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6 Ways to Get Athletes to “Buy In”

Written on June 27, 2013 at 4:21 pm, by Eric Cressey

A few weeks ago, I was chatting with an athletic trainer friend of mine who used to work with one of our athletes.  He was joking with me about how when he'd brought up the concept of postural awareness to this athlete years ago, the athlete had really shrugged it off as being unimportant.  Now, years later, that athlete is taking posture more seriously and reaping the benefits in terms of health and performance.

This conversation got me to thinking about what it takes to get athletes to "buy in" to what you're saying to them or doing with them. Obviously, in this instance, it's likely heavily influenced by this young athlete simply getting older and more mature.  However, I often wonder how we can accelerate the process of having athletes commit 100% to the approach we're employing.  Below, I've listed a few areas I've found to be particularly important in expediting the process of athlete "buy-in."

1. Deliver a consistent message.

Remember when you were a kid and wanted something you know you didn't have a chance of getting?  First, you'd ask your Mom and get shot down – and then you'd go to your Dad and try to sell him on it (or vice versa).  If your Dad didn't back your Mom 100%, it usually meant that Dad was sleeping on the couch you thought you still had a fighting chance to get your way.  The message had to be consistent for them to get you to buy in to their rules.

In the gym, it has to be the same way – and not just in terms of rules.  There needs to be a consistent message in terms of programming, nomenclature (i.e., what you call exercises), coaching cues, and what is deemed "acceptable" technique. If any of these factors don't line up along all members of your staff, athletes get mixed messages and begin to second guess you.


2. Start off with one-on-one interaction.

Every notice what happens when a coach yells at an entire team at once?  Usually, the entire team "wears it" – and then proceeds to gossip about the coach after the fact and shrug off the message he was trying to deliver.  In fact, he usually loses them a little (or a lot) more with each tirade. 

Conversely, think about what happens when a coach pulls aside a player individually and lets him know his conduct, attitude, or effort level hasn't been satisfactory.  Usually, that turns out to be a big kick in the pants for an athlete to step up his game and carry himself the right way.

This one-on-one interaction doesn't have to just be reserved for when something is going wrong, though.  It's tremendously important when you first meet with an athlete to discuss his/her goals and go through an evaluation.  I often video scapular screens with my baseball guys and discuss how their shoulder blades move relative to how we want them to move.  It educates them, but also makes them realized how individualized their programming and overall training experience will be. 

3. Individualize coaching cues to the athlete's learning style.

Taking the individualization theme a bit further, it's important to realize that all athletes have different learning styles when it comes to acquiring new movement pattern.  Some are kinesthetic (need to be put in a position), some are auditory (just need to be told what to do), and others are visual (need to watch you demonstrate it).  Being able to taylor your coaching style to their learning style – and not the other way around – is a great way to build rapport with athletes early on.

4. Overdeliver.

My good friend Pat Rigsby always talks about how the most successful long-term businesses are built on the concept of value addition rather than value extraction. In other words, it's always best to find ways to go above and beyond to improve a client or athlete's experience. As an example in the Cressey Performance world, I have a very good network in the college baseball world.  And, while we would never advertise that we help kids find schools, I've lost count of how many times I've put kids in touch with coaching staffs at schools that interest them.  Having a go-between expedites the recruiting process and helps them to get their questions answered.  We've donated training sessions to charity auctions, hosted BBQs for clients, and even written letters of recommendation for jobs, college, and med school for clients.  We aren't expected to do so; we're happy to do so.  And, doing nice things for others makes you feel a lot better about yourself than just sitting around trying to figure out ways that you can raise your prices.

5. Build a team.

Building a team is the ultimate sign of humility, which is a quality that I think just about everyone on this planet admires.  In surrounding yourself with people who have complementary skill sets to your own, you're recognizing that you aren't a genuis on every single topic, but will always go out of your way to find the best possible answer to their questions.  People who try to "go it alone" often think that they're offering a superior service, but in reality, they just haven't recognized how much better their offering could be if they surround themselves with bright people who can bring the collective "brain power" up a notch. Athletes don't want to hang out with people who think they know everything; they'd rather be surrounded by a team that'll help them get to where they want to be.


6. Be a friend – and that means being accessible.

I once heard a story about a training facility owner telling one of his staff members, "You're not here to make friends." It made me want to vomit. 

If you want to be successful in the world of training athletes, don't just expect to be a guy who can punch the clock and still thrive.  Remember that in the training world, we work while others play – so that means others work while we play. In other words, you might get phone calls, text messages, or emails from athletes with questions when you don't think you're "on the clock." And, while you don't need to be available at 3AM every night just in case, you should appreciate that making time for athletes outside of your normal "hours" can often pay off 100-fold down the road in terms of their buy-in to your programs.  If they know you're heavily invested in their success, they'll be invested in it, too.

