Professional Transitions: Starting from ScratchHow do you manage coaching as a first career, when the big-box trainer and sports coach tracks don’t appeal, but you don’t have deep professional roots to draw on? The choices and opportunities that lead from one career path to another may have started long before you took up the transition. Coach CJ Gotcher and Coach Brooke Haubenstricker share lessons from one of the many unbeaten paths to professional coaching.
Professional Transitions (Part 4): Starting from Scratch
By: CJ Gotcher with Brooke Haubenstricker
Many of our staff coaches and Barbell Academy students started their coaching journeys after they were established in another field, and we’ve shared the stories of how they broke out of professional ruts in a financially sane way to follow their own paths.
But how do you manage coaching as a first career, when the big-box trainer and sports coach tracks don’t appeal, but you don’t have deep professional roots to draw on?
That was Brooke Haubenstricker in 2015. Working toward her undergraduate in Business Management, she started lifting at Black Iron Training and realized—along the way—that the PhD route wasn’t for her.
She still had the freedom to flex her career choices, but with that freedom came uncertainty and an overflow of options—moving out of state, selecting among careers and backup plans, and trying to finish her degree, all under the looming shadow of growing student loan debt.
Although Brooke would be the first to admit that she made plenty of mistakes along the way, looking back, she can see the choices and opportunities that led her from where she was to her current role as a BLOC staff coach and contributor to the Mental Health Series, and they started before she even thought of coaching:
Get Coached. Be Coachable: Brooke remembers her early experience as a lifter as being a key part in her journey. It gave her the perspective of a client—how trust is built with a coach, the importance of clear communication, the best way to support a discouraged lifter, and much more. Memories like these give valuable insight into what training looks like for people who are relying on your guidance.
Pay Attention: When she realized she might be interested in coaching, Brooke took an active role in learning, asking questions about the coaching process from her coaching mentors, and sharing knowledge and experiences with other budding coaches.
Create Opportunity: Paying attention, Brooke noticed opportunities that she otherwise might have missed. She became an intern at Black Iron Training and applied to have the internship to count toward college credits. She took up the role of an associate coach, attending, assisting, and eventually coaching at local camps. And she embraced the opportunities to visit other gyms, coach different lifters, and experience new environments and coaching styles.
None of these were necessarily planned, and Brooke never mapped out a “career strategy;” she just stayed open to take opportunities when they arose.
“Network”: According to Brooke, some of the most important opportunities—and learning experiences—came from an often-underestimated coaching strategy: talking to people. It was scary at first, but she asked three different coaches for mentorship over the course of her career and grew incredibly with each one.
Find a coach who is an expert in a field you want to know more about and learn as much as you can. Connect with other aspiring coaches and build a network— studying for exams, helping work through tough problems, growing as coaches together.
Know Thyself: Brooke saved herself years of frustrating work by realizing that she wasn’t going to be happy sitting in front of a computer all day. And along the way, she made specific choices knowing her personality and situation. For instance, knowing she might move and didn’t have a risk-tolerant entrepreneurial spirit, opening a gym wouldn’t have been the right choice. Online coaching and in-person coaching at another gym or a garage setup were more in line with her needs.
Many coaches get caught up in what the “right” business model is without asking, “what’s right for me?” Brooke wanted to help people—that’s why most coaches get into this—but what that looked like depended on her unique skills and personality.
Start Small: A big lesson-learned for Brooke was to start small. When you’re beginning as a coach, even if you’ve got the programming and movement coaching down well enough, you’re still inefficient. It takes time to figure out the systems and processes to serve your clients and manage your own schedule. On top of that, new clients take the most time and attention, and with the depth of service she provides through BLOC, every five online lifters marked a new level of complexity.
Taking the time to grow into the role, learning along the way, would have enabled her to dodge a lot of unnecessary headaches at the start.
There are few “beaten paths” to becoming a coach, and the paths we do have aren’t always appealing, often filled with long hours, high stress, and little pay. When you’re just starting out, navigating among them can feel like driving through a deep fog. Being faced with that fog brings E. L. Doctorow’s advice to mind: “You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
Get a coach and be absorbed in the process. Keep your head up for opportunities to learn and test out possible options. Network in a community of fellow coaches and passionate lifters—in-person and online—through places like our Learning Corner Facebook Group and the Principles Course. Pay attention to what serves you and the uniqueness you bring to the table. Build your practice at a pace that lets you learn and deliver a service you’re proud of.
And, eventually, the fog starts to clear a bit—though never entirely—and you find yourself doing something you love.