Brad Cooper, MSPT, MBA, MTC, ATC, CWC
Abstract: The immense participation growth in the pursuit of endurance sports across the globe has resulted in a concurrent growth in opportunities for talented and knowledgeable coaches. Triathlon, cycling, running, swimming, mental, nutritional and other coaches are coming alongside these individuals and helping them to more effectively reach their goals, and do so in a shorter timeframe. However, as the field continues to grow, it is critical for any coach who is planning a long-term career in this industry to differentiate from the competition. This document identifies how the integration of quality wellness coaching can enhance the overall skills/value of the coach while simultaneously bolstering the current and future growth of the business.
The Growth of Endurance Sport Participation
Participation in endurance sports over the past two decades has exceeded even the most generous of expectations. According to RunningUSA.org, road race finishers totaled five (5) million people in 1990 and grew more than three-fold to over 15.5 million by 2012. Marathon finishers more than doubled from 224,000 in 1990 to 518,000 in 2011. The half marathon grew from 303,000 to a record number 1,850,000 in 2012 during that same time period.
Triathlon participation has followed a similar growth trend. There are now an estimated 4.4 million people worldwide who compete in triathlons. USA Triathlon reports in their annual review of demographics that membership has grown from 6,700 in 1987 to 550,446 in 2012 (this second figure includes daily memberships). There are now over 3,000 events sanctioned by USA Triathlon on an annual basis. At the far end of the bell curve, RunTri.com reports that over 41,000 people finished an Ironman triathlon in 2012. This event began in 1978 and had a total of 12 people finish the race that first year.
Participation Growth Creates a Need for Quality Coaching
As more and more people began making endurance athletic events a core part of their lives, they looked for ways to do so more successfully and with a shorter learning curve. A variety of individuals stepped in to fill this gap. Originally, “coaches” may have been friends or training partners who were a little faster. Experts then came to the forefront from a variety of different backgrounds (former professionals, passionate and knowledgeable amateur athletes, teachers and others) entered the profession. Soon after, a variety of certifications such as the USA Triathlon Coaching Certification were made available to both expand the knowledge of coaches and enhance their credibility with clients and potential clients. There is no accurate way to estimate the number of part and full-time endurance coaches, but there is no doubt this figure has grown at least as rapidly as the participation trends noted above.
The Future of Endurance Athletic Coaching
Effective coaching makes a significant impact on the performance results of any endurance athlete. In short, it matters. As a result, coaching is here to stay. However, coaching is no more immune to Adam Smith’s “invisible hand of the market” than any other business. Supply and demand will – over time – impact the vast majority of endurance athletic coaches in the following ways:
- Number of clients: While the total number of individuals participating in endurance pursuits continues to grow, the number of people at the tip of the bell curve who require coaching beyond what is provided in a book or magazine training schedule is finite. As more and more coaches enter the marketplace, these potential clients will be spread across a larger number of coaches. This will be combined with the entry of technology into the industry, which will allow individuals to enter specific details about themselves, their results and their goals and receive computer-generated plans. While it is clear this is a very different experience than a personal coach, it never-the-less will impact the business of independent coaches. The combination of these two growing trends will be a decrease in the total number of clients pursuing personalized coaching, and a drop in overall business for the majority of coaches.
- Revenue: The reduction in total number of clients will have an obvious impact on revenue. Unfortunately, it will not be the only component to have a negative impact on coach revenue. Rather, the growth of coaches on the supply side will also impact the ability to charge the same rates as in the past due to increased competition and available alternatives. As a result, monthly or annual revenue per client will be reduced over time.
The Critical Pathway – Differentiation
Commoditization is the process by which something becomes a “commodity” and is seen as essentially the same as anything else with the same name. Beans, rice, grains are all commodities, and as such they all sell for whatever the going (lowest possible) rate is for that item. The price for commodities is driven directly by one simple equation – supply and demand.
In every business, there is one primary route to (at least in part) avoid the impact of supply and demand. That route is differentiation. For example, some farmers who were previously offering a standard commodity in their crops have begun differentiating themselves through the growing of organic products. This process clearly involves more by the farmer (investment, time, etc) on the front end, but may provide a higher return over the long term. Tom Peters, in his book The Circle of Innovation, quoted management consultant James Morse: “The only sustainable competitive advantage comes from out-innovating the competition.” While an endurance coach may hesitate to identify other coaches as competition, it’s a fact of life. The key to remaining at the top (in terms of both the consistent demand for your services over time and the value those services are seen to have in the coaching marketplace) is innovation – or differentiation.
How the Integration of Wellness Creates Differentiation
Wellness is a natural extension to the business of endurance performance coaching. It is likely the simplest, yet most valuable way in which to differentiate both you personally as a coach and the coaching services offered by your organization in order to build your current and future coaching business. Wellness coaching is one of the fastest growing professions in the country (for more details about earning a CWC as a Certified Wellness Coach, see www.CatalystCoachingInstitute.com). It is being offered to employees in companies large and small, supplementing the skills of personal trainers at recreation centers and fitness clubs nationwide, and gaining a valued foothold among retirees and baby boomers who desire to optimize their health and activity levels.
