CP Internship Blog by Sam Leahey – It’s the Person that Matters, not the Program

About the Author: Eric Cressey

Today’s guest blog comes from current Cressey Performance intern, Sam Leahey.

Many of the valuable lessons an up and coming Strength & Conditioning Coach learns do not fall under the guides of content knowledge (coaching, program design, etc.). On the contrary, many educational moments manifest in a social sense (interpersonal skills). During my Cressey Performance internship, this semester I’ve come to appreciate even more so how a coach’s success in the private sector of the profession (training facilities) is largely contingent upon the one’s ability to interact with people in a respectful yet confident and authoritative manner.

More specifically, “no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”  To this I would add, “no one cares how much you know and what results your program can give them, until they know how much you care about satisfying their personal needs.” In other words, through trial and error I’ve learned that a client or athlete really has more interest in-whether they know or admit it-how you make them feel as a person as opposed to how well-written and effective your program is. While this may be true in the collegiate setting, I find this truism has a larger bearing on a coach’s success in the private sector.

This principle is discussed in the book Peak, by Chip Conley. He describes “The Customer Pyramid,” which is a derivative of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. He articulates how, in business, if you do not satisfy the base level needs of your clientele, they will never have the “peak experience” that you wish for them to have.


When we apply this concept to our field, S&C and personal training, there are a few implications worth noting, starting with the first level and moving upward. First, clients coming through our doors expect to feel valued as people. They expect to be important to you and your business. When you treat people appropriately, it fosters satisfaction from the clients towards your business. This should only be the beginning of a customer’s experience at your training facility because if it ended here then your business would never reach its highest potential.  This area is where we need to spend the most time investing in the customers’ experience. Most importantly, we need to realize this step forms the foundation of our customers’ experience, or, the base level of the pyramid. If you noticed in the depiction above the “Meets Expectations” category is the largest of the three. The bigger the base of our customer pyramid then the bigger the subsequent categories will be.

We need to then aim to meet our customers’ desires as well. It’s pretty intuitive that a personal training client or athlete who is paying for your services actually desires results. But what’s not so obvious I think is that because of the lack of true results in our profession, mainly from the stain of commercial gyms, our potential clients have put actual program “results” in the desires category instead of keeping it in the expectations category. Believe it or not, an athlete may have signed up to train with you who previously trained elsewhere and left the experience with absolutely no, or barely any, improvements in strength, power, speed, body composition, etc., (aka results). Therefore, clients of today – be it a soccer mom just looking for fat loss or an athlete trying to make the varsity team at school – may have lowered their standards for what they consider “results.” If you can (and you should be able to)  give results to your clients, then they will be committed to you and your business because they know their money is well spent  and they’re actually getting the results they desired when they signed up for training.


Now comes the final level: the “peak experience” we all would like our clients and athletes to have. If you’re a business owner, you’d like to be able to guarantee each and every person who walks through your doors reaches this level. Unfortunately, the fact of the matter is that we really can’t guarantee it. All we can do is keep buffering the base and middle level of the customer pyramid and the “needs” will take care of themselves. So, what exactly is the “peak experience” and what unrecognized needs does it meet?

Honestly, we can’t define it. All we can do is describe it. It’s almost a surreal experience, one they didn’t realize they would have before they came to your facility.  It’s one that leaves each client evangelizing others and bringing in more customers better than any marketing plan ever could. It’s to the point that a person can’t even begin to think about training elsewhere because they “just HAVE to train at (your place).” It’s that unique feeling someone gets when they walk through the door of your facility because they know what’s about to transpire, and it’s the feeling they leave with afterward. Some young athletes can have such a euphoric experience that they can’t even fathom using equipment brands other than what you house at your facility. While that’s an extreme case, it’s a reality in some places and all goes under the “peak experience” category the folks at CP have worked to cultivate. The peak experience is best described as the culmination of environment and atmosphere CP provides its customers. It includes the interaction of staff members, interns, other customers, facility equipments, sights, sounds, etc. All these variables added together can help us describe that peak experience.


Here I want to make myself vulnerable to the readers. Being young and eager to learn I’ve found it can be easy sometimes to get caught up in the scientific and technical side of things and effectively skip past the base level needs of some of the clients with whom I was working. Mistakenly, I wanted clients to have all their unrecognized needs met right away and right now! There were also times where I jumped right to coaching someone without taking the time to build a relationship with them first. While this might in some collegiate settings be acceptable, it does not yield a good outcome in the private sector. In fact, I would go as far as to say that as a college student this is the biggest mistake I’ve made in my learning process. There have been specific instances where an athlete simply did not like me because the very first day we met I was trying to coach him/her instead of trying to establish rapport first AND THEN coach him/her. Remember – “no one cares how much you know and what results your program can give them, until they know how much you care about satisfying their personal needs.” Essentially I was skipping past this client’s base level of needs to trying to cultivate higher lever needs first.

I’m open and honest about my experiences for a couple reasons:

1.  I’ve always appreciated when those who have gone before me were candid about their mistakes so that young up-and-comers like me could learn from them.

2.  I think too many people subconsciously believe that just because someone is an internet author, they do everything right. You’d be surprised! Whether it’s a big name in the profession or one of their interns everyone has made both big and small mistakes in their career. Some were easily recovered from while others might have even been so extreme that the outcomes were career ending.

At any rate, we should all strive to learn from our own mistakes and that of others and be diligent to make a permanent change that will prevent us from screwing up again.

Make sure we are investing most of our efforts satisfying base level needs of our clients before getting them up to higher levels.

Sam Leahey CSCS, CPT can be reached at sam.leahey@gmail.com.