Four-Phase Program To Building The Perfect CrossFit Coach: Phases 2-4

Four-Phase Program To Building The Perfect CrossFit Coach: Phases 2-4

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. Here's part two.

Jun 29, 2018 by Damon Johnson

What makes a great CrossFit coach? Gym owner Damon Johnson continues his two-part examination at the process of building the perfect fitness guru.

Below are phases two through four of White Tail’s internship program. Find part one here.


Phase two is another 20 hours. This phase consists of leading warmup and cooldown stretches, as well as giving positive and constructive feedback. This eases coaches into being in front of a group, gets them to learn control of the audience, and has the intern getting people moving without having to go into much explanation or technical detail.

A coach’s attitude will be the class’s attitude. If they’re bored and seem like they don’t want to be there, the class will feel the same way. Leading the warmup gives them the opportunity to interact with the class while not having to worry about technical details. Not everyone is automatically comfortable in front of a group. Some are too quiet, some are insecure, some have stage fright. None of those qualities helps a coach’s effectiveness. If they’re too quiet and lose control of the class during the warmup, then it’s the perfect example as to why they need to be louder and more authoritative.

We stress that no movement is perfect. Everyone can do something a little better.

Now the intern is allowed to start giving corrections, which must always be preceded by something positive. The positive helps in many ways. It lets the athlete know the intern cares and is paying attention to that individual. Sometimes, excited new coaches can come across as brash or as a know-it-all, trying to tell the athlete everything they did wrong and prove themselves as a coach. I’ve found that, for most athletes, that immediately turns them off. This also gets the athlete listening. When is the last time you complimented someone and they started ignoring you?

Another key to the positive is it gets the athlete thinking about what they’re doing. Many times, you can give a correction, and the athlete will sacrifice their good movements to try to fix the bad. If you tell an athlete to squat lower, maybe they’ll drive their knees forward in an attempt to “get lower.” However, if you tell them they did a great job keeping their knees back, but you want them to try to get their hips a little lower, now they’ll focus on keeping their knees back while also trying to fix their depth. 

We get the intern to focus on safety corrections first, then technique. The coach that the intern is shadowing is right alongside and can help with any corrective advice needed. This gets the intern hands-on experience with trying to fix faults. They learn techniques that work, ones that don’t, how different athletes respond to different kinds of cues. They learn to give quick pointers during a movement, and a little more explanation when the athlete is resting. Almost no one will listen if you try to explain why they need to keep their knees out in the middle of a 10-rep back squat. Also, those exact same people will most likely be annoyed you’re trying to talk to them then

This phase gets the intern spotting faults and thinking about corrections and face-to-face interactions with athletes trying to learn. They aren’t worried about time demands, class flow, or anything of the sort; they can just focus on the corrective part of coaching.


Phase three is another 20 hours. This has the intern leading the warmup as well as leading the skill development or workout section of class — sometimes both, if they’re up to it. The coach is right alongside and covers anything the intern might have missed. 

We get them to demonstrate and explain the movement, covering all of the main details we look for. When they get comfortable, they can also hit on common flaws to try to avoid.

The key to this phase is getting the intern comfortable with teaching more technical aspects. As a coach, we make sure they teach several different movements, and not just the same one repeatedly. I’ve had some interns who were great at snatching, but as soon as they went to teach it, all that came out of their mouth were mumbles and jumbles and “full extension of your hips.” 

They quickly learn that being able to do a movement and being able to teach a movement are not the same thing.

We help the athlete learn to break down the movements and develop a pattern, usually learning to teach a movement from the ground up. It’s easy to talk about the safety points of a deadlift and completely forget about grip, stance, etc. They learn that some athletes learn from seeing, some from hearing, some from trying, and they have to deal with all of those athletes at once. 

On top of this, they’re still leading the warmup and giving positive and negative feedback. They’re welcoming athletes to the class, talking to them, and keeping everyone engaged.


Phase four is 10-15 hours (or more if needed), depending on the intern. These classes are entirely intern-lead, with a coach watching and taking notes, only stepping in for safety concerns. The intern must show mastery of running a class in a safe and timely manner, with everyone having a positive experience. The intern must try to give coaching cues to every athlete. 

A couple of these phases have the intern leading a class that consists of only coaches. The coaches can be any kind of athlete they want, but we try to throw out real-life scenarios that the intern may face. This also gets the intern comfortable with coaching people who are possibly more knowledgeable and definitely more experienced than they are, which is a very uncomfortable situation for most.

The final hour is a test, and has the intern leading a class of coaches and some select athletes. After it is over, all of the coaches give the intern positive feedback covering all of the things they did well, followed by some constructive criticism — things they could improve on or handled differently.

Once this phase is over, if the intern can demonstrate mastery of our values — if they can show and teach the movements so that everyone can understand, if they can spot and fix flaws in movement while also finding areas to praise, if they can run the class timely, if they can be encouraging and friendly and make sure all of our athletes have a good experience — then they can start coaching classes. We don’t expect them to have all the answers or fixes, but a good grasp on a lot of them.

This program has produced for us some incredible coaches. Their classes are typically full, the athletes come up to those coaches after classes to boast about PRs or life in general. They create an amazing environment in which our athletes improve, work hard, and have a good time doing it.

Phase 1 (20 hours)

Phase 2 (20 hours)

Watch people move

Praise good behaviors / movements

Leading warmups and cooldown stretches

Giving positive and negative / constructive feedback

Phase 3 (20 hours)

Phase 4 (10-15 hours)

Leading skill development or workout section of class (sometimes both)

Entirely intern-led classes

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