Even coaches need coaching. That’s why having a mentor is crucial to every coach’s career development.
Mentors help us establish our mindset. They help us move to the “next level”. They share the unofficial, unwritten rules of our field. And they send us “postcards” from the future.
If you have one, high-five yourself. If you don’t, it’s time to start looking.
I’ve done a lot of school.
Like, a lot.
Four years of a BA plus one more year of undergrad courses in an area of interest.
(Because, you know, actually finishing one degree wasn’t enough.)
Nearly two years of an MA.
Four years of a PhD.
I started university in 1991. In 2002, eleven years later, I had three degrees and probably tens of thousands of pages of essays, notes, and a 400-page dissertation. Plus hundreds of books.
Over the following years I racked up a bunch more pages of books and journal articles of my own.
When I left academia, I threw most of it away.
Yep. Boxes of file folders. Stacks of books. Reams of essays, sheets fluttering in the wind out of my recycling box.
It’s sad to say but – if I’m honest – much of the “book lernin” didn’t stick.
(And considering that I was a book junkie, for whom the smell of a library was almost better than the smell of Cinnabon, that’s saying a lot.)
So, what did stick?
The knowledge, insight, and wisdom I got from real people.
At Precision Nutrition we often say that real growth and development doesn’t come from a book or a website.
Instead, it comes from a relationship with a real person.
In my case, older, smarter, more advanced people welcomed me into their world. They took me under their figurative wing. They kicked my ass with experience and kindness.
These people cared about who I was. Where I was going. What I would need to get there.
These mentors helped me along the path.
That’s why it doesn’t matter what field you’re in; mentors can, and most often do, make all the difference.
Why do you need a mentor?
If you’re a working fitness professional or learning to be one, you probably have some idea of why a mentor might be useful.
But let me share my own perspective, especially as it pertains to coaching.
Mentors will tell you the real rules.
You know, all those unofficial, unwritten rules that aren’t recorded in any book or instruction manual.
They’ll tell you who to talk to, and when, about what. How stuff really gets done.
Think Head Coach X is always in charge of the show? Maybe not. Perhaps Front Desk Person Y is actually the real boss at your particular gym.
And Front Desk Person Y really loves chocolate. Whoever brings Y that chocolate regularly just might be in line for the next promotion. Wink wink.
A good mentor will tip you off to these kinds of unexpected truths.
Sometimes, you’ll hate what you find out from mentors. Your innocence will shrivel and your naïve optimism will wither.
You’ll have to burn your Big Book of How The Universe Should Work.
But this is a good thing. Once your illusions are out of the way you can get real, start growing up, and start growing better.
Mentors will give you humility.
Oh shiny new coach! How full of exuberance you are! Look at your delightfully color-coded nutrition plans and helpful worksheets!
You are so going to march right into that gym and tell your clients exactly what to do with themselves! You have the best plan ever!
Which will work until you run into your first challenging client, which is to say by about 8:30 a.m.
A good mentor will shoot you straight. They’ll help you show up to your coaching practice with an open “beginner’s mind”, rather than a closed, arrogant, know-it-all “expertise”.
Of course, mentors shouldn’t deliberately crush your dreams.
But they will acquaint you with the wonderful messiness of reality, physiology, and human behavior.
Like the fact that not all clients are inspired by color-coded nutrition plans. (I know, right? What the hell?!)
Mentors will give you wisdom.
There’s knowing stuff, and then there’s wisdom.
Wisdom is really more like advanced pattern recognition combined with a deep understanding of the human condition.
Wisdom is how you know when a client is BSing you or not.
Wisdom is knowing when to push a client out of their safe zone, and when to wrap them in a warm fuzzy security blanket.
Wisdom is like knowing without knowing.
A client walks in, and you immediately sense what they’ll need and want. You can’t even say for sure how you know it. You just do.
A good mentor will share, and help you cultivate, that experiential intuition.
Mentors will give you the big picture.
