How to Coach Nutrition Clients – 5 Steps to Becoming a Better Coach
Coaching truly is an art-form. It requires a willingness to constantly evolve, adapt and challenge your beliefs. Jason and I were already experienced health & fitness coaches but when we started to focus our attention on the area of nutrition, we recognized that this particular subject required a different approach to that of a physical exercise program.
We have had to learn a new way of coaching. In so-doing, we have been much more willing to self-experiment, study, track and take the time to understand complex issues, so that we can better relay that information to others. We have tested protocols and researched subjects that we may not have ever considered, and as a result, we have discovered what we believe to be the “perfect formula” for coaching nutrition.
“If you want to learn something, read about it. If you want to understand something, write about it. If you want to master something, teach it.” ~ Yogi Bhajan
5 Steps to Becoming a Better Coach
Whether you’re already coaching, or if you think coaching nutrition might be your next calling, here are 5 steps that will lead you to becoming a better coach in this specialist area.
1. Start Coaching
The only way to hone the art of coaching is to get practicing! As a nutrition coach, this is typically easier (and less daunting!) than if you were trying to coach a class at a gym. Ask family and friends if they’re willing to let you test out your knowledge and practice your “drills and skills” with them! Think about how you’ll be setting up your coaching practice. Will you be meeting with clients in person, talking over the phone or communicating over email? And then practice running through the relevant processes. If you’ve never conducted a client interview before, set one up with a friend or a willing member of your gym.
2. Ask for Feedback
Learning from mistakes is the best form of learning! Condition yourself to get comfortable with asking for feedback and being receptive to it. Not only will you learn about the way others like to receive information and be treated, but you’ll also learn a lot about yourself. If you want to become a better coach and grow a successful business, then you can’t live in fear of feedback. Of course not all of it has to be negative! Start by asking your friends and colleagues for 2 things they liked/enjoyed about your meeting or coaching experience and 2 things that they thought could have gone better.
For more on this topic, have a listen to Sheila Heen deliver her presentation on feedback on the TedEx Stage.
3. Give Feedback
As a coach, you will need to learn how to give feedback. In receiving it yourself, you will probably gain a good understanding of what not to do! The majority of us are horrible at giving feedback! There are plenty of great resources on how to deliver information that a person may not want to hear and actually have them listen to it. We highly recommend “Non-Violent Communication” by Marshall B. Rosenburg and “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High”.
Crucial conversations tend to provoke an over-emotional and irrational response, so becoming a master in delivering feedback is going to take some work to overcome. Here are some basic principles you can follow and implement to facilitate the free-flow of ideas:
a) Focus on the Goal
What is it you want to achieve? Reiterate to your client what you believe their goals to be and assure them that your methods align with helping them work towards that goal. As the “feedback giver” stop and think before responding to your client. Ask yourself, “What do I actually want?” and “What do I want to avoid?”
b) Create a Safe Atmosphere
We’re not talking about physical comfort here, although that is always helpful too. When people feel like they’re being unfairly criticized, they tend to clam up as their emotions take over. The body experiences feelings as if it was being attacked and that perception of fear causes the release of adrenaline hindering our ability to think rationally. To avoid this experience, you can create a safe atmosphere with mutual respect and a common purpose.
Showing respect for your client can be done by contrasting “criticism” with praise. Identify areas where your client is making great strides and progress and then ask them whether they think there are any areas that they could identify for improvement? If they don’t bring up the point that you specifically want to address, assess whether now is actually a good time to bring up this point. If you think it is, then you could ask them how they would rate their own performance in that particular area. Instead of telling your client what they’re doing wrong, help them to identify their own short-comings for themself.
c) Get the Facts
So often, arguments or heated conversation arise due to misunderstandings because an assumption has been made. We are all constantly interpreting information we’re receiving. For example, if you were to show a handful of clients an image of a can of coke and ask them to give you their immediate response, you’ll come up with a handful of different answers like “delicious refreshing drink”, “sugary death trap”, or even “the holidays”. We all have our unique experiences and as such, our own interpretation on things. You can manage your own emotions and even help to manage others, by asking yourself whether it’s possible that you’re misinterpreting someone’s words.
Similarly, you can avoid frustrating your client with your own misunderstanding by testing that you’ve understood all the facts correctly. Use phrases like “it sounds like you’re saying…” or reflect back by paraphrasing what they’ve said; “So, if I’m understanding you correctly, you’re able to plan your day in advance, but by the time you get home you’re too tired to prepare what you’ve planned so you end up eating whatever’s convenient. It sounds like you would be more successful in hitting your goals for the day if you already had your meal prepped for you for when you get home. What do you think?”
d) Value their Opinion
Getting your client to share their motives and concerns will help them to feel that their opinions and feelings matter. You might open a conversation or meeting by laying out your proposed direction for your time together, but asking them if there’s anything specific they would like to address first. This shows that you care about what’s on their mind and that you’re not just concerned about your own agenda – even if that agenda is designed with their best interest in mind. In addition, if you discuss ways in which you think would be best to move forwards and take action, make sure you check your client’s confidence and willingness to proceed with the proposed action plan. Ask them whether they have any other suggestions or anticipate any obstacles.
4. Be Coachable
To fully understand the dynamics of the coaching relationship, we believe that every coach should be coachable. What does this mean? Well it means that you have more than likely experienced what it’s like to be a client first-hand. If you’ve never received any kind of formal personal coaching, then we highly recommend that you seek out a coach you can work one-on-one with for at least a short period of time.
Every coach needs a coach or a mentor for support and continued growth. What you learn from your coach and about yourself will be invaluable as information that you can share with your clients so we truly believe it’s a worthwhile investment.
5. Diversify your Knowledge
Whether you make an ongoing commitment to spend 15 minutes reading every day or you decide to enroll on a nutrition certification course, we believe that part of being a great coach means that you make a lifelong commitment to ongoing education in all its varying forms. Be open to exploring different ways of learning. Go to presentations, attend online workshops, read books & articles or participate in online community discussion groups. If you work on your own, find other nutrition coaches who are willing to share resources and knowledge or have general discussions with you about overcoming any difficulties you’re facing with your business or clients. And of course don’t forget that self-experimentation is a fantastic way to make new discoveries. Challenge your routines and question whether things that feel familiar are truly of benefit to you.
Part of our biggest challenge is fulfilling our ambition to help as many people as possible with their nutrition. Jason and I love to coach, whether you’re a client or an aspiring coach, we want to help you fulfill your goals and full potential. But we only have so many hours in the day! So we decided we needed to share our expertise and knowledge by creating a fully comprehensive nutrition course. We’re so excited to bring you this opportunity to implement sound nutrition practices in your life and open up a new potential for secondary income for aspiring entrepreneurs and coaches. View our full curriculum here.
Jason Ackerman is a Level 4 Coach with CrossFit and works on the CrossFit Seminar Staff. Jason has over 25 years of experience in coaching in the world of health and fitness. Jason is also renowned for his entrepreneurial endeavors having owned 3 highly successful CrossFit Affiliates. For more information about on-going support as a coach, contact us about our Coaching & Business Mentorship Program. In addition, be sure to check out our nutrition course, fully accredited by NASM & AFFA.