How is wellness coaching different from the coaching you’re currently providing? While there is an overlap of the skills utilized, wellness coaching tends to focus more on “big picture” wellness rather than event-specific fitness pursuits. This big picture may include but not be limited to stress management, nutrition, sleep enhancement, weight management, and other aspects more general to health and wellness. Wellness coaching will involve the utilization of areas such as Motivational Interviewing, Temperament recognition and Intrinsic Motivation, skills that can also be effectively utilized with endurance and performance coaching, but typically aren’t part of the standard coaching toolbox.
There are three ways in which the integration of wellness can differentiate and bolster your current and future endurance performance coaching business:
- Enhance your service offerings to current clients
- Advance your skills and credibility as a Coach
- Broaden, fill (and re-fill) your client pipeline
Each of these will be expanded upon individually in the following sections.
Enhancing Your Service Offerings to Current Clients
As an endurance or sports performance coach, you have developed a specific area of expertise and have likely built outstanding relationships with your clients. They look up to you, value your advice, and (generally) follow your recommendations. What if you were able to offer more? What if, as part of your current service, you were able to go beyond the marathon or triathlon training and draw even more from your clients that positively impacted their daily lives? What if the fact that someone chose you as a coach resulted in positive changes to their stress management, or their relationships, or their family’s nutritional decisions?
Such enhancements create differentiation between you and other choices your clients have for coaching. Going beyond the training plan puts you in a completely different level of service than any sort of on-line coaching service, mobile app or pre-developed workout schedule. In fact, once a client experiences your coaching model, these generic services will clearly fall short. You’ve moved them off the table as an option to someone who understands the nature of what you have to offer.
However, it doesn’t end there. In most cases, a coaching business is built by word of mouth. When you impact someone’s life in a positive manner, your name comes up in every conversation possible. Granted, you already benefit from that when your client has a successful race result. If you’re able to go beyond the training plan, the word of mouth will extend to far more conversations than it does currently. Integrating effective wellness coaching skills in with your current approach can do exactly that.
Advance Your Skills and Credibility as a Coach
The integration of wellness coaching into your practice does not only allow you to broaden the specific services you provide to your clients. Rather, it will also increase the depth of your impact across all aspects you are addressing as a coach. In earning your CWC certification, you will gain extensive skills in areas including but not limited to Intrinsic Motivation, Temperament recognition, and Motivational Interviewing. These skills are uniquely designed to allow you to be a more effective coach… and this includes the endurance athletes you’re coaching. You’ll likely discover the client follow-through on the recommendations you make is more consistent… engage a deeper connection with what is really driving your client athlete at a core level… help them tap into what makes them unique as an individual and as an athlete. The result will be not only the enhanced relationship noted above, but also enhanced outcomes in their race results and other areas of importance.
Advanced skills are of utmost value in building a successful long-term business model. However, in this day of short attention spans, credibility may bring similar value to your pursuits. As a certified wellness coach, you’ll have the opportunity to include the “CWC” initials and “Certified Wellness Coach” phrase (along with the Catalyst Coaching Institute seal, if desired) on your website, in your signature line, on your marketing materials and business card. Just as a CPA is recognized as a highly credible accountant and a CFP a more knowledgeable financial planner, you will have a method to immediately demonstrate your credibility in the wellness coaching arena. This may not make a difference with your current clients, but it will be of benefit when future clients are reviewing your materials, when you’re speaking at an event or writing an article. With one glance, your potential audience will know you have what they are seeking.
Broaden, Fill, and Re-fill Your Client Pipeline
Who makes up your current potential client base? Let’s pretend the emphasis of your coaching centers around triathletes and you’re based in Colorado, one of the densest states in the country in terms of triathletes with 4,093 USA Triathlon members in 2012. Sounds like a good place to be a coach – and it is. However, among these 4,093 people, how many decide they need coaching beyond a generic training schedule available online? And how many credible coaches offer services in Colorado? And among those who do select you as their coach, how many will continue paying for coaching after they’ve reached their goal? You know the answer based on your own business, but the point is clear that the total pool of potential clients is somewhat limited, even in a state like Colorado.
For comparison, how many baby boomers are there in the state of Colorado? The latest data shows 619,000 as of 2010. Maybe only a small percentage of these individuals would be interested in hiring you as a coach, but a miniscule percentage of 619,000 can be quite significant. The point here isn’t to encourage you to focus your business on baby boomers (or any other specific group) but rather to open your eyes to the potential that may exist outside of your current radar screen and the long-term impact that could have on your current service offerings.
The range of fees for coaching varies based on a number of variables and this is not intended to guide those rates but rather provide an example of how wellness coaching could potentially enhance your current business model. Let’s say for the sake of discussion that you currently offer 2 tiers of coaching:
- Entry Level – $99/month – provides a monthly training schedule and one monthly discussion
- Advanced Level – $250/month – provides a monthly training schedule, a weekly review of progress/tweaking of plans and unlimited email contact
It was noted above that the additional skills learned as a certified wellness coach will enhance your overall coaching outcomes with clients, simply through the day-to-day integration of these skills. However, the opportunity goes beyond daily integration, and can actually offer you a way to fill your pipeline of future clients, provide current clients a practical way to stay connected, and build on your currently offered tiers.
