Confessions of an Introverted Strength Coach – Part I

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Hi. My name is Tony Gentilcore, and I’m an introvert.

I always have been, and always will be. And, if I’m going to be honest with myself it’s only been within the last few years of my adult life where I’ve accepted it, embraced it, and recognized that it’s played a massive role in not only molding me into the person I am today, but that it’s also played a role in my success as a coach, trainer, and writer.

Rather than beat around the bush and talk about “feelings” (which is every introvert’s nightmare), I guess it only makes sense to dive right into it and discuss – albeit briefly – what makes an introvert an introvert and an extrovert an extrovert.

To that point, I’d be doing a huge disservice to all those reading if I didn’t direct you to the outstanding book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain.

If there was ever a book that “spoke” to me (and to all introverts), this was it.  I can’t recommend it enough.

In the introduction Cain notes that “there are almost as many definitions of introvert and extrovert as there are personality psychologists, who spend a great deal of time arguing over which meaning in most accurate.”

Still, today’s psychologists tend to agree on several important points:

1. Introverts and extroverts differ in the level of outside stimulation that they need to function well.  Introverts feel “just right” with less stimulation, as when they go for leisurely walks, have coffee with a close friend, read a book, or, in the case of me, snuggle with a blankie watch a movie alone.

Extroverts are the exact opposite and tend to gain energy and re-charge by being around more people, meeting new people, and seeking out stimulation.

This is something that describes my relationship with my girlfriend to a “T.” By the time the weekend rolls around, I’m ready to veg the f*** out, plop on the couch, and become a home-body. Lisa, on the other hand, at times, would prefer to go out and meet up with friends and socialize.

I remember one instance when we first started dating heading out into the city to meet up with a bunch of her friends at some swanky lounge.

I spend the bulk of my week constantly stimulated by overactive athletes, weights clanking together and being dropped to the ground, and loud my-mother-never-loved-me music blaring over the stereo.  The last thing I want to do once the weekend arrives is go to a crowded bar.

Honestly, I’d rather swallow a live grenade.

But relationships are all about compromise, right?

Well, I did it……and while I can usually suck it up and be social (when I have to be), in this one instance it was just too much. I was withdrawn, I wasn’t interacting with anyone, and when I was engaged by someone I’d respond with one word answers. I was miserable and I’m sure I looked it, too.

I’ll be the first to admit I was a asshat that night, that I was a jerk and that I probably slept on the couch when we got home (I can’t remember).

The silver lining, however, was that Lisa and ended up having a long discussion about it a few days later.  We came to the conclusion I just need to communicate with here when something is too much or if I’ve had enough. If I need a night of “Tony Time” (I.e., nights where I can go to the local coffee shop and read, write, or watch LOLCat videos), then all I need to do is let her know.  No harm-no foul.

We literally came to terms with our introvert-extrovert dichotomy.

In the end, all I’m trying to say is that the main difference between the two is that introverts tend to re-charge by being inside their own heads, while extroverts re-charge by being in everyone else’s.

2.  There are a host of other attributes that can breakdown both personality types that Ms. Cain addresses in her book.  Some other highlights:

– Extroverts tend to tackle assignments quickly.  They make fast (sometimes rash) decisions, and are comfortable multi-tasking.  They enjoy the “thrill of the chase” for rewards like money and status.

– Introverts often work more slowly and deliberately. They like to focus on one task at a time and can have Jedi-like powers when it comes to concentration.

– Extroverts are often the life of the party, laugh gregariously at everyone’s jokes, and tend to be assertive, dominant, and tend to be comfortable with conflict.

– Introverts, not so much. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and (I 100% relate to this) feel as if they can express themselves better in writing than in conversation.

What Introverts Aren’t

Being deemed introverted – whether it’s “self diagnosed” or not – has had a history of having a bad or unfavorable connotation in our society.

Hermit, misanthrope, recluse, and “anti-social” are all common adjectives used to describe an introvert. Highly intelligent and good-looking rank up there as well (<– it’s science).

