What Does Good Coaching Look Like?

Share This:

“What does good coaching look like?”

It’s a question I’m asked often. And I can’t say I have a definitive answer. I’ve had coaches who were laid back and patient and coaches who were not that, and made a tornado look like a gentle Spring breeze.


In health/fitness circles, much like athletics, there’s a gamut of coaching personalities. On one end you have those coaches who are more observant and calculated with their feedback, seamingly Obi-Wan’esque with their cues and commentary.

And on the other end you have those who, for lack of a better phrase, come across as bat-shit crazy.

To their credit (“their” = celebrity/tv trainers): they do motivate people, and they do get results. Kinda. And they’re on tv, so they clearly know what they’re doing. (<— note sarcasm).

Who am I to say which “version” of a coach is better than the other? There are success stories on each side of the spectrum. However, I find the most successful coaches/personal trainers, and the ones I respect the most, are those who get results, but are also empathetic towards their clients.

There’s a time and place to be the drill sergeant. But it’s a time that’s few and far between. And, just to toss it out there: if these so called “celebrity/tv trainers” many people look up to as the creme of the crop were so good and so effective, why then do a large percentage of their “clients” tend to regain their weight back?

But then the counterpoint can be made that many of these shows – like The Biggest Loser – only exist because the objective is to see who can lose the most amount of weight in “x amount of time.” In that sense, the coaches are doing their job. Very, very well mind you.

It’s a massive catch-22 of Hellerian proportions.

However, if you ask me…it’s less coaching and more a crash course in clusterfuckery. But I’m getting off on too much of a tangent. Shane McLean did me a solid and put together this excellent guest post today on the idea of what entails “good coaching?”


What Does Good Coaching Look Like?

Recently, I was watching my 10-year-old son play his rec-league soccer game. To say they were getting beaten was an understatement, and everyone on our sideline was getting frustrated.

The coach was screaming at the kids, the refs and pretty much anything else that moved. In the second half, with the result absolutely in no doubt, one of our kids misplayed a ball and the coach snapped.

Copyright: franckito / 123RF Stock Photo

“SHIT,” he screamed, loud enough that everyone could hear. My oldest son thought this was hilarious, and I had to explain to him why this was not good coaching.

Swearing in front of children to get your point across is an example of poor coaching in my humble opinion.

However, people who haven’t been exposed to a lot of quality coaching in their lifetime may think all coaches behave like

  1. Middle school P.E teacher.
  2. Swearing soccer coach.
  3. Weight loss coaches on reality TV.
  4. Lou Gossett Jr in an Officer and a Gentlemen.


  1. All the above

Warning- Colorful language alert.


Since becoming a coach, I have witnessed the good, the bad and the ugly side of coaching. I’m inspired by great coaching. However, I wanted to beat my head repeatedly on a brick wall when I witnessed this incident back in 2013.



No coach who draws a paycheck should ever behave like this. Intidation and fear is not the way to get the best out of people, and it’s coaching at its worst.

Good coaching, on the other hand, mostly happens behind the scenes. It is out of the spotlight where a coach motivates, inspires and pushes the athletes or clients to become the best they can be.

With that in mind, I reached out to some experienced coaches and asked them to give their thoughts on what good coaching is and what it should look like. You may be surprised that it’s nothing like drill sergeant Lou.

1) Tony Gentilcore (The man needs no introduction)

Good coaching should like coaching. How’s that for playing the Captain Obvious card?

What I mean is: good coaching is ACTIVE. It’s about being engaged and present. When I coach, I coach at 90 degree angles; I’m moving, I’m like shark. If someone’s squatting I’ll take a peek from the front, from the side, and from the back.

I’m not just standing there passively counting out reps like a drone.

Also, to speak candidly, I think a lot of shitty coaches’ mask how shitty they are by playing the rah-rah, excessively boisterous card. You know the type: always yelling and being way too loud.

There’s a time and place for that kind of behavior or course, but I find the “good” coaches tend to be more mild-mannered, meticulous, and reserved in their style.

They’ll watch a set, let the client/athlete marinate in their thoughts for a few seconds, and then offer feedback. Less is better often than not.

What’s the best pieces of coaching advice you’ve received?

  1. “You have two ears, two eyes, and one mouth, use them in that order.”
  2. “It’s not about you, it’s about the client.”

2) Robbie Bagby, MS, CSCS, Pn1.

Good coaching is making and building a connection with the athletes or clients you train. It’s not just counting reps and throwing some exercises together and calling it a program. It’s training people with an intent to make an impact on their lives.

What’s the best piece of coaching advice you’ve received?

Clients don’t know how much you know until they know how much you care. This is something that I’ve heard from several others and I think it took a while before I realized how true it was.

You can have all the certifications and education in the world but if you don’t know how to treat those you work with, they won’t stick around for long.

3) Pat Rigsby – Father. Husband. Entrepreneur. Coach. Author

Good coaching looks a bit like good parenting. It’s a combination of everything from teaching and motivation to providing boundaries and developing habits…all with a focus on helping the client become a better version of themselves and ultimately achieve their potential. So, coaching is no one thing…it’s a combination of many things.

The best piece of coaching advice you’ve ever received?

That it’s not about what you know, say or do. It’s about what the client or athlete gets from the interaction. Did they improve? Did they move closer to their goals?

As a coach, your role is to facilitate the improvement of those you serve, not simply to collect information.

4) Lawrence Judd – Shredded By Science

Good coaching isn’t just about crunching the numbers. Appropriate exercise prescription and nutritional counselling are just a small part of a successful coach-client relationship – “Good Coaching” also considers client education, appreciates the value of effective communication and looks to empower the client in as many ways as possible.

