Top Three Coaching Fails

Share This:

It’s the day after Christmas, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t just a little bit bummed.  All that preparation and suspense leading up to the big day, and seemingly, it’s over in just a blink of an eye.  I don’t know about you, but mine was wonderful, and I soaked up every minute of it yesterday.

It started off Christmas Eve night where Lisa and I had dinner reservations at a local restaurant right down the street from our apartment.  To say that I ate really well all last week would be an understatement.  All told, I had filet mignon TWICE, as well as a decadent rump roast yesterday.  And don’t even get me started on all the desserts that have been sneaking their way onto my plate.  Whatever….it’s the Holidays, right?

Anyways, yesterday morning, Lisa and I woke up early to get the party started.  For both of us, growing up (me in New York, her in Florida), exchanging Christmas stockings was a significant part of the celebration, and we both decided to continue with that tradition ourselves.

Afterwards, we heading out into the living room to exchange gifts. I won’t bore you with the details of what we got for one another, but lets just say that while she didn’t get a Nintendo 64, this is pretty close to Lisa’s reaction when she opened up her (main) present.

Okay, what the hell. I shouldn’t leave everyone hanging like that. I got her a Macbook Pro (ie:  not a ring, but a close second). The look on her face when she opened it, and the reaction that followed, was easily the best Christmas present that I got this year. It was priceless.

What’s more, Dagny, our cat, even got a little sumthin sumthin from Santa.  Catnip!

Come to find out – she LOVES the stuff.  We mistakenly left the (sealed) bag up on the living room table last night, only to get up this morning to find the bag ripped to shreds and catnip all over the living and dining room floor.  I can only imagine the state of frolicsome bliss she was in.

In any case, for those those reading who it pertains to, here’s my sincerest hopes that the Holiday season was a safe and happy one.

Now, lets get to today’s content!

In light of a post that my good friend Bret Contreras put up last week – The Three Most Idiotic Things I’ve Done as a Personal Trainer – after reading it, I felt compelled to “steal” his thunder and throw my hat into the ring as well.

Much like I Bret, I’ve been training people for upwards of a decade now, and while I’ve had many successes and rewarding experiences in that time frame, I’ve also had my fair share of epic fails.

In no particular order, here are a few that come to mind.

1.  Glute Ham Raise Debacle

You know the saying “you shouldn’t assume anything, because it makes an ASS out of U and ME?”  Well, I learned this one the hard way.

It was three summers ago (summer of 2008), and we had only been in our new facility for a couple of months. As is the case, we had seen an influx of new clientele make their way in, and one such client was a graduate student from Boston who was preparing for his very first powerlifting meet.

Giving full disclosure, I had been writing his programs for the past 2-3 months, and knew that he had a few quality training years under his belt. At any rate, this particular month, I had programmed GHRs and didn’t think anything of it. I mean, all along he had been performing more advanced exercises:  SSB squats, conventional deadlifts, front squats vs. chains, you name it.

….can you sense the foreshadowing yet?

Typically with any new (monthly) program, we generally like to walk people through it to make sure they know what everything is and that there’s no confusion.

Him:  Cool, glute ham raises today!

Me:  Oh, you’ve done them before?

***I was surprised because most college students rarely – if ever – have access to a glute ham raise machine.

Him:  Well, yeah, kinda…..just not with a GHR like yours.

Me:  Okay, fine.  Lets see it.

He proceeds to hop on, places his knees against the pads, and his feel above the foot rollers, not in between.  Before I could say anything, he starts.  Almost as if it were in slow motion, he proceeds to flip over and lands face first onto the ground.

I was freaking speechless. I couldn’t believe what just happened, and all I could do was stare.

He quickly got up, and walked to the bathroom. I followed. He had a bloody lip, and we noticed, too, that he had chipped his front tooth – which he mentioned he had work on a few days prior at the dentist’s office.


I felt bad, but even worse, he felt embarassed.

He left a few minutes after to make an emergency trip to the dentist’s office, and luckily there were no long-standing ramifications.  He came in the following week and we all had a good laugh about it, but it just goes to show that you CAN NOT assume anything as a coach.  No matter how confident you feel about someone’s abilities, it’s important to remember that it’s your job to make sure people know what they’re doing and understand how to properly perform any given exercise.

