Confessions of an Introverted Strength Coach – Part II

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Oops, one day late.  My bad.

In part I of Confessions of an Introverted Strength Coach I discussed some of the misconceptions of what it actually means to be an introvert and then dissected some of the characteristics separating introverts from extroverts.

I also linked to a simple test you can take to figure out where on the spectrum you lie (Note: no one is 100% either/or), as well as shared some personal perspective throughout my own life on how I’ve learned to embrace and accept my introversion.

I.e., I’ve hugged myself a lot.

You can catch up HERE in case you missed it.  Don’t worry, I’ll wait.  

To say I was thrilled with the response part one received would be an understatement.

I knew it would be a hot button topic and strike a chord with a lot of people, but I had no idea so many would go out of their way to say “thank you,” say how much they could relate, or be willing to name their first born after me.

Okay, that last part is a slight exaggeration.

It’s with that I first want to first say THANK YOU to everyone who responded and for all the kind words. I guess being in a relationship with a psychologist for five years – outside of learning some nifty Jedi-mind tricks (and yes, I just used the word nifty in a sentence) – has spoiled me into assuming that most people had a general grasp on the topic.

I’m elated everyone is now more aware that being an introvert isn’t a disease and that it doesn’t mean you’re weird, socially inept, or a recluse.  It just means you have an affinity for using your inside voice, books, and, I don’t know, maybe spending an evening watching old re-runs of Party of Five episodes by yourself.

Oh, and cats……;o)

Just to save face, however, and to be clear:  all of this isn’t to say that being an extrovert is bad or that extroverted people are horrible human beings.

I know many delightful, enjoyable, and overly pleasant people who are extroverts (ahem, my girlfriend is one).  Many of my good friends and colleagues are extroverts.  Heck, my own brother is the KING of extroverts.

It’s not as if I’m trying to instigate a 90’s East coast-West coast hop-hop battle where introverts represent Biggie on one side of the fence and extroverts represent 2Pac on the other.

We can all get along here. There’s no need for tension or judgement or mix-tapes calling one another bad names.

On the contrary all I want to convey is that the two sides are just…….different.

More to the point, that being an introvert, especially in world that seemingly rewards and encourages the polar opposite, may take some minor tweaking on your part to thrive.

This is especially true if you happen to be a coach or personal trainer for a living.

I played baseball all through high-school and was lucky enough to earn an athletic scholarship to play in college.

I was a pitcher and between high-school and college combined I had a variety of coaches who challenged me both physically and mentally.

My high-school coach was a very level headed and calm coach. I don’t think I ever saw him lose his temper in practice or during a game.  Sure, he’d get fired up, like any coach would, if someone missed their cut-off man or missed the sign to bunt.  But all in all, he was a coach who kept his cool at all times.  And I responded very well to that because it matched my demeanor.

Similarly, I rarely lost my shit on the mound. Whether I was pitching a complete game 2-hitter or I was taken out in the 3rd inning, I generally kept the same levelheadedness at all times. I never liked to show emotion or demonstrate to the other team I was flustered. I was like Liam Neeson’s character in Taken, except without the hand-to-hand combat skills and not remotely as badass.

My JUCO (Junior College) coach was a bit different.  He was the type of coach who was intense, expected a lot from his players, and didn’t refrain from letting you know when you did something wrong. But he coached, and it just made it all the more sweet when he praised you for doing something right.

He was an amazing coach, and I appreciated the fact he was hard on us at times. He definitely rubbed some players the wrong way – some ended up quitting the team – but I think some guys just didn’t like being held accountable and were used to being coddled.

When I eventually transferred to Mercyhurst College (now Mercyhurst University), I had the misfortune of being recruited by one coach, only to see him leave once I arrived, and then go through two coaches in two separate years my Junior and Senior seasons.

My senior year coach was a nightmare. He was from the south and as hotheaded as they come. He’d get in player’s faces during practice, he’d get in their faces on the team bus, and he’d almost always get in our faces during games.  It got to the point where we’d start betting one another what the over-under was for when he’d get kicked out of a game.

He loooooooved guys who showed emotion. I wasn’t one of those guys.

I remember one instance where I gave up three consecutive hits to the first three batters of a game. He called time out and charged out to the mound to tell me, in no uncertain terms, to “get my ass into the game” and that I better “start giving a shit.”

You know, as if I wanted to give up three straight hits to start the game.

For whatever reason he always took my demeanor on the mound as being cavalier and that I should get more fired up.

Anyways, on occasion he’d come out and do his song and dance, I’d take it in stride, and then I’d just continue doing what I always did.

