Monday, April 1, 2013

Spiking the Ball Too Early and Too Often: What Fit Pro's Can Learn from Barry Sanders

When I was a teen, every Sunday I was wrapped up watching football. My favorite players were the guys that made things happen. They were positional players that moved the ball and created outcomes in the game. It was either the quarterback or the running back that caught my attention. Back in the early 1990s, my favorite player was Barry Sanders--running back for the Detroit Lions. Emmitt Smith of the Dallas Cowboys was a very close second. But Barry was simply too good at his craft to lose the top crown for the best at his position.

Like many other fans, whenever Barry touched the ball my eyes locked in on the screen and they never blinked--as if they had a special function to continuously stare without needing a tear-drop. Barry was elusive at making defenders miss constantly and gaining 100+ yard games relentlessly. The phrase "you can't stop him, you can only hope to contain him" really exemplified his skills. Watch the video below and you will see what I mean.

Like so many that played the game, Barry did something that attracted me to his style even more. In so many Detroit Lion games in the 1990s, it was inevitable that Barry would rack up rushing yards, catch some balls in the flat and score touchdowns; and eventually help his team to victory. But Barry did something that set him apart from all the players of that era, including today. Barry never spiked the ball after scoring a touchdown. Barry never celebrated, mocked, or showed a need for attention. Barry would cross the goal and simply hand the ball to the nearest official. He never exalted in celebration after scoring a touchdown. He quietly tossed the ball to an official and trotted back to the sideline. It was just another day at the office for Barry Sanders.

In a time where players and professionals feel the need to "single themselves" out and draw attention to their accomplishment--we forget how to live with humbleness and modesty. This behavior has been trickled into the fitness world. When I first began training clients for money in 1999, there was no social media outlets or marketing platforms. I was humbled that people were willing to pay me for what I thought was just something I loved to do.
With one of my first clients in 1999.
My attitude in my younger days was gratefulness. I knew I had to gain more experience and commit more errors to learn from them. And much like Barry Sanders, I didn't want the attention because I knew I could be better. I knew I was at a stage where I haven't reached my full potential as a fitness professional, trainer, and manager. I was simply performing my job: helping others realize their ability to change their bodies. Today, I don't design exercise programs for clients...I coach them through a transformation. Fitness is simply the vehicle. 

Today, as a new parent I am realizing that attention is something that many people--specially young, often immature fitness professionals WANT. Attention is something that most want to cope with identity, confidence, and self-efficacy issues. These issues are all inter-related and woven into a web of constant reassurance. I know it sounds like I am being more of a psychologist, rather than trainer--but when you think about 1999 I was training and getting results for people (and getting paid). In 1999, the fitness guru that you follow on the internet was probably only 14 years of age.
When I interview trainers for a position of employment, position to intern or when I teach trainers in a classroom setting--I like to touch upon factors that can improve their confidence levels and enhance their identity. And with all honesty, every conversation leads into the experience factor. All roads to confidence, self assurance and identity lead to gaining experience. Experiences that comes from trial and error. I have alot of respect for people that admittedly committed mistakes in their career and have learned from them...and can still be in business!

Patting oneself on the back is a self-assurance cue. It is a reminder that in this day in age of thousands of trainers networking on social media, that we remind them that "Hey"...I'm a trainer too!" This lack of identity is accompanied with a lack of confidence. I have found trainers that tend to copy what other fitness professional preach or advocate lack a bit of confidence in their ability to troubleshoot and develop a style of their own. 

Most trainers that "spike the ball too often" to attract attention fall into two categories:

Lack of experience training others, so the advice platform or business is based on the training they have accomplished for themselves. This is sometimes called "Bro-Science". When I was younger, I was a professor in "bro-science" as 95% of the advice I dispensed was based on my own findings in the gym. I tried many types of training routines that I clipped out of the magazines and applied them to my own workouts.  I tried workouts from Rich Gaspari, Lee Haney, Dorian Yates, Arnold, and Mike Quinn. These were all bodybuilders that had the muscles, so I simply copied their routines. When it came time to work and people asked me for advice, I simply dispensed the info I read from these guys. I only made it sound like it was mine :=)

Lack of training oneself, so the advice platform or business is based on the advice given from a personal coach or trainer. "My trainers says..." is something I hear all the time from my clients. But it is something that is hidden from view when it comes to the internet's plethora of fitness experts. Most young trainers do not possess much "under the bar" experience and therefore, the information they dispense is based on what they learn from their own coach. Passing along information is fine; but discovering what works on you and applying it to someone else is not. 

Social media puts a tremendous amount of pressure on fitness professionals because it is a gathering place for self-reassurance and identity. If you don't speak "fitness", you won't be regarded as a "fitness person" or "trainer". That self-imposed pressure causes many to constantly "spike the ball" after every accomplishment. From having an article published in a magazine, reaching a new personal record (PR), or being seen with a fellow fitness enthusiast--we feel compelled to snap a photo, post a tweet, or look for admiration from our followers.  I say "we" because I have fallen for it before. And admittedly, it comes from my need to identify myself as a fitness professional in a field over-flowing with the wrong types of fitness professionals. 

However,  there is a difference. Barry Sanders was good--actually great---at his position. He was so good, that he was humbled by attention, accolades and compliments. He scored a touchdown and walked off the field. And everyday,  there are thousands of trainers--good ones--that do great things with clients -and simply walk off the field. Everyday there are fitness professionals that create a spark in people that ignites the fires of transformation and after doing so...go home, happy and content.

Here are some things that can help those that feel compelled to "pat themselves on the back", or "fish for compliments":

Identity - Your identity as a fitness professional, strength coach, or trainer is developed by your clients, athletes and colleagues. When you are proficient at your craft, those that you serve recognize you and identify you as the professional responsible for your service.

Confidence - It is acceptable to make mistakes. The goal is to understand your mistakes and learn from them. The more you work with clients of different abilities and conditions, the more confidence is built with your programming skills.

Self-efficacy - Once you accept your responsibilities as a fitness professional, your confidence grows with each client. Each client is a tool to prove your skills. The more client you train in a week,  the more opportunities you encounter to prove yourself as a viable fitness professional. 


  1. Lack of experience with persons got lot of problem to be fit. Always do exercise with a personal trainer like Personal Trainers Essex

  2. Great article John. I enjoyed reading this one! Loaded with great tips and information, a must read article. Thanks for sharing!

    Rick Kaselj
    Exercises For Injuries


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