Bill Parcells was arguably one of the top turnaround coaches in NFL history. He was the first coach to take four separate franchises to the post-season, all of which won five or fewer games before he stepped in. What was it that made him such a great coach with the ability to get the most out of players and teams that were underperforming?

There were many things that made him a Hall of Fame coach, from his ability to communicate with and motivate players to his reputation for expecting the most from people. Above all, he, and most great coaches of the past, took responsibility for losses just as much as wins.

What is it that connects Hall of Fame NFL coaches like Bill Parcells and personal trainers?

Could we be asking the same questions about why some trainers are able to help turn clients around when others can’t? Personal Trainers all too often lay full blame on their clients for not seeing results and reaching their goals. I mean let’s face it, you gave them the perfect fitness routine to follow along and exactly what to eat every minute of the day, so it’s on them to make it happen right?


If you want to consider yourself a great coach and fitness professional then you must take responsibility for your clients’ failures just as much (if not more) than their transformations. The best fitness professionals make it a priority to build clients up and deliver far more than just workout routines. This mindset underlines the difference between trainers and coaches.

Just like turning a failing franchise around, it won’t happen for clients overnight. Whether clients are struggling or just getting started they have been operating from the same playbook for years and re-programming their lifestyle is going to take time. Great coaching on a consistent basis however can get them moving in the right direction.

Introducing the B.U.I.L.D. method

Pretend for a moment that you are a foreman and you are building a house but the workers you have on the job are not homebuilding experts. They have some experience but you wouldn’t just hand them the blueprints of the house and walk away, right?

Maybe the house would get built and look good but did they lay the foundation correctly? Is the roof going to come toppling down six months down the road? Or will they just get stuck trying to make progress and give up?

The role of a foreman might not be so different from that of a great coach. Much like building a house working with clients to achieve their goals takes time, planning, patience and collaboration. It’s not something a foreman can do on his own but if he is a great leader, he can build up his crew so they have the knowledge and skills to handle the job.

It means operating from the mindset that clients are capable of reaching their goals, but just need someone with an aerial view to foresee roadblocks and guide them along the way. Building people up is what coaching is all about.


Often the initial focus of our education and development with clients is to teach them about principles of nutrition, counting calories, teaching exercises, etc.; but once again we are back to building the roof without a strong foundation. Great results are achieved predominantly through psychology and secondly through strategies and skills.

Self-limiting beliefs from previous failures and a lack of confidence trap clients into the same routine. Even if the same routine continues to lead to failure, it’s familiar and comfortable so clients will often go back to it again.

Helping them breakout from this cycle takes time and constant coaching but try some of the strategies below to coach them towards success:

  • Work with them to catalogue all of the times they have had both success and failure with their fitness in the past. Then dig deep with them to discover what it was in each scenario that led to the outcome. It sounds simple, but focusing on replicating success can help them realize that the process can be systemized to produce the best possible environment. Detailing what didn’t work can also be eye-opening in recognizing they are often in more control than they think.
  • Get clients to regularly visualize their goals and what it will be like once they have achieved them. Ask them to close their eyes and think about what it would be like to wake up and “be there.” Ask them what it feels and looks like to fully immerse them in the sensations of getting to that point, so much so that it feels real. If done consistently, this Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) technique can help put clients in a mindset of success and keep their goals top of mind when stressed and tempted.
  • Identify and celebrate victories for your clients. The weight on the scale may not always move but they are sure to have improved somewhere so make a big deal out of it. Success breeds success and often, clients need to see that they are actually capable of success.


Great coaches don’t just tell people what to do but they include them in the conversation. If you’re going to challenge someone to push their limits and maximize their potential, you must have a deep understanding of who they are.

This piece of the B.U.I.L.D. method is by far the most important and serves as a foundation upon which the other pieces build. You may have a great plan and path but if it’s not the right one for this person you may be spinning your wheels. Strive more to understand than to be understood by using the following tactics:

  • Know when it’s necessary to do less talking and more listening. This remains important throughout but especially in the beginning ask several open-ended questions to better understand their story and challenges.
  • Find out what “kind” of exerciser they are. Do they enjoy more regimented traditional lifts like the bench and deadlift or are they more adventurous and enjoy learning new skills often? Taking this into account will not only make them feel included in the process but ensure you aren’t fitting a square peg into a round hole. The best fit pros and coaches learn to cater their methods to the client, not vice versa.
  • This can be done with simple questions such as: (1) Would you rather workout for reps or for time? (2) Would you be more motivated by seeing weekly improvements in a smaller number of exercises or learn new movements regularly? (3) How do you feel about having to beat your previous score?
  • Be ready to change your plan. Clients come in with different needs and issues every day, great coaches know when to adapt rather than force the workout for that day.