Shy is also a common word tossed around to describe introverts.  As Cain states, “Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating.”

Which lends itself to the next question:  how do you know whether you’re an introvert or extrovert?

The “go to” resource for that would be the Jung Typology Test or how it’s better known…the Myers-Briggs Personality Test.

It’s a quick test, totaling 72 questions, all designed to give you a 4-letter formula which will serve as the crystal ball into your personality type.

Honestly, I think they could have narrowed it down to ONE question:

1.  Do you own a cat, and if so, is it like, the cutest most adorable thing in the history of the world?

Y_____  N_____

You check marked Yes?  You’re an introvert.

Kidding aside (I should note that it took a lot of will-power on my part NOT to include a picture of my cat here), the Myers-Briggs test, while not perfect, will help give people a little more insight as to which side of the fence they reside on.

So, Now What?

You’ve taken the test, you have a group of 4-letters jotted down on a piece of paper, and after deciphering what they mean, you’ve come to conclusion that you’re an introvert.

Relax, it’s not a death sentence.  Deep breaths.

As much as introversion has a negative stigma in regular ol’ society (and hopefully by now you understand that it shouldn’t be stigmatized), I think it’s twofold in the fitness industry.

Shows like The Biggest Loser don’t help matters.  The trainers and coaches on that show (and I use the word “coaches” lightly here, as I feel they’re namely actors playing the role of coaches) have a very in-your-face, crude, and quite frankly, obnoxious way of going about things.

Screaming and yelling and insulting their clients is the name of the game. Unfortunately this is what most regular people expect when they hire a personal trainer or coach.

In the same vein, many will watch YouTube clips like the one below of Alabama strength coach, Scott Cochran, and assume that this is the norm:

This isn’t to disrespect Coach Cochran – his results obviously speak for themselves – but this is a FAR cry from the norm.

None of the coaches at Cressey Sports Performance act like this.  This isn’t to say that none of us ever get animated or pumped up or start screaming and yelling to motivate someone…..but it’s an exception and not the rule.

I’m the farthest thing from a rah-rah coach. I don’t do a lot of yelling, I don’t get in people’s faces, and I tend to keep a calm, cool, and collected demeanor at all times. And my athletes and clients do just fine.

In tomorrow’s post I’ll outline some strategies I – as well as some of the other coaches at CSP – use to take advantage of our introverted tendencies.  Not only do you have to understand it from a personal level, but you how you coach and cue INTROVERTED CLIENTS comes into play as well.

Until then, I’d love to hear everyone else’s experiences as an introvert.  Agree with me? Disagree?

Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

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  • Stevan Freeborn

    Never read something and related to it as much as I did this both as a trainer and individual. Thank you for writing it.

  • Dustin Baugh

    Holy crap! This article describes me to a T! People have also thought I was cocky or snobby because I don’t talk a lot in social settings. Also, as a trainer I think this makes it hard to approach prospective clients in the gym (or maybe that is shyness and not introversion) which is something I have to work on.

  • Jarred English

    Awesome post Tony! This describes me exactly. I have often thought of being introverted in a negative light, but this gave me a completely different perspective. I really enjoyed reading this, thank you for sharing.

  • rich t

    Cool post, Tony. I too am a pretty hardcore introvert. The primary distinction to me, after much thought and discussion with both introverts and extroverts, comes down to where you get your energy from. I actually really enjoy hanging out with my friends and socializing — something that confuses people when I say I’m an introvert. But the thing is, while socializing is fun, it’s also draining, and I need to rest afterward, whereas my extrovert friends actually rest BY socializing.

    The stuff about about being more deliberate, disliking conflict, etc is also spot on. But in discussions with others, it seems that the “how do you recharge” thing is always a key distinction.

    Also +1 on the Meyers Briggs test… it’s super interesting and also helped me figure out why I get along with some people so much better than others.

    Anyway great post and I hope it helps some fellow introverts out there.