Long story short: I ended up pitching a complete game where we ended up winning 5-2. Whatevs. No big deal.

Funnily enough a few of my old teammates sent me THIS story on coach Norwood which was featured on Deadspin.com a few months ago.

Give it a listen.  That’s what I had to deal with.

NOTE: then again, anyone with the same name as an infamous field goal kicker who lost a Super Bowl would probably have a case for being an assclown.

Needless to say he was one of those RAH-RAH coaches. Admittedly he was an outlier and took the RAH-RAH to a whole nother “douchey to the douchiest” degree, but it speaks to the topic at hand.

I am not a RAH-RAH coach

I think most introverts would agree that they aren’t either. This isn’t to say that we never get animated or fired up for our athletes, but those instances tend to be few and far between.

In truth ‘m much more animated at the gym than I am at other social events. Being in the gym is what’s comfortable for me and is where I feel at home. Also, it doesn’t hurt that if there’s ever a place where making noise is warranted and par for the course…..it’s the gym.

Still, while exceptions are made whenever a good EDM (Electrical Dance Music) track comes on the stereo, I think if most people watched me coach and saw what my animated looked like, they’d think I was drinking tea, or at most, playing a friendly game of Jeopardy.

It may be a bit naive on my part to say this, but I truly feel, as one person put so succinctly in the comments section on my Facebook page, “if you put off the laid back ‘I’m just here to make you better not break you down to rebuild you’ vibe your clients feel comfortable quicker. You get to know them and they reveal more about themselves, what they like, what makes them tick, which in the long run enables you to motivate them for the longer haul.”

My coaching style definitely feeds into this mindset.

I often chuckle to myself when I’m watching someone perform a lift and after their set they look up at me like a sad puppy expecting me to berate them or go off on some tirade about neutral spines, tucked chins, knees not being pushed out, or WHY THE HELL DID THEY MAKE ANOTHER TRANSFORMERS MOVIE??? DID YOU SEE THAT LAST PIECE OF GARBAGE???? AHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!

*runs through brick wall*

In fact what usually happens is I give a nod of approval and say something like, “naw man, you’re cool.  Looked good!”

I always like to give feedback, but my introverted tendencies sometimes get the best of me. Athletes or clients will occasionally take my silence as me thinking they’re doing something wrong or that they’re past the point of help.  This couldn’t be further from the truth,

Something that has helped me (and is something I “stole” from fellow CP coach Greg Robins) is to give a new athlete or client a bit of a heads up. I’ll preface their set by saying something along the lines of, “I’m just going to be a fly on the wall and let you go.  If I ever feel you’re going cause any harm or hurt yourself, I’ll let you know and stop you.  Don’t take my silence as something bad or that I’m not paying attention.”

I’m paying attention.  I’m paying attention like no one’s business!

Sometimes as coaches and trainers we get too carried away with OVER-coaching, throwing out cues and feedback at a lightning pace.  It can get overwhelming for some, especially if you’re working with an introvert.

I like to allow (some) athletes to feel they’re way through an exercise.

When I do need to give feedback I break it down like this:

1.  Show correct technique and what I’d like them to do.

2.  Show what they did wrong.

3.  Show them, again, correct technique and what I’d like them to do.

I may give a “WTF was that look” from time to time, but for the most part there are no theatrics, no yelling, and no tossing of chairs.

Here’s the Part You Skipped to Anyways (Tips for the Introverted Coach)

1. Set-up recharge blocks between clients so you don’t murder a client or co-worker.

This is something I lived by when I worked in the commercial gym setting. As coaches and trainers we work when everyone else doesn’t, and our schedules can be pretty sporadic to say the least.

I always had colleagues who would schedule clients from 7 AM all the way through the afternoon, and I never understood how they could do it. Most would burn out pretty quickly doing that long-term.

Personally I’d always “stagger” my schedule and purposely place gaps throughout so I could allow for some down time between clients.

Sometimes I’d use the time to get my workout in. When I was a trainer at Sportsclub LA in downtown Boston I’d use my re-charge time to hang out in the lounge and catch up on some reading or write. Sometimes I’d just go for a walk across the street in Boston Common. And sometimes I’d walk over to the adjacent movie theater and catch an afternoon flick.

Let me tell you, those re-charge periods were GOLD in my eyes.  So whether you’d prefer to take that time for power nap or to read or to play Candy Crush….I can’t recommend it enough.

2. Be You

Don’t be something you’re not. Don’t feel as if you have to cater to what society tells you you should be.  If you want to wear white after Labor Day then do it, dammit!