What if, instead of the two tiers noted above, you were to offer the following 5 tiers (again, this is provided only for the sake of discussion – you know what makes sense for your business and your marketplace)…
- Wellness Coaching – $49/month – provides a monthly personalized wellness coaching session, access to a comprehensive web portal of tools and resources for general wellness pursuits, participation in a quarterly team wellness challenge (ie, weight management, fruits u0026amp; veggies, etc), and a monthly email check-in note
- Entry Level Training – $99/month – provides a monthly training schedule plus one monthly coaching session
- Entry Level Plus – $149/month – provides a monthly training schedule plus two coaching sessions, access to comprehensive web portal for general wellness pursuits, participation in quarterly team wellness challenges, and a monthly e-mail check-in note
- Advanced Level – $250/month – provides a monthly training schedule, a weekly review of progress/tweaking of plans and unlimited email contact
- VIP Level – $500+/month – this is your premium package of anything and everything your expertise allows you to offer. In addition to what you provide in the Advanced Level, you may be available 24/7 for coaching session reviews, may meet them at the pool or track for specific workouts, attend some of their key events, etc.
Is this list of 5 tiers the secret to a successful coaching business? No – of course not. Rather, it’s simply an example that sets the stage to introduce how the wellness coaching integration can benefit your broader business perspectives and plans in the following ways:
- Build your pipeline: The offerings of most coaches involve an “in or out” mentality. You’re either “in” (training seriously for a specific event) or you’re “out” (not involved with coaching). By offering the $49 Wellness Coaching tier, you’re inviting individuals from all walks of life and a variety of health and wellness pursuits to join your team, to be part of something special, and to improve their lives in the process. In fact, you immediately expand your sphere of influence without spending a single dollar on advertising. Suddenly your coaching services potentially gain the interest of spouses, friends of your current clients. These individuals never would have considered hiring you as a coach previously, as they have absolutely no plans to pursue a high-end event. However, if they could work with you on the big picture wellness components, then there might be potential. Then, once the clients in this category begin making progress in areas of general wellness, it’s not unusual for them to decide that it is a good time to pursue that event they might never have otherwise considered. At that point, they already know you and your team, so it only makes sense to work with you in pursuing that goal at the $99 level or higher.
- Maintain a connection after the big day: Some clients remain with a coach for years at a time. Others work with a coach toward a specific “big event” and then are ready to dial it down a notch. In most “in or out” coaching models, the only option is to choose another event or drop out (or pay for something that isn’t specifically necessary). In offering the $49 Wellness Coaching tier, these individuals have a place to “hang out” while they contemplate their next event. It offers them a relatively inexpensive alternative, while still making progress toward their general health and wellness and maintaining a connection with you.
- Provides marginal income: The coaching business benefits greatly from the concept of “marginal income” (the income that results from that “next” client after all the basic costs are covered). To take on an initial client, an investment is typically made in technology (web portal, tools u0026amp; resources, cell phone, professional email account, notes system, etc), liability insurance and marketing. Once these are covered, the only additional cost is time – either yours or someone on your team. So while you may break even on your first 10 clients due to the initial costs, 90%+ of the revenue from client #1 goes directly to salaries and/or profits. As a result, the creation of the additional tiers noted above can provide a more effective stepping stone to clients at all levels of the service spectrum. The $49 level may not seem significant to you, but it’s likely to bring in more total clients, most of whom provide that marginal income advantage. In addition, the additional offerings make it more valuable for clients to remain on your team over time, regardless of their current stage of life or competitive pursuits.
Endurance Performance Coaching has been demonstrated to be a highly valued and rapidly growing profession. As more and more coaches (and alternatives to coaching) enter the marketplace, long term success and potentially even survival will be dependent upon making wise decisions around the business side of the industry. The integration of effective wellness coaching into any current endurance and/or performance coaching business is one way in which to enhance the breadth and depth of the coaching skill level while simultaneously improving the overall business model in coaching.
About the Author
Brad Cooper, MSPT, MBA, MTC, ATC, CWC is the Co-Founder and CEO of the Catalyst Coaching Institute, the premier national provider of the CWC (Certified Wellness Coach) certification and the author of four books, including Thompson Publishing’s latest book on wellness titled Employee Wellness: Implementing a High Impact, High ROI Strategy. The CWC certification program offered through the Catalyst Coaching Institute is approved by the National Athletic Trainer’s Board of Certification, the American College of Sports Medicine and was recently featured in an extensive publication from Wellness Council of America (WELCOA). Individuals can earn their CWC in as little as 3-4 months, or spread it over a year or more, depending on career goals. For more information, please visit www.CatalystCoachingInstitute.com or contact us at [email protected].