Four-Phase Program To Building The Perfect CrossFit Coach: Phase 1

Four-Phase Program To Building The Perfect CrossFit Coach: Phase 1

What does it take to be a good CrossFit coach? Gym owner Damon Johnson takes readers through a four-phase program to develop the best.

Jun 22, 2018 by Damon Johnson
Four-Phase Program To Building The Perfect CrossFit Coach: Phase 1

Damon Johnson is the owner and head coach at White Tail CrossFit in Leander, Texas. Give White Tail a follow on Facebook or Instagram.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned as a gym owner is that my coaches are the ambassadors of my brand.

Good coaches are hard to find. Bad “coaches” are everywhere. Just look at any Instagram post that is even the slightest bit fitness-related — the comment section will be inundated with coaching tips and advice from hundreds of people who have no idea about the circumstances surrounding the person in the post. Some of it may be stellar advice. Most of it is stuff that they heard once that sounded cool or maybe worked for their friend’s uncle’s best friend’s roommate, and isn’t really applicable in any way.

Hopefully you’ve never experienced a bad coach — but, odds are, you have. Maybe you’ve dropped in to a class somewhere and had no idea what was going on, or the overall mood was boring and dour. Maybe you were expected to know the intricacies of a snatch, or you were told your squat wasn’t low enough, but were given no methods to fix it. Maybe the coach was rude or condescending or told you to put weights on the bar that you clearly weren’t ready for.

All of these problems stem from a bad coach. Maybe they have some qualities of a good or great coach — maybe the knowledge is there, or the persona — but it just never all comes together. 

And now your experience with that gym, and that gym’s reputation to you, is not good. 


“All you have in business is your reputation.” –Richard Branson

Unless you coach every single class in your gym, there are other people who determine your business’ reputation. Those special people are your coaches. 

They are the ones on the front lines. They are the ones who are either leaving a positive impact on people’s lives, or making sure people don’t come back to your business again.

There are many reasons why it’s hard to find a good coach. It takes a unique combination of characteristics to be an excellent coach, so they aren’t just found on every corner. When someone has a good coach working for them, they’ll typically do everything they can to keep that person, so there aren’t many looking for jobs. And there are several people who could or would be good coaches who just aren’t interested in the responsibility.

Not everyone was born to coach. For some, it’s natural. Maybe they need to hone some skills, but all of the basics are there. Others can learn it. 


Keeping in mind that my coaches are the face of my brand, White Tail developed an intense, hands-on internship program that helps focus and develop the skills we feel are imperative to a good coach. Not everyone makes it through the program, and not everyone who does is guaranteed a coaching position. The program isn’t rocket science, and it’s not trying out for the SEALS, but it does require most people to get outside of themselves, get a little uncomfortable, think critically, and most importantly, learn the values that we require from our coaches.

Our program is four phases long and consists of around 70 hours of in-class training. Each phase builds on the others and attempts to teach the intern our values a little at a time, instead of just throwing them straight into the fire.

Our goal is to get people moving well in a safe, fun, and positive environment. My coaches understand that for a lot of our athletes, they aren’t training to compete or break world records. They want to be healthy, move well, get more fit, and they want to have a good experience.

Below is a run-through of the first phase. Stay tuned to FloElite for phases two through four of the “whats” and “whys” of our internship program.


The first phase of our internship is 20 hours and requires the intern to do two things: watch people move, and praise their good behaviors and movements. 

This phase breaks the intern in to the other side of things. A lot of times, the intern is an athlete who has maybe spent hundreds of hours in a gym but never any time watching what’s going on. There’s a lot more to learn, so our goal is to get the intern comfortable first while working on some basic, easy skills.

We teach the intern that it’s really easy to see when someone doesn’t squat below parallel, and it takes a lot more attention to find things that they are doing right. This gets our intern to really start focusing on patterns of movement and watching the entire body, as opposed to just seeing glaring mistakes. 

The other important part of this phase is the praise. Surprisingly — and sadly — this is the hardest part for some people. It can be tough to give someone a compliment, especially someone you don’t know very well. This one gets a lot of people out of their comfort zone.

One of the biggest problems with new coaches that I’ve encountered is that they want to try to fix everything all at once. There are very few people who can take three or four pieces of criticism and 1) fix them all at once and 2) feel good about themselves after hearing it. 

This gets the intern to slow down a bit, focus on the full body, and build a good rapport with our athletes. Who doesn’t like getting told they did something well? We stress that coaching is not 100 percent about fixing everything all the time.

One of our goals is to get our athletes to leave with a “positive balance.” This means they get at least one positive bit of feedback for every correction. Do all athletes need this? No. But when is the last time someone had a bad time when they got complimented on something they did well? When your athletes have good experiences, they typically come back for more.

Stay tuned for phases two through four of White Tail’s internship program.