Are you really a ‘professional’ coach?

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When discussing what makes up a qualified ‘professional’ coach, areas such as education, experience, coaching results and even coaching rates often come up.

However, this list is lacking one critical area – professionalism.

As a former manager of large Fortune 100 company fitness centers, I can tell you that the majority of complaints that I would get about the staff, operations and the facility as a whole largely were based on ‘professionalism’ and more specifically, a lack of it.

I don’t care how much you know about the body, how many degrees/certifications you have, how many clients you coach, how many races you’ve won or even how many years you’ve been coaching. If you lack professionalism, you are not a good coach… period!

While the term ‘professionalism’ is pretty vague, there are several areas that I want you to focus on:


When working with a client one-on-one or with multiple clients in a group setting, they must be your only focus. For example, if you are working with a client in a gym setting, 100% of your focus must be on the client 100% of the time – not on the TV or on other gym members/trainers/coaches.

Additionally, if working with a client in-person, your body language says a lot. You should never sit down or lean against a wall during a session. You should be actively evaluating your client from different angles to ensure that they are properly executing the movements correctly.


For many, time is the most valuable commodity. However, regardless of that, if you agree to start a session at a particular time, you must start the session at that time – whether it be in-person or a phone/Skype coaching call. I don’t care if your client is paying you $1 or $100 for the session – when it comes to training/coaching sessions, there is no such thing as being ‘casually late.’

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This is perhaps the most common issue with coaches and trainers – being late. While there are occasionally reasons to be late (i.e., car broke down, subway missed a stop), they are few and far between. The proper response to you being late from a client should be one of concern. This is because you are rarely, if ever late. However, if the response is one of anger, it is not a very good sign as it likely means that you are habitually late. If your commute to a client(s) has a risk of high traffic, you must leave plenty of time to get there.

If you are habitually late or worse yet, miss sessions entirely, just know that your coaching relationship is likely on borrowed time and you will probably be fired soon.


Here is a basic rule, if a current or prospective client contacts you – Reply! More specifically, try to reply as soon as possible and within 12 hours at the latest. You’d be surprised by how many potential clients do not hear back from coaches when inquiring about coaching services.

Additionally, the correspondence should be free of swear words and should have a professional tone. This is especially the case if you are interacting with a prospective client that does not know you. For example, slang words, typos, and poor grammar (yes, even via text) are indicative of being unprofessional, especially when dealing with new and, or prospective clients.



It’s not uncommon to hear coaches tell their clients that they guarantee that they can get them to a certain mile pace or a particular race time goal. I’m all for being optimistic but there is no way that as a coach, you can guarantee any performance/time-based metric. While you should not agree to work with any client whose goals are not attainable, there is no promise that they will reach those goals. Whether it be due to sickness, injury, upset stomach on race day, broken equipment, other commitments, etc…, there are a multitude of reasons why someone may not reach their goal. Therefore, unless you are from the future and you know how your client’s race is going to play out, it’s better to avoid making promises.


Based on appearance alone, would you rather hire an electrician wearing baggy jeans, a t-shirt with an offensive logo and a backward baseball cap or one wearing a company uniform with their shirt tucked in and who is well groomed? Likely the latter.

Appearance matters and while I’m not here to tell you what to wear, it should be professional and appropriate for the work that you are doing. For example, if you are working with a client in a gym setting or meeting them for a run, loose fit running pants and a running shirt would be an appropriate choice. Jeans, work boots and a t-shirt with cut off sleeves – not so much.


It’s very important to be aware of what you can and cannot do as a professional coach. I’ve witnessed a lot of personal trainers and coaches dispensing advice that legally, they have no authority to do, even if they are giving accurate advice. For example, just because you have a certification and are well-versed in anatomy does not give you authority to diagnose an injury – even if your ‘diagnosis’ is medically sound. This is the realm of physicians and physical therapists. Stay in your own lane.

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Additionally, just because a client asks you about a topic that is legally in your wheelhouse, if you don’t know the answer, just say, ‘I don’t know,’ it’s that simple. Many coaches and trainers feel like they’ll look stupid if they say ‘I don’t know’ and as a result, they make something up. Do not do this! The correct answer would be something like, “That’s a good question. I’m not sure, however, let me check into this and I’ll come back to you during our next session with what I find out.” Notice, the coach in this situation didn’t say that they would come back with the answer, because maybe they won’t be able to find the answer. Therefore, it’s advised to let the client know that you’ll get back to them with your findings.


A professional coach should always be learning, be it formally or informally. Whether it be taking a course, reading peer-reviewed studies online, or even trying to understand why a client responded to a particular training adaptation the way they did, the learning process of a coach should be an on-going process.


The purpose of this post is not to discount one’s education or experience – as they are critical for success. However, if you are not ‘professional’ in your interactions and dealings with clients, your experience and education will largely be negated.

Rick Prince

Rick Prince

Founder/Director of United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy (UESCA).

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