Navigating Client Questions

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As a professional coach, you get asked a lot of questions.

  • How many carbs should I eat before my race?
  • What shoes are best for me?
  • What supplement should I take to improve bone density?
  • Can you massage my right calf to make the cramp go away?
  • Why does my left knee hurt?
  • Should I lift weights on the same day as a long run?

Some of these questions you can answer and some you can’t.

Being a certified coach does not enable you to diagnose or treat injuries, prescribe medicine or perform skeletal/soft tissue work. Just because you understand anatomy and physiology, does not mean that you are an allied health professional. You must know, and more importantly, practice within your scope of practice and knowledge at all times! It’s also important to understand that just because something falls within your scope of practice (ex: gait analysis), if you do not feel knowledgeable and proficient at it, it is outside your scope of knowledge and therefore you should refer out to someone more qualified. Stay in your own lane and let others with more expertise do their jobs.

IT’S OK TO SAY “I DON’T KNOW”

A lot of coaches feel that they must have an answer to any and all questions that a client may ask. This is incorrect. If you do not know the answer to a question, do not make up an answer! This is not only disingenuous, but it could lead to your client becoming injured or at the very least, underperforming in their training and racing. The correct answer is, “I’m not sure, however, let me look into this and I’ll come back to you with what I find out.” If a question pertains to something outside your scope of practice, the correct answer would be something like, “That falls outside of my qualifications but I can refer you to a specialist.”

Not only will bluffing an answer likely catch up with you down the road, it is not unheard of for prospective clients to ask probing questions that they know the answer to – just to see how you respond.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

  • Training program creation
  • Develop a strength and flexibility program
  • Advise on race tactics and equipment selection
  • Inform client about sports nutrition
  • Assess a client’s posture and sport-specific form
  • Stretch client

WHAT YOU CANNOT DO

  • Prescribe medication
  • Diagnose illness/injury
  • Perform skeletal/soft tissue work (ex: massage)
  • While not illegal per se, it is not recommended to advise on or ‘prescribe’ nutrition supplements or nutritional plans. This is the domain of a registered dietician.

NUTRITION AND SUPPLEMENTS

Supplements are an unregulated industry. As such, you cannot be 100 percent sure what the exact contents are. From a coaching perspective, you should view supplements as medicine and therefore you should not advise in this area. This is not to say that supplements cannot be helpful, however, you should not be the one discussing this with a client.

BLURRED LINE BETWEEN ALLIED HEALTH PROFESSIONALS AND COACHES

As discussed previously, you want to stay in your lane in respect to your scope of practice. Some coaches tend to veer into other lanes from time to time, such as diagnosing a pain that a client has. While this often done innocently on the part of the coach, it is illegal.

Overstepping one’s bounds is often encouraged by a client. In addition to his or her daily responsibilities like family and work obligations, they are now also training for a race so they are likely short on time. Therefore, he or she may balk at the idea of seeking out an allied health professional such as a physical therapist, registered dietician, massage therapist, etc.. Due to their lack of time, the client may ask you to be the ‘expert’ in these aforementioned areas to save them time and money. The conversation might start off something like this, “I don’t have the time to see all of these people and you know your stuff and have been doing this for a while, so let’s just incorporate some of these things into our weekly sessions.”

Given this scenario, some coaches may feel that if they push back on the client, they risk making them mad and potentially losing them as a client. This might happen. However, the most important thing to remember is that in respect to the aforementioned example, a client’s response must not be a factor. The only thing that matters is keeping your coaching practice on the right side of the law.

CREATE A NETWORK OF SUPPORT

Coaches that are insecure in their expertise may hesitate to refer their clients to allied health professionals. This is often done out of fear that the referred party will state that their coaching methods are incorrect and as a result, the client may rethink working with them. The chance of this happening is slim, assuming that a coach is qualified and acts professionally. A professional coach should view feedback from allied health professionals as a learning experience and as a way to grow as a coach. The goal of a coach should not be to shun outside assistance, but rather to go out of their way to build up a network of professionals. This will enable a coach to stay on the legal side of their coaching practice, gain valuable information, and possibly gain new clients via referrals!

OTHER QUESTIONS TO AVOID

A coaching relationship is usually a friendly one. As such, the topics discussed between coach and client often veer away from strictly training information (i.e. weather, favorite movies, plans for the weekend).

However, topics such as politics, religion, and relationships are best left out of the conversation. Just as you’re not a physical therapist or orthopedic surgeon and as such, you cannot answer questions related to these areas, you are also not a political pundit or psychologist – and even if you are one, this is not the place for any such conversation.

SUMMARY

Be friendly, give good information and always remember to practice within your scope of practice and knowledge!

Rick Prince

Rick Prince

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

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