Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What Bob Ross Can Teach You About Coaching Clients

When I was young, I loved watching Bob Ross paint on the PBS channel. If you were like me, after a hot summer day of playing Wiffle Ball and riding your BMX bike around the neighborhood, you loved coming home to some snacks and sit back and watch the man paint. I can remember being mesmerized by his creation of majestic mountains and rivers; listening to his soft, subtle voice chanting "lots of happy trees". I was totally fixated on that canvas. I loved watching it being transformed from a mere nothingness of white into a titillating picture of natural beauty and talent.

The art of coaching is exactly what it art. Each client is an empty canvas. During a new client consultation, that is the trainer's opportunity to strip the current canvas of its previous layers of wrongful tactics, misinformation, and failed attempts. Each layer stripped uncovers a satisfactory attempt at reaching for a goal, but should also reveal why the client lost sight of achieving it. Of course, this is done with great rapport and open-ended discussion. Once, the trainer gathers the information needed-- the paint thinner is thrown onto the canvas and we are ready for a brand new white space to paint. Yes, its a true art and good coaches know how to detail their canvas each and every time they are in a session.

When you watch an artist paint a canvas, you will note that they already have some "sort of" image created in their mind. Sometimes vague, this image can change with each stroke of the brush. If you watch closely, the artist always has his full attention on the canvas, and with each stroke; makes adjustments or modifications to blend the layers together so they work. Any painter that tells you they paint exactly what they see in their head is full of it. Painting is an's a feeling or an expression. It is exactly the moment you are in the moment.

Coaching clients is the same thing. Its an art form. You are in the moment as you are creating the moment. Many trainers tend to lose sight of the emotional connection that takes place between themselves and the client within this act of transformation. When training a client, you are involved in something that will drastically affect one of you. If you play your cards right and design the right program with exceptional coaching, your client will transform and you will be rewarded with a great sense of worth.

But many of today's trainers don't get lost in this transformation. They simply spout out orders, jot down reps and sets, and check their clocks. The disconnect is evident and you know it. Many trainers look bored and soon, sessions become awkward and downright fake. Maybe I am talking about you? Maybe I am referring to someone you may know? Chances are, we know what its like.

The art of coaching calls for a level of vulnerability from the client (of course); but also from the trainer. Emotions should run high during sessions--especially during physical feats. Each client brings a level of vulnerability to the session. As each session brings more comfort, the level of vulnerability becomes increased. Your client becomes your blank white canvas!

Each session becomes a stroke to the canvas. It is an opportunity to design your landscape. Your client represents your picture. The trainer should have an image created of where he would like the client to be. For example--closer to the goal each session. Each passing session, the strokes on the canvas begin to form a shape. They begin to develop into a landscape. The transformation becomes more and more evident as more time passes and more comfort is reached. The sessions become fun, challenging, and over-flowing with self-discovery. Who's self discovery? BOTH.

I have been in the field for 14 years. The reason I have stayed in this field for so long is because I view each client as my personal white canvas. Each session is my opportunity to get them closer to their goal while keeping it fun, supportive, and introspective. Each client gives me the opportunity to discover something about myself. The more challenging the client,  the more drive and determination I have to see to it that this canvas gets completed. Connect yourself with each session on an emotional level. Stop making it your job or your mission--make it about the art.


  1. Great analogy, John. I have seen an old episode of Bob Ross draw a lake in a forest. It was really mesmerizing. I'd like to add that some trainers maybe never knew how difficult it is for clients to change their lifestyle and lose weight because they also have emotions attached to their habits. I have experienced the challenges of losing weight personally and this is how I can relate to my clients and became a better coach for them.

    Thanks for the reminder.

    Anna D.

  2. This was a really cool article, John.
    I'm just starting out (and love your blog posts) and this is something that is rarely covered in manuals etc.

  3. Awesome. Glad you find it helpful!


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