Don’t Be a Guru

Dear coaches,

In a world full of “thought leaders”, “entrepreneurs”, “gurus”, and “influencers”, it can be an easy temptation to think that we are any one of those things, and that because we are those things, we are right.

For example, it seems I’m developing a small platform where I can communicate my thoughts about training, programming, coaching, CrossFit, etc. This is great, but it doesn’t validate my thoughts as being right. Just because I believe in things and say them out loud doesn’t make them true or valuable to the people I train.

As coaches, we are given a small platform where we can communicate what we believe to athletes. THAT DOESN’T MAKE US RIGHT. The fact that people listen to us when we talk doesn’t mean the things we say are good or worthwhile. Through the process of becoming leaders, we can begin to  put so much weight into what we think or what we value that coaching turns into a one-man circle-jerk of selfishness. Everyone is pawn, everyone is a means, what we value is what they should value, and we can convince ourselves that what we know nothing about we actually know everything about – simply because we know a little about a little.


Unfortunately, it gets more complicated because the people we coach are people and people are complex.

For example, recently a coach from another gym told one of my athletes that following my programming was not in line with her goals.

There are two possibilities here – he’s right or he’s wrong.

It’s possible that he’s right. It is possible that my programming is not right for her, just as it’s possible that your programming is not right for you. This is something I’ve spoken about since the beginning of Black Anvil, and especially now as we’re beginning to define what it means to be Hardcore Casual – the programming you follow at the gym needs to align with your goals, your needs as an athlete, and who you are as a person. (Read more on this by following this link).

Maybe she should be on a program that has “I want to go to Regionals” stamped on it instead of a program designed to build muscle, strength, and aerobic capacity. It is possible that after our three years of working together, we’ve managed to somehow convince ourselves that this “wrong way of training” is actually the right way, and we’re screwed.

It’s also possible that’s he’s wrong. What could be right for one athlete could be wrong for another, because we coach people and people are complex. It could be that a sport-specific program rather than a capacity specific program doesn’t fit with her current goals, her specific needs, and where she’s at as a person. On the outside, the numbers look good on paper – it might seem obvious what this athlete needs and that you can give it to them – but until you know what they need as an individual, both as an athlete and as a person, and what they value, what you think about what they should or should not do is worthless.


This is a tough pill to swallow, this idea that the things we say or believe can be worthless or wrong, but it’s one we should choke on regularly. We need to boldly lead with knowledge, experience, and conviction while at the same time understanding that our knowledge could be insufficient, our experience is not adequate, and we are convinced of the wrong things. 

And this is part of the art of coaching. Too much conviction and we become the coach who leads with ego instead of with insight, too many words and we become the coach who can’t relate instead of who can teach, too many different opinions and thoughts and we become the coach who is inconsistent, too many commands and we become the coach who doesn’t listen.

A healthy sense of doubt can go a long way in making us humble, keeping us curious, and holding us dedicated to the process of becoming better at what we do.





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