by: Daniel Lucchini
You are responsible for returning the agency your clients deposited when coming to you, with interest.
Agency involves four main characteristics; autonomy, achievement, mastery, and the ability to influence the course of your life. Autonomy refers to a sense of self-governance. Achievement refers to being able to reach the places you are trying to go. Mastery refers to a high level of competence in a given task and the ability to influence the course of your life refers to the extent to which you are able to exert an influence over your experience, versus being tossed around by external circumstances like a small boat in the open ocean.
When a client comes to you they are seeking a turning point. They are looking to change their lives in some way or to enhance their progress towards a given performance metric. Every individual has an internalized and evolving story of the self that weaves the past, present and future. By choosing to hire a trainer or coach they are inherently giving up a level of agency by relinquishing autonomy over their physical body, the vulnerability of working towards achievement they haven’t attained, admitting a lack of mastery and ultimately surrendering an ability to direct the course of this compartment of their lives.
As an industry, too often we only focus on the competency elements of agency at the neglect of the autonomous and self-directed elements. By ignoring (whether through ignorance. naivety or neglect) returning full agency to the client, we are doing them (not necessarily their goals) a disservice. As trainers, in the training setting we exist in a position of authority within the relationship.
The training relationship is unique in that is by nature asymmetrical, purpose driven, finite (ends when goal is achieved) and it is contractual. Within this space it is convenient to get away with taking control of the clients agency and not giving it back. It gives us a feeling of superiority and as much as we don’t want to admit it, this is a good feeling for many and from a business standpoint, creating a reliance on our role can be pretty beneficial. But is it worth it?
When we work with individuals, we take a responsibility not just for their goals, but also for their sense of self. If we take on this position of authority and only share the authority amongst techniques, ideas, systems etc. we deny the client opportunity to trust themselves and develop their own self-awareness to create agency over their lives and learn to believe in their instincts.
The way you talk about and teach health and fitness should be done in a way that teaches people to trust themselves, rather than trusting you. So how do we achieve this?
1. Involve them in the process. Ask for their thoughts on various aspects of the program. Of course this is context dependant, a brand new beginner will not have much to offer here and that’s okay, like anything we gradually offer more opportunities for autonomous
2. Don’t just tell them – before you tell them what you think they did right or wrong, give them a chance to:
a) figure it out – if they don’t do the first rep well, give them a few more chances (as long as they aren’t going to hurt themselves) to figure it out. Put trust in their body to find a way.
b) feel – ask them what they are feeling or thinking so they can begin to develop an awareness around their experience during the session
3. Trust them and give positive regard – If a client makes a decision/suggestion, give it a chance. Just because it’s not what you think is right, doesn’t mean it won’t work. Remember we all have our own bias and it’s okay to give authority to your client. You can still manage it to mitigate any “failures” or “damage” but reward peoples willingness to speak up with opportunity to experience.
When a client leaves you, aim to give them greater agency over their lives than what they came in with.