2.  Plate Mate Follows Newton’s 2nd Law (Gravity is a Bitch)

Back when I was a personal trainer in Connecticut, I was working with several younger athletes – one of which was the son of one of my older female clients.

One day we were performing some dumbbell flat bench presses, when I decided we needed to up the weight a bit. Without really showing one iota of common sense – in mid set – I slapped on a pair of plate mates.

After like two reps – and with the gym owner coincidentally right behind me, watching – one of the plate mates slipped off and fell right onto the kid’s forehead.

Oopsie Daises.

Both DBs crash to the floor, and he pops up bleeding from the head.  Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

The owner, Jim, busts into action and immediately grabs a towel and applies pressure.  It wasn’t like blood was gushing out, but enough to the point where we had to put a couple of band-aids on and send him home.

I felt like a complete moron.

This isn’t a slight against plate mates – they’re an awesome tool – it’s just that I had a brain fart and was careless.  As a coach – it’s my job to be “present” and to use better judgement.  That was an instance where I failed miserably.

3. Realizing That I’m Not the Bees Knees

** the following is actually an excerpt from a post I participated in over on Jon Goodman’s site, HERE.

Not so much now, but most definitely back in the day, I thought I was the bees knees.  I mean, I read books on training, and even watched a dvd here and there – so it only made sense (at least in my eyes) that I knew everything there was to know about anything – ESPECIALLY when it came to training people.

When I first entered the industry and started training people one-on-one, I’d try my best to wow them with fancy words (synergistic dominance anyone?) and go out of my way to show how much they needed my help, nit-picking every minute detail of their assessment (Look at that!  Your left big toe only dorsiflexes 12 degrees.  OMG – we need to fix that).

The fact of the matter is, they don’t care.  Sure, it may sound cool (to you), but all your clients want to hear is whether or not you can get them from point A to point B.  Whether it’s helping them lose 20 lbs of fat, improving their deadlift, or helping them understand that performing endless repetitions of sit-ups probably isn’t doing their chronic back pain any favors – no cares how much you know, until the know how much you care.


While I could certainly sit here and come up with ten more examples, I think I’ll stop there.  Besides, the title of this post did say THREE and not TEN Coaching Fails.

Suffice it to say, I feel it’s good to demonstrate some humility from time to time, and it’s valuable to look back and learn from our mistakes. No one is perfect, right?

Do you have any similar stories?  Share them below.


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

Share This Post:


Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

I don’t share email information. Ever. Because I’m not a jerk.

Comments for This Entry

  • Neal Putt

    What makes me cringe is the practices that I have seen coaches allow to take place. I know they have the best intentions, but disasters are waiting to happen when high school male athletes need to express how manly they can be by lifting heavy weights with poor form. One young football player broke his wrist while trying to power clean a massive weight. Of course, when observing these young men performing a clean they would use bumper plates and initiate the lift with a powerful bounce after deadlifting the weight. A painful sight!

    December 26, 2011 at 10:04 am | Reply to this comment

  • Kellie Davis

    Excellent post! Btw, as a woman I found your Christmas present story very misleading! I totally thought a ring was in the box. ;) Merry Christmas!

    December 26, 2011 at 10:13 am | Reply to this comment

  • Barath

    What's a cat doing in a strength coach's house? Get a dog big guy. :) Nice post, as usual.

    December 26, 2011 at 12:35 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Miles Morse

    Ever try and be helpful and pull a lat pulldown straight into a girl's forehead? Yeah me neither...

    December 27, 2011 at 11:12 am | Reply to this comment

  • J.B.

    I was coaching a no-gi jiu-jitsu class. I was demonstrating a seated arm drag, and instead of talking then doing I was trying to talk and do. Big mistake. I ended up pulling my partner off balance, but not moving my hips in time, and pulled my partner's knee right into my balls.

    December 28, 2011 at 10:57 am | Reply to this comment

  • Ben Mays

    Taking a 18 year old horse rider through her first proper S&C session, move over to the power rack to set up a barbell row but someones left 120kg on the bar. I move to one side and start to take off all the weights. My epic fail in this case was assuming that my client was doing the same on the other side. So we ended up with 0kg on my side of the bar and 50kg on her side of the bar. Cue bar and weights flying through the air crashing around her feet and getting hit in the shoulder with an olympic barbell. Whoops!

    December 28, 2011 at 12:13 pm | Reply to this comment

Leave a Comment