Should CrossFit Coaches Get Full-Time Salaries?
My name is Ed, and I am the founder, CEO, and head coach of my affiliate. In three months I, along with a team of 15 full-time coaches and operations staff, will be celebrating the gym’s 14th anniversary. But this anniversary feels a little different as it will mark the beginning of a new era.
Three months ago, I decided to make a move from commission-based salaries to fixed salaries. Some will say that we’ve “gone corporate”, others will say “it’s about time”.
My story as a gym owner looks similar to many others: I began as a personal trainer, driving my car around the city to my clients, renting personal training studios, and pitching up on open fields to coach group classes. Within the year, I had reached capacity, and decided it was time to hire another coach. After three years, the coaching team had grown to five, and we were starting to make a name for ourselves. Our costs were low, coaches were paid between 50-60% of the clients’ fees, and would receive a healthy sum for leading group classes. The business was great, and I felt unstoppable.
By the fourth year, we were ready for the next step. We were tired of fighting for space and equipment in personal training studios, having to cancel outdoor group classes due to the weather, and losing hours of the day running around the city to our clients. We had enough money in the bank, and with a little help from my family, we opened the doors to our first-ever facility in 2013.
As a business owner, those were some of the hardest years. I quickly realized the business had outgrown my expertise. I didn’t understand (or care for) accounting, I was an ineffective manager, and a poor communicator. I had a never-ending list of job responsibilities, and a to-do list which was impossible to complete. Aside from being inadequately prepared for the task at hand, one of the biggest obstacles holding me back was my monthly salary.
I continued to pay myself the same way that I paid my coaches: a salary directly linked to the number of hours that I coached. I still loved coaching, but I was also aware that there were responsibilities outside of coaching that needed to be done if my business was to survive. So every free minute outside of my coaching hour was spent working ‘on’ the business. For years, I worked 15-hour days, six to seven days a week, squeezing in important tasks at the end of a grueling day. Our growth plateaued, my ability to coach declined, and my relationships inside and outside of work deteriorated, as did my personal growth and happiness – something had to change.
In 2019, after almost throwing in the towel countless times, I finally decided to move myself to a fixed salary; it felt like the shackles had finally been removed. I was free to do meaningful work outside of just coaching, without the stress of worrying about whether or not I could pay my rent. It gave me the time and space needed to create an online coaching business, start a podcast, and invest more time into learning how to be a better leader, and a better person. I was able to delegate jobs to my operations team, which allowed me to focus on the jobs that I loved doing, and that I was good at.
But a new problem was starting to appear: once again, the list of job responsibilities started to grow, and my to-do lists were rarely completed. Two years after thinking I had cracked the code, I found myself right back to square one.
And that’s when it clicked: if I was able to make a change for myself, could I do the same for my team?
As I built stronger relationships with my team, I started to see that they had many talents outside of just coaching. They were passionate educators, content creators, mentors, data lovers, marketing geniuses, and so much more. If I could change for them what I had changed for myself, they too could feel financially secure, be challenged intellectually, contribute to something more than just the class or client they were coaching, lead projects, and become leaders in their own right. I started to think about how much impact we could make if there was more than just one of me.
The answer was clear: move my coaching team to fixed salaries. My general manager and I presented a new vision of the company and shared why our current model wasn’t working. They would still have to hit minimum coaching hours each week, but they would also have the opportunity to take on management responsibilities. We set measurable performance objectives for each coach, and presented a clear path of progression. I could see the excitement in the eyes of my team. This was not only what my business needed, but it was also what they needed.
This change allowed us to continue to focus on what we do best, coaching, but it also allowed us to create new areas of growth for the business. I witnessed more growth from my team in that first month than I had in years. There was a new energy and buzz around the gym, and I no longer felt alone. Our growth opportunities were infinite.
Today, whilst we are far from a finished product, I can see that this is the change that we so badly needed. Professionalizing coaching is so much more than providing your coaches with a good salary. As humans, we crave complexity, challenge, and growth. We want to feel appreciated and acknowledged, and to contribute to something greater than ourselves.
Whilst coaches are great at coaching, we have many other talents, and it should be within our interest as leaders to turn those talents into their job. I can already see that this change is going to allow us to create an even bigger impact on the lives of the people we serve, and allow us to achieve more growth than ever before.