When you’re relatively new to a field, or even if you’re an intermediate practitioner, it’s easy to get lost in details or the seemingly urgent (but unimportant) concerns of your daily routine.
Q. Is organic food “better”?
Q. How many grams of protein per serving? What about the specific amino acid composition? Do you like this brand of whey?
Q. Are 10 reps better than 8?
Q. I like spinach, but I hear it has too many oxalates. Should I eat it? What about broccoli? What about the goitrogens in brassicas — or do the indoles balance those out?
Q. For best client retention, should I call, text, or email them?
Since you’re newer, you don’t have a filter for detail importance. You can’t prioritize. Because you just don’t know.
You don’t have 10 or 30 years of experience that tell you the answers are:
A. Sometimes yes, sometimes no.
A. Whatever, just get some protein.
A. Whatever, just shut up and lift.
A. Eat your damn greens.
A. Who cares, just get a relationship going.
A mentor will tell you when stuff truly matters, and when it doesn’t.
Mentors will make you comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty.
Mentors help you, as a learner, tolerate the unknown. They help you navigate uncharted waters.
This is especially important to a newbie, because over the course of your coaching career, you’ll dis-assemble and re-assemble your practice a zillion times.
Just as soon as you think you have something solid, new information or a paradigm-shifting realization will come along, and your house of coaching cards will collapse.
“Cool, so we all agree — dietary fat is the devil, right? Wait… what? We like fat now? Oh great; now what am I going to do with all this fat-free candy?!”
Mentors help you make it OK not to know stuff.
They help you pick up the cards all over the floor, and put them back together in a new way.
Mentors give you a Postcard from the Future.
Mentors are like your horizon point. You Are Here… In Five Years. Or Ten.
They’re a vision of a possible next stage for us.
Most of us learn by imitating and modeling.
It’s hard to develop if we can’t even see what we’re developing towards. That’s like driving a car with no windows.
As coaches, our work is experiential. We learn by doing. By trying. By experimenting. And, of course, by screwing up.
We’ll have to do much of this type of learning on our own. But a mentor can help “orient” us.
We can screw up in a particular direction — in the act of attempting some specific objective — rather than just randomly. And we can model and imitate a possible future for ourselves.
Mentors give a sh*t.
Most importantly, good mentors care. About YOU.
They care what makes you unique. They care about helping you succeed.
They consistently assess and evaluate how you are progressing, and what you need in order to keep developing as a coach.
Because, as we’re fond of saying, even coaches need coaches.
Even coaches need guidance, supervision, and caring, individualized mentorship.
Just like you offer to your clients.
So think about it.
Who’s your coaching mentor?
Do you have one?
If you don’t, any candidates in mind?
In a dream world, who would be your mentor?
What would you look for in a mentor? What kind of person would they be?
What areas of expertise do you seek?
- Nutritional science?
- Coaching psychology?
- Business strategy?
- Professional development?
- General life wisdom?
What — and who — might you need in order to become the best coach that you can be?
Identify exactly what you’re looking for. Then begin your search.
Seek out the people who are a little further along the path than you are. People who embody the qualities outlined in this article.
And make yourself available to learn from them.
Some people say the difference between who you are today and who you’ll be in 5 years is determined by the books you read.
Who you are today and who you’ll be in 5 years is determined by the mentors you choose. (And the ones who choose you.)
Can we help?
If you’d like to learn with us, we’d love to work with you.
During the last 5 years we’ve mentored thousands of fitness, health, and nutrition professionals through our Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification program.
Our next group kicks off shortly and is designed to teach you how to get to the next level.
Since we only take a limited amount of students, and the program sells out every time, I strongly recommend you add your name to our presale list below.
When you do, you get the chance to sign up 24 hours before everyone else. Even better, you’ll save up to 30% off the general price of the program.
Soon we’re taking a new group of trainers / coaches and teaching them how to deliver world-class nutrition advice to every type of client. It’s the industry’s most respected nutrition certification program.