CrossFit Group Class Coaching Expectations: Timeliness

A few years ago, I sat down and thought, “What are my expectations for my coaches when it comes to running group classes?” I wanted to list those expectations in concrete terms so I could communicate with my staff more clearly and get all of us on the same page. I believe there are underlying principles of coaching that are consistent regardless of coaching style, personality, or context. Out of that brainstorming session, I developed a basic document that covers the expectations I have for all of CFSBK’s coaches during group classes. This functions as a "job description," and also serves as a reference point I can revisit to provide feedback in a non-personal way. The document has proven extremely useful. 

CFSBK’s Coaching Expectations are broken up into six categories: 

  1. Timeliness
  2. Communication
  3. Coaching
  4. Presentation
  5. Tandem Coaching Guidelines
  6. Large Class Logistics 

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to deconstruct and dissect each of the categories I’ve listed as part of the job description. The goal of this series is for us to share our perspective on what’s been effective, and for you to either appropriate our ideas for your particular situation, or develop your own. Whether you’re an affiliate owner or coach that’s part of a team of other coaches, I promise that having consistent expectations for your team automatically ensures the quality of your coaching will be more professional and consistent. So, let’s start with Timeliness. 


Back when I ran CFSBK out of The Brooklyn Lyceum, there was a time when I was the only coach and I would start each class when the previous one ended, sometimes putting us over by five to even 15 minutes. When I finally got my shit together and began classes when I said they’d start, I had more than a few people come up to me and finally tell me how much it bothered them when past classes didn’t start on time. People will respect that you respect their time. At CFSBK, there are three key principles that constitute what we mean when we say timeliness.

1. Coaches should be available and ready five to ten minutes before class starts

It can take a couple minutes to get into the right headspace for coaching, which could entail reviewing the day’s progressions and assessing how many people you're working with as they filter into the gym. For seasoned coaches, these responsibilities can be processed quickly, but regardless of experience level, we don't want a coach running into the gym seconds before class starts and jumping right into it. 

Being around before a class starts not only makes the coach available to members who might have some questions, but it gives the coach a moment to stage equipment that will be used in class, such as getting the rings ready for muscle-up progressions or clearing wall space for handstand work. I’ve been coaching for over a decade, but I always like to look at the white board before class and think about what points of performance I might bias that day, or consider ways I'm going to approach the basic flow of the class. I also enjoy getting there early so I can make sure no one is standing around waiting for me to initiate their training. I’ll often approach idle members and say something like, “Don’t be creepy and just watch people work out, start mobilizing!” or "Get on an erg and row an easy 500 meters!” Being early demonstrates that you care about what you're doing and are available to those who might have some extra questions or needs before class.

2. Coaches should start and end classes on time

Classes at CFSBK always start the second the gym timer turns over. To me, nothing is more unprofessional or disorganized than starting late on a regular basis. Maybe it's because we're used to the fast-paced New York lifestyle where everyone schedules all waking hours, or maybe it’s because I know people are paying a premium for our training services—but for both of these reasons and more, it’s extremely important to me that our coaches maintain the standard that group class start times are punctual, no exceptions. 

This punctuality reiterates to members that not only do we want to start on time, but we want THEM to be there on time, too. The best way to get members consistently strolling in the door five to 10 minutes late is to have inconsistent start times at your gym. In my experience, most people HATE waiting around because someone has poor time management, so plan accordingly and start your classes on time. 

Ending classes on time is important too, but admittedly, my coaches tease me about my classes often running a bit over. I really love coaching group classes and sometimes fall into the trap of extending progressions or adding surprise cash-outs to class. It comes from my desire to add additional value to our members’ experience and often people don't seem to mind staying a few extra minutes over, but really, you should be trying to end on the hour so the following classes aren't affected. This becomes especially important for your AM crew who often need to run home to shower before work. (If the previous class is busy cleaning up equipment or perhaps has gone a bit over, we'll start the new class with a lap around the block or maybe partner people up for a warm-up on the erg coupled with some calisthenics—anything productive that doesn’t interfere with the day’s training or the footprint already being used.) 