Too, if you’re not a RAH-RAH coach, then don’t be one

That being said, as an introvert that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be willing to adapt to some degree.  CP coach, Chris Howard, gave an excellent presentation at last year’s Cressey Performance Fall Seminar on this very topic.  He noted that two of the more prominent challenges of the introvert coach is that 1) he or she may seem unapproachable and 2) he or she may not give as much feedback or encouragement.

To point #1:  Smile!  Was that so hard?

To point #2: Read above where I discuss how I cue new athletes and clients.  See!! I knew you skipped to this section!!

3. But to Add to That

Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert I feel utilizing more EXTERNAL cuing when coaching new movements and exercises is more valuable than INTERNAL cues.

Internal cues focus within the body or a specific movement, while external cues focus on things outside of the body and/or on an effect or outcome of a movement

Using the deadlift as an example:

Internal Cues: flex the hip; extend at the top; squeeze your abs; arch your back; squeeze your glutes; rotate pelvis upward; flatten your back.

You might as well be speaking Elvish.

External Cues: Rope around waist pulling you backward (helps with people pushing their hips back); tap the wall with your butt (same thing); plates should rattle at the top (gets people to explode with their hips); pretend you’re getting punched in the stomach (instead of “squeeze your abs”); show me the logo of your shirt (helps with neutral spine and chest up); push away from the floor (gets people to put force into the ground).

Try it.  I bet you’ll be surprised with how much more smoothly things go.

In addition, learning how to coach an INTROVERTED client is important too. Stealing from Chris Howard (again).  When coaching an introvert it will help to:

– Be patient

– Check in regularly (they won’t be as verbal and won’t demand your attention)

– They generally won’t ask questions, so you should ask them!

– Let them observe first.

I’ll Shut Up Now

For a so-called introvert I sure had a lot to say! You deserve some kind of gold star for making it this far.

Hopefully this was somewhat helpful, and helped shed some light on the topic.

By all means I’d love to hear YOUR thoughts, insights, or any advice you’d have to offer. But remember:  use your inside voice….;o)

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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  • Shawna Brown

    Thank you for these, wish this wasnt just two part ! Feel free to post again about this. Have you ever done group fitness sessions? Any advice for group sessions for introverts ? Im an extreme introvert hoping to start a PT business but am a bit terrified of group fitness and in a small town like the one im in, bootcamps and group fitness are quite popular. It may be a good way to build a clientele but Id have to survive the group part !!

    • TonyGentilcore

      Hi Shawna –

      I’m so glad you found these posts useful! They were actually really fun to write, because I got to write about myself. ME ME ME ME!!!

      As it happens I do coach bootcamps at Cressey Performance every Friday. I still bring the same “laid back” coaching style to class, and I think most bootcampers appreciate it.

      I’ll always be observing and when I see something being done incorrectly, I’ll take that person to the side for a brief few seconds and show them what they were doing wrong and then show them what I’d like them to do instead.

      You don’t have to be a drill instructor even with bootcamps. I’ll start each class with a group warm-up, then I’ll break down all the exercises we’re doing in class (you’d be surprised as to how similar bootcamps are to actual training sessions at CP), then I’ll crank up the music and coach everyone up.

      At the end, I’ll also include a quick 5-10 minute finisher. With our bootcamps we still stress strength and QUALITY movement.

      If I were you, I’d start small. Don’t overwhelm yourself out of the gate. If group training isn’t for you, then there’s no need to force it. Maybe what you can offer is semi-private group training when you train 2-4 people at once.

      • Shawna Brown

        thank you ! greatly appreciated! I might just give 2-4 a try, see how it goes.

        • TonyGentilcore

          Good luck!

  • Shannon Wheel

    I am an introverted trainer and a cat owner. I made a career change and started training at a commercial gym last fall. The first few times that I had back-to-back clients, I was exhausted from being “on” for so long without breaks, but my extroverted coworkers seemed to have no problem with it. I suspect that what we interpret as being “on” is just their normal state of being. I’m curious to know if there are certain clients that introverted trainers work better with. When I think about my clients, I can see some patterns. Thoughts?

    • TonyGentilcore

      Hi Shannon –

      I can’t say I disagree with anything you’re saying. Even now there are times where I come home completely wiped out from being “on” all day.

      There are ALWAYS going to be certain clients you tend to click with better than others, and hopefully you can get to the point where you ONLY train those types of clients.

      I think it just comes down to eventually understanding your own style and then being able to “cater” that style to the different clients you’ll have – whether they’re introverted or extroverted.

      Introverts will generally need to be asked questions more often (you’ll need to check in with them throughout the session), while extroverts will have a hard time getting to the point and you’ll need to reign them in.