These are obviously only six thoughts that first came to mind on the topic, but I'd love to hear your comments below.  What other ways can coaches and trainers increase the likelihood that athletes and clients "buy in?"

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31 Responses to “6 Ways to Get Athletes to “Buy In””

  1. Adam Says:


    This is one of the finest posts you’ve ever written. As a baseball coach, I often wonder what it’s going to take to get our players to fully commit to our program. Often, I think coaches underestimate the influence they have over players, and how important their actions are. Players/clients/athletes see everything, and they’ll follow a coaches lead. If you’re consistent in doing things the right way, players will eventually buy-in to the program.

  2. Shane Says:

    I love how all of this is related to the quality of what you’re delivering.

    When it comes to having someone believe in what you’re saying and being motivated to do what you’re suggesting, learning a bit about copywriting and marketing had a huge impact on me. If you want someone to, say, do a postural exercise that isn’t naturally all too glamorous, sometimes I find you need to (truthfully) “sell” the benefits to them. Knowing how to write/speak convincingly and really get down to the heart of what they care about is huge.


  3. Phil Costello Says:

    Thank you. All are important of course. Particularly like you mentioning no. 3 – which would seem obvious except that I’ve seen so many trainers have a one-way approach to teaching a movement or movement patterns. Often, their clients are ‘lost’. Need to tailor the coaching style to individuals learning styles as best you can.

  4. christian Says:

    I’ve clearly never met you but feel in the last 9 years of undergrad and post grad study you have been the most influential person in my development as a student and health professional.
    Don’t get me wrong I know better than to live off every word one person says or writes, and certainly think for myself but you do deserve a lot of praise. You provide a lot of direction for students in particular which has made my life a lot easier in terms of sourcing out the most relevant info.

    Cheers Eric, and cheers to your whole CP team whom are equally as valued

  5. Mike McCarthy Says:

    Excellent post. If you want a great BUSINESS, this is one to soak in and emulate.

  6. Ben Fairchild Says:

    One other thing I noticed about cp-
    The team all speaks the same language. While there may be varying depths of understanding of the concepts, everyone from the interns to Eric to Matt (pitching coach) has a clear grip on the group’s expectation of movement quality, and they teach each program component identically. No quicker way to fail or lose buy-in than contradictory coaching under one roof. That takes passionate people and time! Good article.

  7. Ben Fairchild Says:

    That was your first point, oops, missed that one!

  8. Richard Burnett Says:

    The buy-in can truly have a “Supernatural” impact on any program and is something every strength coach should strive for. A couple thoughts that I’d like to add are 1. Being a coach of integrity and 2. Show your athletes their success. The first point requires no further explanation but I notice an immediate improvement in attitude and effort when I take the time to show an athlete how they’re improving. It’s also effective when I present progress to the team as a whole. This especially works well for female athletes who tend to not want to be singled out. Rather, they are usually more motivated to see how the team is improving. Either way, athletes value their progress in the field and in the weight room.

  9. Michael Leyva Says:

    Excellent advice! The late great Jim Rohn used to say,”None of us know as much as all of us.”

  10. Dylan Says:

    Another great piece if writing. Appreciate the perspective on training. Thanks EC

  11. Justin Says:

    Have examples of previous clients who have gone through the training you provide that are successful, which you guys do. If you have successful clients under your belt athletes/ clients trust the process and buy in.

  12. zach even - esh Says:

    EC, I seriously LOVE this blog post! I AGREE from the heart, my man, Caring is something we can’t teach but we can open up Coach’s eyes to Caring more and going above and beyond will quickly become natural!

    Thanks, Bro!

  13. Eric Cressey Says:

    Thanks, Ben!  Means a lot coming from you, with your experience and the fact that you saw it in person!

  14. Eric Cressey Says:

    Great additions, Richard!

  15. Ed Northcott Says:

    Excellent article. It’s always nice to read these refreshers from an outside source. Even when we seek to practice this kind of philosophy, we can slip off the rails now and again. It’s always good to get back on track, and listening to people with a similar philosophy is a great way to do that.

  16. Matt Huston Says:

    Thanks Eric; these are excellent points that would seem to apply to any training situation (I work with adults on ed tech stuff, and all 6 points work in that training realm too). Build a team and have message-consistency (#1 + 5) really rings a bell. As does overdeliver (4), which you’re doing with posts like this.

    Thanks too for Richard’s idea that sometimes female athletes want to focus on progress of team as a whole — have seen that in coaching girls lax, and will keep it even more in mind next season.

  17. Eric Magrum Says:

    I believe the title of this article could have easily been “6 ways to improve your life.” Well besides number 3 all of them could easily be translated to everyday life. And even number 3 if you really think about it, you could make it apply. I just think this post goes to show that when you are genuine and care about others you will be successful in whatever realm you happen to operate in! Great Post Eric!!!