The best piece of coaching advice you’ve ever received?

It’s very hard for me to pinpoint one single piece of advice – I’m fairly sponge-like when it comes to soaking up advice and information. However, I can honestly say that the tutelage I received from Dr. Mike Zourdos as a part of the SBS Academy completely revolutionized the way I write training programs.

I’ve also been incredibly lucky to spend time with the 3DMJ team, the Lift The Bar team and the other coaches who make up Shredded By Science – I’ve learnt countless things from all of them.

5) Nick Tumminello CPT, author of Strength for Fat Loss and Building Muscle and Performance.

Coaching is about communication of your knowledge of the X’s and O’s of training and programming. So, “good coaching” looks like a good relationship between the trainer and the people they’re currently working with.

A good coach isn’t just someone who has great technical knowledge, but is also someone who recognizes how best to communicate with each individual in a way that they’ll buy into and get the cited about they’re training direction.

What’s the best pieces of coaching advice you’ve received?

The best piece of coaching advice I’ve received is from Bruce Lee. Although he was talking about different styles of martial arts, his advice to not be married to one style applies perfectly to the training and conditioning arena.

All training styles have different benefits and limitations, so taking a mixed approach to training – an approach that looks at different reasoning styles as mutually complimentary instead of as mutually exclusive – is ultimately a smarter approach.

6) Kimberly Mills – Personal Trainer/Nutrition coach

As someone who has had some outstanding trainers guide me toward my goals, and now as a trainer myself, it is my belief that a good trainer is someone who avoids cookie cutter programs where they are doing the same exact workout with each and every one of their clients.

Each client has different goals and different needs based on those goals. Each client also has other personal considerations (including exercise background) and personal exercise preferences that should also be addressed when designing their client’s program.

To me a good trainer/coach will take all these factors into account and develop an exercise program individualized to the client, starting the client where they are and guiding them towards their goals in a safe, efficient and effective manner that will help the client successfully reach their goals.

What’s the best piece of coaching advice you’ve received?

One of the best pieces of coaching advice I have received is from my mentor Nick Tumminello: When working with a client, instead of trying to fit individuals to certain exercises, you should instead fit the exercises to the individual.

What Do YOU Think?

Share your comments, opinions, stories in the comments section.

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

  • Paige Mead

    I have experienced both good and bad coaching in my life. I played sports my entire life, and also recently competed in my first fitness competition. I hired a coach to guide me, the purpose of hiring her was to have guidance through the whole competition process as it was my first time. She was supposed to create a personalized meal plan and work out plan for me for 3 months, as well as provide me with feedback throughout the process about my progress. I honestly do not remember how I was introduced to this particular coach, but I do know that she was "highly recommended". She had competed before herself, and apparently thought that was all you needed to be able to coach... she was wrong. I was given little to no feedback through the whole 3 month process, I was left in the dark about switching my diet up, and the whole dehydration/peak week process. Luckily, I have an older sister who has competed multiple times and is a registered dietitian. She was able to provide me with the information I needed, and also hired her coach to finish my prep. I used him for the last two weeks, and in those two weeks with him as my coach I saw a bigger change in my body than I did the whole 9 weeks previously. What I learned from this experience about coaches is that although someone may be able to compete themselves (and do well), that does not necessarily qualify them to coach anyone else. I just wish that this woman would have known this before I paid her hundreds of dollars. I think that in the fitness industry today there are more and more people out there like this, who assume that because they can get themselves results and step on stage and do well, that they automatically can do the same for someone else. I very strongly believe that there are people who can do, and people who can teach, and that not everyone necessarily can do both. The difference between the woman I hired initially and the man that I ended up using at the end of my prep was experience, and knowledge. He had been working in the fitness industry, and particularly with competitors for the last 15 years, while she had competed twice and taken on two other clients. He also was more hands on, he was there when I needed questions answered or advice about what needed to be fixed in order to do well. While she seemed annoyed and frustrated when I wasn't making the progress she wanted or when I asked questions that she thought I should already know the answer to. It was obvious after one day with the male coach that he knew what he was doing, and that she very clearly did not know. I think a good coach is someone who is actually concerned with their clients goals and wants to help them succeed. It's also someone who is clearly passionate and knowledgeable, and will help their clients by pushing them (in a positive way), and encouraging them to stay on track both in the gym and at home. According to kidshealth.org, a good coach is someone who puts winning or losing as secondary, the main focus is caring about the morale of the team (or individual).

    November 7, 2016 at 1:07 pm | Reply to this comment

    • Shane Mclean

      Thanks for sharing your story Paige. It can be a challenge to sort out the the good from the bad. Now you've experienced both, you know the difference and this with help you with your journey. Thanks for reading also.

      November 7, 2016 at 6:29 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Shane Mclean

    Tony. your intro is spot on. Thanks again for sharing this with your huge audience.

    November 7, 2016 at 6:31 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Kyle

    I am a former D1 collegiate athlete and I've played sports all my life. I've seen coaching through a spectrum and know there are definitely personalities that respond better to certain types of coaching. A truly good coach knows these personalities, can identify them, and adjust their delivery accordingly. Having said that, as a physical therapist, part of my job is to tell people what is wrong with them. "Well, no wonder your hurts, you're all screwed up!" That's not actually what I say...all the time. But I have learned how to deliver my observations - during examination and evaluation, and while reviewing exercise performance - in a manner that the patient will understand and be receptive to. I like to see how all of these GREAT coaches above have learned and honed their coaching skills as well.

    November 7, 2016 at 8:25 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Tom Coffey

    Great article Tony! Many thanks

    November 10, 2016 at 8:56 pm | Reply to this comment

Leave a Comment