A Call for Coaches

by Ray Gillenwater, SSC | March 25, 2020

If you’ve been considering becoming a Starting Strength Coach, there has never been a better time to get started. Every franchise owner that’s opened a Starting Strength Gym has already started looking for their second location or is planning to do so shortly. Every franchise owner that has yet to open their first gym has hired an SSC or is in the process of hiring one. A Starting Strength Gym requires a Starting Strength Coach, and the number of Starting Strength Gyms is growing quickly, which means the demand for SSCs is growing too . 

If we ran this company with the goal of making as much money as quickly as possible, we would remove the SSC requirement, or lower the standard to become an SSC, and sell hundreds of franchises to anyone that wanted to open a gym. We will never do these things because although the purpose of going into business is to make money, we will not do so in a way that compromises our values. Other franchise companies sell fitness products they don’t believe in (I’m aware of a franchise CEO that has never bothered to attend a class at one of his many fitness concepts), in a way that often sets franchise owners up for failure (via a broker, in cities that don’t make sense, to franchise owners who aren’t qualified), to members that they have no problem misleading (bait and switch marketing, pseudoscience, and predatory membership terms). No thanks. 

This is why we need more SSCs. When we initially built the business plan for the franchise company, we did so in a way that ensured each franchise gym would serve as a coach development center. We now have waiting lists of Apprentice Coach candidates at each of our gyms because aspiring SSCs realize that the best way to learn this material is to observe an expert applying it to dozens of trainees per week, and then to attempt to apply it themselves in person, in the gym, with real, paying trainees. We’ve had hundreds of apprenticeship inquiries ranging from ex-corporate executives that want to coach in their retirement, to college students who realize that an advanced degree in a relevant field of study will do almost nothing to prepare them to become a skilled coach. 

The second aspect of our plan related to increasing the number of SSCs was to launch the Coach Prep Course. It consists of a detailed and practical curriculum, developed by Stef Bradford PhD, Brent Carter, and Nick Delgadillo. The development team combined experience with science education, formal trainer education, and coaching, along with direct involvement in operating Starting Strength Gyms. Aspiring SSCs now have a clear path laid out for them with remote education tools and in-person apprenticeship at their disposal that is miles ahead of anything else in the industry. With this system in place, each gym should produce at least two SSCs per year. 

This advancement in our ability to produce coaches is similar to the evolution of the path to becoming a Starting Strength trainee. When I first discovered the program in 2012, the only way to do NLP was to immerse myself in the material, sign up for a gym membership, and go for it. After attending my first seminar, it became clear to me how much progress I had left on the table and how many unnecessary mistakes I had made without the guidance of a coach. Anyone that’s hired an SSC understands that lifting technique is important, and it's very difficult for some people to get right without professional help (similar to many other physical endeavors that are technical in nature, like BJJ, for example). Programming requires a deep understanding of the model, and how to apply it based on the trainee’s genetic endowment, psychological and physical idiosyncrasies, age, sex, diet, and sleep. With the franchise gyms, those that want rapid, measurable progress under the bar don’t have to spend dozens of hours doing research followed by a lengthy and sometimes demoralizing trial and error process. They can just show up, do what their coach asks of them, and get stronger – much stronger, more quickly than if they had attempted it on their own. 

This degree of clarity and simplicity has now been applied to the process of becoming an SSC: Read the books. Do the program. Join the Prep Course. Coach anyone that will allow you to (or apprentice at a gym, if possible in your situation). Gain experience. Attend a seminar  – I recommend not opting-in to be evaluated as an SSC at the first one. Implement what you’ve learned. Attend a seminar again and take the Platform Exam. If you pass, prepare for the Oral Board. If you fail either the Platform Exam or Oral Board, treat it like a failed rep, don’t get discouraged, and “get back under the bar” (get back to developing as a coach) as soon as possible. I know a 15% pass rate is daunting, but you probably already know whether or not you’re the type of person that can beat 85% of everyone else at something if you set your mind to it. If that’s you, commit to the process and get it done. If you’re not sure, there’s only one way to find out. If that’s not you, make sure you’ve accurately assessed your capability and proceed accordingly.

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We are looking for truly special people. A Head Coach at a Starting Strength Gym is an authoritative leader with a unique skill set – a clear communicator, a problem solver in real time. Someone that has the capability to deal with a wide range of physical and psychological conditions problems, and who is able to apply the model successfully in spite of those things. SSCs at Starting Strength Gyms are welcoming, respectful, understanding, helpful professionals that provide a service to the general public that is unmatched in the industry. Trainees trust SSCs to fix their nagging back pain, improve the results of their next annual physical, enhance their dominance in their sport, make it easier to get off of the toilet, and everything in between. We do important, valuable work, and that work is performed by experienced, trustworthy professionals. See why we won’t lower our standards? The gyms exist to provide coaching to trainees, three times per week, for less than $30/session. Without our coaching standards, we would quickly devolve to the level of the rest of the industry. 

At this time there are about 125 certified SSCs, the vast majority of which figured this out on their own and took the long, hard way to achieve this credential. Six of them have been placed in gyms with an additional three pending for gyms that are currently under construction, with several more coming soon. The next wave of SSCs will get this credential knowing that, for the right candidate, there is a best-pay-in-the-industry job waiting for them (depending on the city), and that if they want to spend the majority of their time making people stronger, they can focus on doing just that, instead of attempting to build their own coaching practice, spending hours every week on marketing and business administration instead of coaching. For the first time, there are now options for those that want to coach this material full-time, in person, in cities all over the United States. 

We are doing important work at the gyms. I regularly see and hear the stories of people who have drastically improved their physical situation and the quality of their lives. Special thanks to Starting Strength Coaches Jarrod Schaefer, Brent Carter, Josh Wells, Shelley Wells, Chase Lindley, Jared Nessland, and to many others for believing in this mission and blazing the trail. A cultural change requires the strong commitment of a few influential people who are willing to take a risk on something they believe in. If you want to be a part of this, there is no better time to get started than right now.

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