Learning tools Reapplied
How I became a better coach by deepening individual client knowledge
When I first started working as a trainer part of my on-boarding process consisted of a short lecture on the Fits and Posner Multi-Stage Theory as a means to understanding our client's learning process.
To summarize their concept Fits and Posner broke learning into three stages; cognitive, associative and autonomous. A learner begins by simply trying to understand their goal, once the basics are established they begin to refine their skill and through practice eventually naturally move through their activity without much additional thought or effort.
An unskilled trainer at the time, I warily took this theory to the gym where I was relieved to find that being a rookie coach was fairly manageable since new clients are also generally entering new territory. In fact, I noticed that not only were my client's transitioning smoothly through Fitts and Posner's stages of learning, but my own progress of learning to coach was moving in synchronicity.
After setting up the Olympic bar with bumper plates for a client's first set of (what proved to be hugely successful) deadlifts, I was thrilled. We had moved to theassociative phase of our relationship in unison.
From here we entered the autonomous stage which, I quickly realized, also meant it was a good time to return to square one. If I was going to continue helping a client progress, it seemed I must also continue to incorporate new, challenging stressors, repeatedly returning to that uncomfortable place know as the cognitive stage. Of course the only way to take them there was to never get too cozy with what I knew.
And while recognizing the significance of moving myself through stages of learning to coach at the same rate as a clients stages of learning to move was certainly notable at the time, amidst the busy lifestyle of running a successful business while relentlessly working towards improving my skills as a trainer, I forgot all about it.
And so the symbiotic slant I had cultivated on Fitts and Posner’s theory became resigned to a fleeting thought. Banked somewhere in my subconscious alongside that time I fancied myself a linguist.
A lot has changed in the past four years. As I moved through my life in a corporate gym facility I was promoted to Fitness Manager at Equinox. In this new role I took ownership of new trainer’s success and development. To foster this growth I found myself designing workshops. While writing a lesson plan to teach my training staff to better understand their clients I was reminded of my own stages of learning theory and discovered a new twist -- one which I never could have considered when I was fresh to training. Despite the fact that these days my training style may seem somewhat autonomous I am practically guaranteed to experience these stages of learning with every single new client.
Each time I create a program for a fresh body there is a concentrated effort required. I must learn a new client's athletic and injury history, tolerance for pain, learning style, personality, and their present commitment and accountability to both themselves and our program.
These days I'm not surprised by the considerable bumps and stressors in this process and I feel so grateful for my experience, which allows me to relax and find solace in the knowledge that I will eventually figure out the exact right way to prompt and prep my clients for their next activity. And though in the beginning our feat often seems impossible, I now have faith that through this tricky process of learning and finding trust in one another, my client and I will be led to a program where the results we are both hoping for are attainable.
Once I have stumbled through these stages of learning and can truly understand my client, it is impossible not care very deeply for them. It is so rare in life to help people feel better physically or emotionally. In my profession I am lucky enough to regularly continue learning how to do both!