  • Ahhh! Yes. This is why I honestly didn’t pursue S&C in college. I did an internship with our head coach for a summer and some days it felt like I did about as much as a painting on the wall when whole teams were working out. Now the days that one or two athletes were in there and needed some help, I did great! And I feel that being an introvert is why I eventually began to dread teaching kickboxing and strength classes in our rec center, but I loved teaching in the dark Spinning room. It also doesn’t help that I tend to be painfully shy too.
    When I first started reading this post I was surprised to hear that you are an introvert, but now it explains how you are such a great writer! And I loved the cat test question. I don’t have a cat right now, but I do have a guinea pig and yes, she is the most adorable thing in creation.
    I look forward to reading those strategies!

  • John J Brooks

    I have found that my introversion is an asset to my coaching: I don’t socialize when I should be coaching, I tend to focus on mechanical details that more socially oriented coaches might overlook, I write detailed programs and tend to be very methodical.. among others.
    However, It made me a terrible business owner. I had a terrible time marketing myself, and ‘closing’ clients. My retention rate was sky high (I still coach distance clients, some of whom I have been working with for years), but I just didn’t draw enough new warm bodies to pay the bills for a family of 4.
    If you write another of these, can I humbly request that you address how you mitigate these issues as a business owner?

  • Lauren

    Love this and all your articles Tony! I don’t have a cat but am definately an introvert and can relate to the way you train your clients. I have never gone psyco Jillian Michaels on anyone and am proud of it!

  • Emily

    This is EXACTLY why you get me Tony. Just ask Jan. She’s an extrovert through and through. Having an introvert for a coach keeps her well balanced. 😉 Introverts unite!!! Great read. Thank you as always.

  • Robert

    Tony,

    First, I also enjoyed Cain’s book and you do a good job of summarizing her key points. Second, as someone who’s also “introverted,” (I use quotes because, like you wrote, there are a myriad of definitions of the term) I’m sure glad that CSP has the atmosphere and attitude that it does because it fits my own temperament well. When I did my mentorship with USC the S&C program in the Spring of 2013, the strength coaches often used a loud, in-your-face style of coaching and with which I wasn’t especially comfortable. (“In-your-face” hardly even begins to describe one of the coaches, who’s a great guy–he just is remarkably animated when he coaches.) It wasn’t an environment in which I could imagine myself thriving as a coach–I’d probably want to hide in a closet after the first hour.

    I’m looking forward to part two of this series.

  • Kyra

    My husband is an introvert, whereas I am an extrovert, and your article gave me more shivers – you could have written it for us. It also gave me a greater appreciation for my homebody husband, who is happy to come home on a Friday night, potter around and not really see anyone until he goes back to work on Monday. It’s always perplexed me, but now I get it. Thank you!

  • Shawna Brown

    Its such a great feeling to read a book that says right off the bat, there is nothing wrong with you for being introverted. And according to myers-briggs im on the extreme end of introversion. With 75% of the population extroverted, you def feel different. But there is nothing better for an introvert then an ipod and gym equipment! Can just shut out all that outside noise !

  • Sue Galeone

    This was such a great read for me. I read that book a few years ago and it just changed my whole perspective. People used to criticize me all the time for being “shy” or “stand-offish” or “too quiet” and I finally accepted it… and even became proud of it! I was originally going to be a physical therapist, but realized that the stimulation of constant patients for 10 hours a day was really going to wear me down too much mentally. I’m going to go to school for health coaching, where I’ll be able to set my own hours that allow for breaks, as well as start writing (which is where I’m at my best in terms of communicating). Learning how to balance my exposure to high-stimulation experiences with the same amount or more of low-stimulation has made me a much happier introvert.

  • Tony, I remember you getting really excited about her TED talk a few years back. Glad to see the book was good, and that you and I are basically the same person, with the exception of the upper arm cross-sectional area disparity.

  • Ryan Andrews

    Ahhh – good post. I can definitely relate.

  • Alexandra

    I would love to see a picture of your cat. 🙂

  • Roy Pumphrey

    Great Post,

    I’m an introvert too, and while I do get pumped up sometimes when I’m training clients and they get a lift perfect or set a PR, I’m NEVER the loud screaming, over the top “pump you up” type of coach that so many associate with this business.