  • Totally agree with recharge time. I was a tutor in college and sessions were half an hour to an hour long. I purposely scheduled my sister in the middle of my shift and would “cancel” her last minute so I would have a half hour break since I always had a full schedule! Otherwise by the time my last appointment came, my patience and focus would be wearing thin.
    I enjoyed your two posts. This has motivated me to discuss introversion on my blog! Thanks Tony

    • TonyGentilcore

      Thanks Shelby. Glad you liked them!

  • Kevin Mullins

    Solid work as always. I can relate to that back-back-back schedule at a SCLA. I usually jet home (like now) and chill at my apartment, read, write, and watch HGTV until I feel like I want to see people again. I think a lot of people expect trainers to be 100% full throttle at all times, and they are blown away when they find out that you are a human and you just want to lay down sometimes and watch a 1-star movie on Netflix.

    • TonyGentilcore

      hahahahaha. So true. I can’t tell you how excited my GF and I get when Property Brothers comes on.

  • Gavin Nirmaier

    Loved both the articles in this series Tony! Pretty cool to see you pitching at the Uht, as I’m a northwest PA guy and have played there in the past as well!

    • TonyGentilcore

      Oh, cool! You recognized the Uht! My god that seems ages ago. I think that pic was taken in 1999.

      • Gavin Nirmaier

        Not ALL that long ago… 😉 Anyways, thanks for continuous quality content. I just purchased materials to become certified as a PT, and really look up to you and Eric as trainers and businessmen.

        • TonyGentilcore

          Thanks for the kind words Gavin, and good luck!

  • Emily

    Love it Tony. The external cues are soooo important. I will put my hands on people’s hips to help them understand pushing back with their hips. My husband does a lot of “pretend you’re getting punched in the stomach,” and am always saying “Show off the words on your t-shirt and push the floor away is a staple. They work like a charm everytime. My clients will also take my silence for something being wrong and I loom at them an always smile and say “No!!! It was awesome! A little more chest up but overall, good work!” I tell people straight up that I am not a rah-rah coach and I have had more than one person call me and ask me point blank if I yell. ;( This is what people expect because they see it on TV. Once they come and they realize that training can be done without all red face yelling, it’s amazing what they can accomplish. Great post. 😉

    • TonyGentilcore

      Agreed. I’m a “hands-on” coach as well and won’t shy away from putting people into the positions I want them to be in.

      The key is to not be a Creepy McCreepypants about it….;o)

      I also agree that it’s a cool thing once someone realizes that personal training and coaching doesn’t have to revolved around theatrics and yelling. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started working with someone who’s flabbergasted that I don’t scream and yell and cuss.

      They’ve been programmed to think that coaching is about yelling, which is FAR from the truth.

      More often than not people appreciate the toned down version anyways.

  • Love this.

  • Mike Morrison

    Tony,

    Thank you for writing these posts. For the longest time I just thought I was in the wrong field or a lazy coach because when the day was over I would be absolutely wiped and would have absolutely no interest in talking to anyone. Someone else mentioned it in a comment, but it’s really from having to be “on” all day long. Having to spend all day acting overly excited or happy can be exhausting. By the time I get home all I want to do is sit in my room quietly and read a book. It’s nice to hear that this is normal for coaches that are also introverted and it’s not just me. Your posts are great. Keep up the good work.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Mike, I feel the EXACT same way you do…..and I’ve been doing this for over a decade.

      Glad the posts helped shed some light on the topic.

  • Sean St.Onge

    Great read Tony, obviously we have met so you have an idea of my personality to some degree. I found any and all articles you have posted on introvert vs. extrovert topic extremely interesting. I have myself written about my own experiences. I have always felt that I am most defiantly an extrovert “by day” and an introvert by night “once the curtain has dropped.” Next time I am up when we work together could 1A: be Paused Deadlifts 4×3 and 1B: be extroverts in your workplace when you are an introvert? and vice versa?? LOL great stuff man

    • TonyGentilcore

      hahahaha. Always appreciate our chats Sean.

  • Tim

    Ouch to the Scott Norwood Bills comparison. That’s a low blow to your readers in Western NY. Scott Norwood the kicker was and is a class individual who happened to miss a huge kick that resulted in my childhood being ruined. With that being said, great read!!

    • TonyGentilcore

      LOL – okay, that was a low blow.

  • Robbie

    Thanks Tony! Great post as always. I appreciate your honesty and sense of humor!

    • TonyGentilcore

      Glad you liked it Robbie. Thanks for reading.