Inspiration is defined as: “The process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something.”

This suggests that the act of doing and feeling are intimately intertwined. Better yet, if we can speak to the emotion that drives our clients we can help to drive action. This goes deeper than occasionally posting a quote or motivational meme but ties back into regularly connecting clients with their mission and motivations.

Often our clients have the knowledge to achieve their goals but momentarily lose sight of how their daily actions relate to the bigger picture. Help to keep their cup full by practicing some of these strategies with them.

  • Help clients get absolutely clear on what their goals really are and why. Tying back into “Breaking Out” above, this will make it easier to visualize and stay front of mind when willpower is low or they face challenges.
  • Connect them with other clients who have gotten to the next level and had similar challenges. Personal training can be isolated but creating a connection among other clients you work with who have seen great progress can give them someone, and something to connect with.
  • Show them you are human. Vulnerability is relatable and the more clients can see that you aren’t perfect, the more they will see you as someone they can actually aspire to be like. Let them know you have a burger and a beer once and a while, but then you jump back on the train and get on track.


Leading by example is one aspect of great leadership but the best take it to another level by making it less about them and more about the client. Clients need someone who can help them get out of their own way. They need someone with an aerial view while they are making their way through the jungle that is daily life. If they have someone that can help foresee the roadblocks and pitfalls that might lie ahead then they can learn correct their course along the way.

Keep these things in mind in your quest to be a great leader for clients:

  • Live and breathe what you do daily void of ego and allow your actions to speak for themselves. People want to be led by those who truly stand for something so make it apparent that you act on a strong personal mission and vision. They will be more likely to act on theirs.
  • Hold your clients accountable and be honest with them about their current performance and results. Explain that it’s a team approach but if they aren’t holding up their end of the deal then let them know. People need accountability and great coaches instill a sense of responsibility.
  • Leaders see potential and hold people to a higher standard than they would be willing to hold themselves. This could mean pushing them to set more challenging goals along the way and helping them to accomplish even more than they set out. Find their threshold and help them continue to push it.


To quote Tony Robbins, “If you aren’t growing then you’re dying.” Developing your clients to become more autonomous in making the right decisions and taking action will not only improve their results, but empower them to keep upping the bar.

Great coaches and leaders don’t just hold people to a higher standard but they help them acquire the skills and experiences to meet those standards. This goes beyond setting expectations and goals. It requires giving them realistic tasks and the ongoing coaching they need to integrate health and fitness into the fabric of their lives.

You can work to develop clients by:

  • Not giving them a meal plan! This solution may result in short-term success but doesn’t require them to learn any skills or knowledge that will carry over once they get sick of the same foods or stop seeing results. Help them craft a plan by educating them and provide strategies to feasibly make better choices that fit their lifestyle.
  • Evaluate the current plan and progress with them regularly but make them do more talking. Ask them to tell you what they feel is working and if they feel like they could do more. Then set the bar accordingly and continue to ask for feedback.
  • Assign them homework workouts when they travel or go on vacation and tell them to send you pictures of them after they completed it. It builds the confidence in doing it on their own.
  • Once they get to a certain point make them responsible for someone else. The best way to master something and integrate it further is to have to teach others. Task them with getting someone in their family on track or introduce them to your newest client and ask if they wouldn’t mind being an additional resource.

The B.U.I.L.D. approach is not a “re-invention” or magic code to becoming a great coach but is a way of framing your approach with clients. Think of it as a set of core values in which you should be able to evaluate your actions and coaching style on a regular basis.

Are you putting just as much time into learning more about people as you are about cutting edge exercises and nutrition? Are you leading by example and truly taking responsibility for getting your clients to their goals? Are you working to develop your clients so that they can actually meet your elevated expectations?

If not, then it’s time to be honest with yourself and step up to the plate.

It’s time to stop training…and start coaching.