3 Things I Love When Hiring Coaches

Dave Thomas San Diego Performance360Written by Dave Thomas

Your team is everything. Not part of the thing. Not most of the thing. It’s the whole thing, and I am lucky enough to be among the few business owners who doesn’t lose an ounce of sleep over their team.

We’ve talked many times about our unconventional hiring habits at Performance360. and how we aren’t gun shy about hiring people without any formal coaching experience. It’s a question I get asked often by my friends, colleagues, and members.

“What influences your guys’ hiring decisions?”

While there are a lot of factors, some intangible, there are three that always seem to rise to the top of the list. If you are a gym owner or coach, perhaps this can shed some light into the process of what we’ve seen to be successful.

1. We Match Culturally

“Liking to Olympic lift” isn’t a cultural match. That’s a common ground, but so is sitting down to dinner with someone who went to the same school as you. A nice start, but doesn’t mean there’s anything deeper than that.

I, the potential place of employment. They, the potential coach. If we can’t be on each other’s wave length from a cultural perspective, there is no amount of experience or education that can overcome that.

The reason that we have our member-to-coach apprenticeship is to help me already sort through a few characteristics that would otherwise be a great unknown.

First, Physical proficiency. I know what you can do, and I know what you can’t. I know that you have a great based of knowledge as a two year understudy. Second, training preferences. I know you’ll be a part of classes, you’ll participate in the community, and you won’t carried a hired gun mentality. Third, character. I know that you’re a good person and someone I am comfortable representing our brand.


When we hired our current head coach, Julianne Russell, the only S&C class she ever coached was as a member, filling in for a former coach who overslept. She was at the gym taking the class, and rather than let everyone have a terrible experience and have to go home, she said screw it and took the reigns. Ran the class. Lead with conviction. Didn’t shy away.

“Um. Where in THE HELL can we get you to sign?”

We hired Julianne and she worked her way up to Head Coach over the past three years. Julianne had prior teaching experience with yoga, and that skill set combined with her proficiency in fitness, understanding of the body, and deep affection for our culture was a no-brainer for us.

Had we been caught up in the mindset of certifications first, we would have missed out on one of the best coaches in the country, in my humble opinion. It’s not that I don’t respect certifications. I do very much and 100% see the value in them. After all, we created one. It’s just, they take a backseat to culture when assessing priority and how well one will gel. Coaching at our gym is such a unique experience given that we are independent. Any coaching experience one comes in with is going to be tweaked and adjusted to fit our philosophies. We have a highly intense three month internal FCC course curriculum that will handle the technical side of education, so it actually saves me a step in not having to butt heads against any outside or previous influences. No “bad habits” to break, so to speak.

Of course, it would be foolish to totally close ourselves off to the outside world. We have hired externally, and will again I am certain. When we are in the assessment phase, we ask the candidate to train at our gym for one month. If they are still interested after seeing what makes our gym tick, we consider it a fit. This also allows us to evaluate them, how they move, how they interact, whether they cut corners, and if they can they actually do what they say they can.

What I like about this, is it weeds out the pretenders. When this requirement is presented, a lot of candidates will politely decline, not wanting to make that commitment. Great. Saved us some trouble.

Your culture is like your grandmother’s prized cookie recipe. Hard to articulate the exact quantities of ingredients, but you know it by heart and can cook it blind. While everyone else is buying pre-made dough, keep making yours by scratch. It might take longer and require more sweat, but the end product will taste much better for those consuming it.

The quality of your operation is in the details.

2. Passion for Coaching, Not Fitness

“Why do you want to work here?”

This question gets answered one of two ways, 100% of the time.

  • Answer A: “Because I love fitness.”
  • Answer B: “Because I want to coach people.”

There’s a major difference.

Which one do you think is the best answer from the perspective of someone who hires?

Lots of people like fitness. It’s a selfish thing to love fitness. Certainly not in a negative way, but it infers that you do fitness for you. Of fucking course, we all do, but unfortunately that alone doesn’t make a great coaching candidate.

People who go the route of answer A invariably drone on about working out, how it’s the best part of their day, how they played sports, how they love to squat, how they love the results they got.

A “me” answer.

People who go the route of answer B always bring it back to how much they want to help others, the joy they get from helping someone improve the way they did, how they want to take what they have learned and pay it forward.

That’s a “we” answer, which I prefer.

Coaching requires you move, talk, be physical and tire yourself out on a daily basis. It’s easy to BS your way through that answer in an interview, but once you start, if you are not totally into the aspect of coaching and the grind that it entails, you’ll be revealed as someone who really loves fitness, but doesn’t necessarily love to coach.

3. Adding a Missing Ingredient to the Recipe

You’ve probably heard us talk about this on the podcast before, the need to not have your business partner replicate your skill set. Well, neither should your staff. I operate under the belief that as a team, we all are united under the same proficiencies, however we each slightly deviate with our unique ingredient that we can bring to collectively improving the gym and the culture.

Some specific examples from a few of our last round of hires.

Coaches Dusty and Kyle filled a need to have a stronger male presence. Coach Viv was an NCAA rower who brought some needed structure to our rowing instruction. Coach Chris very knowledgeable in human body and how we can access it during movement. Coach Brenna Bulach an Elite Raw power lifter. Coach Will a StrongFirst Kettlebell SFG. Coach Lenny a background in body building and nutrition. Coach Andy and Matt started as beginners and brought that relatability factor. Coaches Brenna Bandy and MJ, female “all-rounders” who excel in nearly any fitness task put in front of them.

Everyone filled a weakness or need for the gym, with the end goal a coaching Voltron. Great individually, but stronger together. 

I will always be an advocate of hiring a great person, need or not, but being able to fill a specific schedule, area of knowledge, or proficiency is always going to be a priority when its available.

A Finishing Note: Looking the Part
No, you do not need to be ripped to coach. I am not ripped. I do not expect nor recommend my coaches dedicate their lives to such a task. If anything, I think “normal guy and gal” is good. However, out of shape coaches are something I don’t do. Physical appearance may have nothing to do with knowledge, but if people don’t see you as a physical example, your words are going to have to be twice as good to get buy-in. And that’s not a long game I wish to play for our brand. I want our coaches to look strong, healthy, and be able to present that they have discipline and accountability in their life.

As gym owners, we all have unique checkpoints that we prioritize over others. I highly recommend you establish what you deem important so you’re direction is not wandering.

As a coach, hopefully this gives you some insight into what we gym owners are looking for as we attempt to build a great staff.

-Dave Thomas

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