3. Coaches should use clear time stamps to manage class objectives

We wrote an entire article about why and how we do this during group classes, which you can read here. In that article, we address some different class segments we typically use, how long each segment takes, and how we manage each segment’s time limits. One of the many qualities required to be an effective group class coach is being able to manage the flow of your athletes over an hour's worth of time. Depending on what's programmed and how many people show up, managing classes well requires you to be flexible, think on your feet, and generally have a good handle on time management. 

Final Thoughts
I recently taught a Foundations class in our new annex space, when we hadn’t yet installed clocks. Each Foundations session is scheduled for an hour and 15 minutes, but in the absence of a clock, I ended up teaching them for over two hours. The participants were enthusiastic about the extended session, saying that it demonstrated how much we emphasize thorough and personalized instruction. In certain scenarios when you have the freedom, going over can be appropriate and appreciated. But in a group class context with upwards of 20+ people, you don’t have that kind of flexibility, since you’re responsible for that part of peoples’ day—as well as the people who are taking class after them. In my opinion, poor time management often comes from one of two places: not respecting peoples’ time and being sloppy with your own, or being overzealous and trying to squeeze too much into an agreed-upon time frame. Find the line between these two extremes and see how much it ups the game of your group classes. 

Stay tuned for the next installment, about Communication, in which we'll address how to communicate with classes so that you create an effective and inclusive training environment.

Are there any other aspects of timeliness you think are important for managing group classes? Or, how do you manage some of the described aspects of keeping things running on time?

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Reader Comments (1)

Excellent article! The topic is right on, and even more fitting in 2018.

For 20-years, I've managed customer service departments and process-improvement projects for Fortune 500 companies. As such, when I say the "majority", I am not speaking figuratively to illicit controversy. I believe CrossFit is still the best type of fitness facility to achieve healthful and awesome results. I realize some folks have a personality that thrives in an environment of mismanagement. Others are willing to put up with it for the benefts the Boxes provide. Unfortunately, many more (x-ref. the attrition rates at most Boxes) expect any gym that charges a high monthly fee would demonstrate professional consideration and a decent level of business-admininstation skill.

The majority of Boxes I've attended are great in their love of fitness and creating WODS that are challenging and beneficial. Unfortunately, most Box owners have had no real business (i.e., customer service) experience, at least at a highly professional level. Hence, so many are clueless regatding the negative impact of their lackadaisical approch regarding start-and-end times, replying to emails and messages in a timely manner, and be proactive (or even just awareness) of member attrition.

Until they get their act together, most Box owners will remain clueless as to how many potential new members were lost because the owner didn't reply or follow up enough with inquiries made to their emails, web pages, etc. Likewise, they will continue to tmale excuses to do the hard ("boring") eork of NOTICING AND ACTING when existing members start showing signs of dissatisfaction or departure. Mature management does not blame to customer, but instead looks for ways to indefify and address the underlying concerns the customer may not be expressing. Granted, this type of effort is far less glamorous than developing great WODS or exciting COMPS, but grown-ups in the business world do not focus only on the 'fun stuff'. Clueless owners will continue to blow off their own lion's share of responsibly for keeping members satisfied, motivated, loyal, and supported. Clueless owners will blame attrition on "a lack of commitment" of the members, and play down the impact their own mismanagement on attrition.

Folks left traditional gyms because CrossFit promised more. Folks are constantly leaving Boxes (in search of a better managed and responsive Box, or alternative cutting-edge community-fitness facility).

Most metropolitan areas are saturated with a dozen Boxes to choose from. Alternative cutting-edge, communal-fitness facilities are on the rise. The two-edged sword of Box-on-Box competition that Corporate itself may thrive on is resulting in spread-thin coaches, classes, and owner time to provide exceptional customer service. All this makes retaining members (ensuring they remain satisfied and loyal) is increasingly a challenge, but also increasingly vital for Box survival.

January 2, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterLeo's Friend

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