Values and Philosophy for Coaches - Part II: Training Philosophy

16-03-2018 Willem Hilberdink

The second part of this three part series discusses the framework of - and need for - a training philosophy for a CrossFit box. In my previous blogpost in this series I described coaching values, their goals and practical application. I outlined how core values play an important role in how we act as coaches in relationship to our community and athletes. So, what's the difference between coaching values and a training philosophy?


While coaching values determine interaction and the atmosphere of a CrossFit box - the vibe, the tone of voice and coach-athlete interaction - a training philosophy serves a different purpose. It serves as a guideline for both training programming and lesson plan design for group classes or individual athletes. Well thought-out programming and carefully written lesson plans are in my opinion an absolute necessity in any CrossFit box. While the former determines to what kind of training stimulus athletes are exposed, the latter determines the content of a single CrossFit class from start to finish. Proper programming will ensure a reasonable mix of volume, movement frequency, intensity, conditioning and strength for all athletes. Proper lesson plan design on the other hand provides options for injured athletes, scaling for beginners, drills and progressions, warming ups and cool downs and ensures sixty minutes that are action-packed from start to finish. To ensure progress and safety, we want programming and lesson plan design to be varied, but not definitely not random. How do we prevent randomness? By having a training philosophy to provide a solid guideline for both programming and lesson plan design, ensuring a consistent training experience for everyone that trains at the box.


 At UnScared, our training philosophy consists of the following five pillars:

Safety: avoiding injury and respecting long term physical and mental well-being

Fun: enjoying training, either through a sense of achievement or enjoying the practice in itself

Efficiency: not only working hard, but working smart and focused

Progressive: striving to learn new skills and continuously improving fitness

Complete: believing in an as broad as possible athletic base and maximizing full physical potential across multiple domains

In every single training session at UnScared, these pillars need to be included in some way or another. This happens automatically when a coach applies the principles of the training philosophy whenever they make a training-related decision. When the head coach of a CrossFit box programs a month of workouts, he or she is exposed to a variety of these kind of decisions: what is the training focus or theme for that month? How often can someone train with this kind of programming? Does it challenge both experienced and beginner athletes? The same applies to writing a lesson plan, a coach might get stuck in deciding what the time-cap should be or which warming ups, progressions and drills should be done before the workout. The main question for a coach who writes a lesson plan before a busy day of CrossFit classes should be: "How will the sixty minutes that athletes should describe as 'the best hour of their day' look?" This question becomes a lot easier to answer when the coach in question has a couple pillars to fall back on: safety, completeness and fun, for example.

Catering to individual athletes can be tough: scaling beginners, challenging advanced athletes, dealing with injuries and accounting for what an athlete did the days before. Answering these tough questions and sometimes troubling dilemma's becomes a lot easier when there is a clear set of guidelines and principles - in the form a training philosophy - for coaches to fall back on. Acting on these principles can define the difference between a good coach and a great coach.


Some people might think that focusing on values and philosophy is useless or unnecessary for a "simple" job as sports coaching. They might call it overkill, bullshit even. I wholeheartedly disagree. The way an athlete perceives health and fitness are greatly influenced by the values a coach holds and the principles a coach acts upon. Coaches have the amazing ability to get someone with health issues seriously excited about fitness and greatly improve their quality of life. If they do a good job. A coach that does a poor job, can ruin someones perception of sports and fitness and negatively impact any kind of training they will do from there on out. For the rest of their lives. As coaches we have a huge influence on how the people we coach perceive health and fitness; and with that power comes great responsibility.

An interesting claim is made in “Philosophy of Sport”, namely that sport is more than just a utility to promote health and fitness: most societies conceive sport as an important way to promote the general values of sportsmanship, effort, teamwork and striving for progress. A great coach can effectively become a contributor to the notion that sports and fitness are more than just “dumb entertainment”, but only if he can get his values and principles across to his athletes. For that reason, we should not underestimate the importance of taking five minutes to talk to athletes. Drive the commitment and understanding of your athletes as coach by being available for questions before or after class and by being informative during whiteboard time. You'll find your athletes are probably more eager to listen and learn than you might expect.

Talking to athletes as a coach and getting the intent behind a workout or the goal behind a progression across, ties in with the end-goal of having a training philosophy: having members adopt this philosophy as their own. Personally, I feel like my job as a coach is done well, if one of my members goes to another gym and approaches a pre-programmed workout with the same pillars in mind as when a skilled coach programs a workout or designs a lesson plan. I want my athletes to be able to program their own workout when they are on a holiday and come up with a workout that is both fun, complete, efficient and safe. Making yourself obsolete is the weirdly contradictory end-goal of helping someone out as a coach. The job is not done with "coaches development", what we need is "community development".

Having a hard time assessing what your own coaching values are and how to formulate your training philosophy as a coach or gym owner? In the third and last part of this blogpost series we'll get more practical and discuss how to take your coaching from good to great.

Willem Hilberdink

About Willem Hilberdink

Willem is a coach at UnScared CrossFit and one of the co-owners. A former personal trainer, powerlifter and Philosophy graduate he is now responsible for the day-to-day operations at UnScared as well as marketing and social media.

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