Become a better coach

Jean Claude Vacassin is the founder of W10 Performance gyms, the Professional Fitness Coaching Academy and the International Fitness Business Alliance. He is based in London.

What’s the difference between an optimal diet and a sustainable one?
The best diet will always be that one that somebody can do consistently, especially at the outset. I’m not suggesting that there is no place for periods of more specific focus or restriction, but for the most part, less change equals greater compliance. And greater compliance equals better results. In most people’s cases, dietary success will come down to a few core things. Fix these crucial things, with minimal intervention, and you’ll get massive buy-in.

Remember also that self-restraint and self-discipline are fatiguable, particularly for the average person who doesn’t have the external motivation of stepping on stage or entering a competition. People can’t make too many changes at once, and they can only say no to so many things. This is particularly relevant when somebody is starting out with changes in both diet and exercise. Dietary change is a stressor and you need to manage it accordingly.

What’s the difference between someone who knows a lot and someone who is a good coach?
It’s the same with nutrition as it is with exercise: what you know is largely irrelevant if you cannot work with people to help them apply it. For most regular folk, it’s not an information gap that’s preventing them from getting results, it’s an implementation issue. They don’t need more information, they need help to cut through the veil of confusion that has descended on planet-food, so that they can get some clarity about where to start and how to progress. Mediocre trainers just keep giving more and more nutritional information. Good coaches know how to meet people where they’re at, strip out the unnecessary BS, and guide people on how to make sustainable step changes.

What is the most common thing that fitness professionals fail to realise about ‘normal’ punters?
If you’re dealing with regular people you need to remember that we are not our customer. Whether we want to admit it or not, there is a disconnect between the average punter and most of us who hang out in fitness-land. And the disparity is getting bigger. Eating a creme egg every day is no more extreme than carrying your food about and weighing everything that you eat. Neither of those two things are ‘wrong’: we just need to realise that those of us who like to beat the shit out of ourselves in the gym, and prefer to eat apples instead of crisps, are not the ‘normal’ ones because we’re in the minority. This lack of understanding and empathy, especially with new or younger coaches, is often a show-stopper for clients.

What qualities have you observed that successful coaches have in common?
The best coaches I know are often also the best people I know. Good eggs I call them. They typically come across as pretty unassuming, but are very socially astute. We all know the trainer who bumps their gums about all of the stuff that they know – something most truly successful coaches almost never do. They’re good listeners and they meet people where they are at. And they build trust easily, which is the key to it all. I think this can be learned, but I think some of it is innate. Funnily enough, they’re also often the most humble and self-deprecating people I know too.

What’s the most common mistake you see fitness professionals making when trying to get results via nutrition with their clients?
Doing too much, too soon. The concept of minimum effective dose applies to nutrition as it does to exercise. Why make ten changes when one of two will do? Too much change is too much change.  It makes people miserable and they associate ‘eating well’, with being grumpy and deprived. It drives me crackers when we do this. We need to remember that most people haven’t come to fill up our ‘before and after’ billboards – they are there to get happier and healthier. And even with those who have come with the ‘I’ll do anything script’, the same rules apply. Don’t mistake regular folk for athletes and physique models.