    Quite frankly, I think that’s not really motivating for most people (even athletes) and is overrated. I once heard Buddy Morris say, “Be a coach, not a cheerleader” and that really stuck with me.

  • Wow, I never thought that you might be an introvert, but with your writing prowess such as it is, it does make sense. I’ve recently “discovered” this about myself, and stopped trying to force myself to be an extrovert. It always ends in unsatisfying ways, and I beat myself up for being what I am: Someone that sees nothing wrong with going to the movies alone!

  • Jeff

    Great read. I feel this way often in situations where I do not know anyone, but can “warm up” when around close friends. A gift to you :http://rolcats.com/

  • Ryan

    Hey Tony, great article.

    When you get a chance check out this article on introverts vs. extroverts.

    http://thoughtcatalog.com/brianna-wiest/2014/07/18-struggles-of-having-an-outgoing-personality-but-actually-being-shy-and-introverted/

  • Dean Montague

    This is a fantastic reassurance that introverted people can make good coaches! I can honestly say that I very often find myself regretting starting a conversation with someone because their problems really don’t stimulate me unless they are fitness related!

    I can absolutely relate to this and it’s great to see other people saying the same.

    Some things still confuse me like how I seem to thrive when coaching larger groups of people, the more people, the better I seem to do. I thought that would be a sign of an extrovert person. I also very much enjoy human interaction but at the end of the day when I get home, I am 100% happy with how I can just relax with nobody there talking at me!

    @dustinbaugh:disqus I have the same issue as you which I try and combat by simply getting to know as many people as possible which means they are less fearful about approaching me. It seems to work quite well for me anyway! The ability to sell services in a gym without sounding pushy is something I am developing still!

    Great article Tony! I look forward to part 2!

  • Shane Mclean

    You’re a brave man putting yourself out there Tony. Well done mate. Liked it.

  • Laura DeVincent

    Thanks for writing this Tony; I totally relate. For me, I started training in a commercial gym and being introverted was a huge challenge I had to overcome in order to build my business. I’ve learned to work around it and optimize my strengths as an introvert (such as building deeper interpersonal relationships). Although, it still feels unnatural for me to approach a stranger and start a conversation.

    One of the best compliments I ever received was from a client who told me: “You don’t feel the need to fill silence with noise.” That stuck with me and it’s something I actually take pride in.

  • TonyGentilcore

    Just wanted to chime in quickly to say THANK YOU for all the kind words and feedback on this post. It seems it’s a popular topic to say the least.

    Hopefully no extroverts reading got their feelings hurt…..;o)

    I’m about to hunker down now and write part II. Stay tuned……..

    • Nate Moe

      Tony,

      I loved this. Like most of the comments, I can totally relate to this. It is nice to know there are others out there who feel the same way. The only think I am not in line with is the cat comment. I am just not a pet person! I am looking forward to Part 2.

      • TonyGentilcore

        Glad you liked the article Nate. Totally understand the
        “no pet” comment. Pets aren’t for everyone. Imaginary friends are cool though…..;O)

  • Alisha Wilson Robson

    This is nice to read. Nice to know that I’m not alone. I don’t think that I have come accept my introversion yet. I am 31 years old, and I think I’m just now learning what is “too much.” I also am studying to become a personal trainer, and I got discouraged because I read a personal trainer who has a consulting business say that if you are introverted then don’t become a PT. Anyways, I enjoyed reading your article. It encouraged me.

    • TonyGentilcore

      I am SO happy you read this. Trust me: you are NOT alone. Glad this was able to shed some light on the topic and offer some sense of “acceptance.”

      There are plenty of successful fitness professionals who are more on the introverted side of the scale – myself included.

      I’d recommend reading Susan Cain’s book. And, also, NOT listening to the asshat consultant who told you not to become a PT because you’re not a RAH-RAH coach.

      Worst piece of advice ever (outside of anything that Tracy Anderson says).