Continuing Education: Giving Coaches Tests

At CFSBK, we promote ongoing in-house education through discussion, workshops, and tests. About a year and a half ago, I started creating and administering graded tests as an attempt to increase the quality and consistency of our coaching staff. As our gym grew, it became clear that we all needed to be on the same page regarding our basic understanding of the information that we’re accountable for on a daily basis. Tests as a form of continuing education also reflect the ethos of a professional staff that consistently strives to increase their knowledge base and utility to both the gym’s members and each other. Graded tests happen every few months at CFSBK, and while they can be quite time-consuming to create and administer, they are an indispensable tool. In this article, I will explain testing more and provide specific material from a recent test I created. (In future articles, I will provide additional tests and continuing education material used at CFSBK.)

Utility of Tests
For a test to be useful, the most important component is that it actually has practical information for coaches. An encyclopedic knowledge of anatomy won’t necessarily make you a better coach, but a basic understanding of how the knee works will help you answer questions about scaling for injuries. You don’t need an intricate knowledge of powerlifting theory and programming, but basic knowledge will let you know which members are appropriate for accommodating resistance and which members may need to run a basic linear progression. The practical and theoretical demands of a CrossFit coach may be the highest of any fitness professional working primarily with the general population, and so coaches need to be exceptionally prepared.

Additionally, CrossFit coaches often represent the front lines for answering basic orthopedic questions. While it’s not our job or responsibility to diagnose injuries, we do have to provide informed and responsible feedback on a regular basis. If someone comes to you and says they have spondylolisthesis and want to know whether CrossFit group classes are appropriate for them, its better to be generally informed than not..

What I like about using a test format is that it requires everyone to be accountable for a specific body of information that is “quantifiable, observable, and repeatable”—three adjectives that describe how all CrossFit activity should be. Similar to CrossFit, tests allow us to see clearly where everyone is at and what might still need to be addressed.

Step 1
Pick your source material. There are a few books that I’ve found useful, many of which are probably familiar to the CrossFit community:

Becoming a Supple Leopard by Dr. Kelly Starrett
Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training by Mark Rippetoe
Anatomy of Movement by Blandine Calais-Germain and Andree Lamotte
Olympic Weightlifting: A Complete Guide for Athletes & Coaches by Greg Everett

Larger, more thorough texts lend themselves to creating tests more readily than articles and videos, because they offer a more comprehensive explanation of the relevant subject matter.

Step 2
Supply a study guide including reference material, an outline of your expectations related to the test, and the date of the test.

Step 3
About halfway into the study period, have a meeting dedicated to reviewing some of the material and discussing the practical implications of the material on your coaches’ daily work in the gym.

Step 4
Administer the test, grade them, and provide feedback. We openly post test scores in our office, similar to workout results, so there is some inherent social pressure to do well. That being said, the point is to make everyone better at what they do, so clarifying correct answers and discussing how each person did is critical.

Here is an example of one of our recent test keys: Movement and Mobility Test 1 (KEY)
If you'd like the blank version, click here: Movement and Mobility Test 1 (BLANK)

Continuing the education of your coaches in-house is time-consuming, but it will make both of you better and more successful.

From the Mouth of a Coach

Noah Abbott has been a coach at CFSBK since February of 2011, and though he and our other coaches KStarr doing a coaches-only workshop at CFSBKcomplain a bit whenever I assign a new reading or test, he says that it has made all the difference in his coaching development: “The value of David's testing is threefold. First, the tests broaden our depth of knowledge and confidence with concepts and terms, and make us prove we have grasped them. Second, they develop and hone our pedagogical style. Most certifications focus on what to teach instead of on how to teach, which is equally, if not more important.”  

Noah also points out that the tests make sure all of the coaches are “reading off the same sheet of music,” so that our athletes hear consistent terminology and cues. He adds, “If one coach gives a great, learned cue, and the next day another coach with less understanding gives the opposite cue, we're back to square one.” Exactly.

What are other effective ways to continue the education of your coaches and staff?

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Reader Comments (2)

Do you using testing for even your part-time coaches? How to you handle situations where a coach who is not making the test has far more expertise (academic degrees and/or experience) in an area than the test-maker?

November 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHayden

We only have one part time coach, but the subject material isn't so expansive that it requires an unreasonable amount of time from the coaches to read and learn the material. We'll pick a section of a text and work off of that, not an entire book.

I think what matters most is if the test accurately assesses the information covered in the study guide. That kind of knowledge is specific to the material, not necessarily experience dependent. So a newer coach might actually end up having a greater grasp on a particular subject than someone with more overall experience and formal education. And if not, it's still a great opportunity for that newer coach to increase their skill set and understanding. It's less less about ego and more about how everyone actually does.

November 17, 2013 | Registered CommenterDavid Osorio

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