrum of personality types allows us to match lifters to coaches who seem like they’ll be a better fit.
So, if you’re the type of coach that’s directive, assertive, and constantly challenges clients to do better, be that coach and work with clients who respond to that energy in a healthy way. The same goes if you’re a high-energy community-builder, a technical and strategic planner, or a more reflective mentor and advisor.
In this sense, then, personality in coaching is more than just “being yourself.” It’s crafting a space where your whole self—your passions, traits, and personality—make the greatest impact with the people you most want to serve.
Have a clear mission, articulate it, live it with integrity, allow it to inform your coaching, and attract the right people, and you have the “right personality.”