  • Chris

    I’m in (cough) management and leadership training covers this kind of analysis. In addition to the introvert/extrovert thing, there is a lot of work on learning styles. So, for example, introverts tend to like taking information, processing it internally, analysing, testing and then achieving results (‘reflective’ or ‘theorist’ learning/processing styles). Extroverts like bouncing ideas around, trying thing to see if they work or not, involving teams (‘activist’ learners). (there are other styles of learning – I’m just using the simple versions here!)
    Anyway, if you are dealing with a coach (or manager or whatever) who is in your face, running around, throwing ideas here and there, trying things, creating a bit of chaos or wanting emotional responses – and all you want to do is sit quietly and process the information and reach your internal conclusion on what it all means and how to implement it, you wont enjoy the coaching, you wont feel happy or contended, you probably wont actually learn much. Alternatively, if you are a client who likes interaction, maybe a bit of warmth rather than objective analysis, a bit of chit chat and encouragement, being involved and consulted in taking things to the next level rather than receiving a complete structured plan from the trainer, then having a cool intellect analysing what you are doing makes you feel underappreciated, unmotivated, uninvolved.
    Not saying anything groundbreaking but I think the next step for trainers etc is to recognise who they are coaching and what works for the client. Its easy as a manager, like me, to think ‘well, this is who I am and this is how I work, everyone else can deal with it’. But, in fact, its really up to me to be the person who makes sure my junior staff (your clients) are getting the most out of the session, rather than being required to fit into my personality/learning structure
    Not that – in any way – I’m saying that you (Tony or anyone else reading) ignores your clients. I guess I’m saying that people need to realise that discovering who they are is only the first step – a very important step, because its the foundation for everything that follows. But only the first. Next you learn about how other people work and how they are different and so forth. Then you learn how to make your personality/learning style/natural tendencies work or at least adapt so that you can get the best out of others.
    (hope that doesnt sound too preachy! But as a real introvert myself, who is in a role that requires a lot of interaction, just having this structure really helps)

  • gostillers11

    Fantastic post. Truly. The coaching part reminded me of a day last summer when I was in my gym on a Saturday night, going for a PR on my deadlift. The owner of the gym happened to be there and started asking me about my lift. I mentioned I was going for a PR and he took it upon himself to yell at me (encouraging of course) throughout the lift, which I did hit. As an introvert, his comments both startled the hell out of me (dude, what’s with the yelling?) and while I appreciated his intent, were totally uninvited. He was surprised that I was going for a PR in a mostly empty gym on a Saturday night, but since he wasn’t actually my coach and didn’t really know me, didn’t realize that this was intentional on my part. I think the moral of the story is no uninvited yelling at someone you don’t really know even if you’re trying to be nice…

    • TonyGentilcore

      hahaha. Yeah, while his intentions were good, I can see how it would be a bit awkward.

      Glad you liked the post.

  • Brandi Douglas

    Tony! I happened to stumble upon you a few weeks ago. SO glad it was right around your Part 1- Confessions of an Introverted Strength Coach. I’ve always been introverted, so when I dove into creating a personal training/health coaching business I thought….maybe it’s time for me to outgrow that introvert. With no luck however, I obviously couldn’t shake who I was, an introvert to the max. Part 2 definitely offered useful information with the piece that you shared by Greg Robins in re: a fly on the wall. Brilliant advice for sure. I’m still building my business and attending Pacific Lutheran University for Kinesiology. If you ever take interns for any reason I would be thrilled to help in any way I can! Keep up the awesomeness!

    • TonyGentilcore

      Brandi –

      Thank you for the kind words, and I’m elated that you stumbled upon my blog. And more elated that you decided to stay!

      We do accept interns. Just go to our website CresseyPerformance.com and scroll down a bit and click on the “internships” link. All the information you’ll need to apply is there.

  • Tyler

    Thank you for these, I am a trainer with a mild case of Cerebral palsy and because demonstrating exercises can sometimes be a bit more difficult than I would like I find myself using external cues all the time for clients and it absolutely helps things go more smoothly. Having a little CP and working in a commercial gym setting has also really helped to push me out of my comfort zone and really perfect my verbal coaching skills. You hit the nail on the head Tony, Great post as always.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Tyler – this made my day! Thanks so much for chiming in. Really happy to hear that this series resonated with you, and that you could relate. I hope you chime in more often!

  • Justyn

    Really enjoyed reading this. Applying for PT jobs and the first guy said I didn’t have a personality suited for being a PT which really made me doubt myself. You have motivated me to keep going.

    • TonyGentilcore

      That’s hogwash!! You don’t need to be a rah-rah-rah coach at all.

      REALLY glad that this post provided some insights and inspired you to keep going.