  18. Brian Nevison Says:


    Great post!

    To add, I think it can be powerful, particularly with young athletes, to practice what you preach as a trainer. If an athletes sees their trainer pushing limits in the gym or spending extra time with focused prep/recovery work, it can give the trainer’s message more power.

    Along the same lines, sharing personal experience can help get buy-in, especially with supplementary corrective work (usually less motivation there). If the athlete knows they’ve been asked to do something that you have done and have had success with – that can add power.

  19. Stephen Morgan Says:

    Love the friend/accessible section. I visit with pitcher and families, get texts, videos, go to games, hear both their success and challenges.

    Back to buy-in. Demonstrate in-depth knowledge and expertise, but be able to instruct in simple terms. Answer that “what does he know?” question.

    But most importantly, provide near term (nearly instant) steps toward success and show the client a glimpse of their roadmap to success. So if they feel “this is beneficial”, “I got better today” and “I can see my self achieving my goal”, then they are more likely to buy-in.

  20. Mark P Says:

    Overdeliver and be a friend…

    I feel like those two qualities will make a coach truly stand out, and get his or her athletes hooked. This kind of “personal” touch really develops a relationship between coach and athlete.

    Great stuff, EC!

  21. marshall Says:

    awesome article..one question??

    For highschool pitchers, do you think once they hit that 1.5x bodyweight squat or 2.5 bodyweight deadlift for full and multiple reps, should they shift the focus towards explosive and unilateral variations while working to maintain that max strength that they’ve built?


  22. Eric Cressey Says:


    I don’t think that there is a magic number that’s right for everyone.  Some guys need to be stronger.  It really depends on how they generate their velocity.

  23. Michael Rapoza Says:

    This was the best article you’ve written in some time. Thank you.

  24. Eric Cressey Says:

    Thanks, Michael!

  25. Oakville personal training Says:

    Thanks for the Article Eric! Great info and really good philosophy on how to help your clients/athletes buy in to your training style. Being accessible and someone they can trust are the catalysts to this.

  26. Roddy McGee Says:

    great points and they apply to almost any profession. Respect is earned and received when it is given.

  27. Kim Says:

    Eric, I can’t tell you how profound this article is for me as the parent of a high achieving athlete. He has suffered from an immunodeficiency disease which caused him to be ill about every 6-8 weeks. Instead of encouragement and a “we’re here for you” attitude, it was all about what he wasn’t doing. Needless to say, my 6’5″ left handed pitcher, right fielder, first baseman, and a hitter didn’t play his Junior year in high school. I know things happen for a reason and for everything there’s a purpose. However, when I see articles like yours that demonstrate to me that there are coaches who really do care and WANT student athletes to be successful. We’ve now found that in his showcase ball group of coaches. It’s sad, as a high school coach myself, that my colleagues and more demeaning than encouraging. “A minute of encouragement during a time of struggle is worth more than an hour of praise after success.” Thank you so much for this article. It comes at quite an opportune time for me and my family.

  28. Eric Cressey Says:

    Hi Kim,

    Thanks for your kind comments.  I’m glad that you found the article to be beneficial.  Sending good vibes your way!



  29. Daniel Says:

    Hi Eric, the information you provide is always excellent. This article is among your most important.
    However, my main reason for writing is for Kim whose son has the immunodeficiency disease. We all need inspiration, and you never know where it will come from. This one comes from the all-star game tonight. Breanna McMahon was mentioned as the inspiration to Jason Grilli, the Pirates closer. Her story is amazing. I highly recommend that you watch it with your son. Here is the link-espn.go.com/video/clip?id=8236323
    Best wishes to your son.

  30. Vaughan's Fitness Says:

    Awesome article. As a former NCAA athlete I can relate to “build a team.” In a team atmosphere not only are you accountable to your coach or trainer, but to your teammates as well. Whether you follow others leads or lead by example, everyone benefits. In your example, a team of trainers who are on the same page is a much better way for athletes to buy in.

  31. Ricky Norton Says:

    I trained at P3 in Santa Barbara, Ca during my playing days and became close friends with all of my trainers. I had an amazing experience there and decided that training athletes was what I wanted to do with me career.
    After finishing my playing career a year ago I came back home to a university near by to finish up my degree. I volunteered as an assistant S&C coach last fall and it was the worst experience I ever had. I was questioning if this was really what I wanted to do. The other strength coaches would constantly get on me about “not being friends with the athletes but their coach”. It was miserable going into work each day. Ironically, most all of the athletes at the University hated going into workout as well.
    I left and started my own training business and do things a lot differently now. I focus on building a good relationship with each of my athletes. The athletes I train tell me almost every day how they love coming in to workout. They buy into what I’m telling them and their results have been off the charts. It’s comforting to know that I’m not alone in thinking that it’s O.K. to be friends with the athletes.

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