6 Ways to Get Athletes to “Buy In”

About the Author: 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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