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7 Step Model to Building an Athlete

Updated: Jan 17, 2018

As a movement coach, my job is to develop movement excellence and help my clients lead more active and healthy lifestyles. This can be in be in sport, rehabilitation or life after sport, and believe it or not; there is life after sport. To accomplish this, I need to be able to create sustainable results and empower them to make a significant change in their lives. As a new coach, I thought this was something that would be accomplished by subscribing appropriate exercises, developing perfect programs and assessing physical data. I am here to tell you that I was DEAD WRONG! Since those early days, I have explored many different paths to understand my athletes needs better. Through this process, I have synthesized my approach into a simple analogy. I now view building an athlete like building a house I would want to live in. To accomplish this, I utilize a 7-step approach which I have found to be effective and reliable.

Step 1: Get Permission

First things first, make sure that whoever you are helping, wants your help. Before you begin construction on a house, the city needs to approve your plans. When you decide to sit down with a potential athlete, make sure you are well prepared for the meeting and can articulate your values and philosophy at the forefront. In following on from the last sentence, understanding the details and being able to walk clients through the process, ensures a higher level of buy-in. Godin, S (2008) in his book Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us suggests that through this approach, you will be more likely to attract people to your tribe. The more honest you are with the why the how and what you expect of the athlete, from financial sacrifice to lifestyle sacrifice, the more likely you will have buy-in and the more likely you will find the right buyer.

Step 2: Prepare the Site

Now that you have clearance to build, you need to prepare the land you are going to work on. What I mean by this is that you need to understand who and what you are working with. Unfortunately, like most lots, you will only be scratching the surface with what you know and what a new athlete is willing to reveal in an initial consultation. The reason behind this is simple; you have yet to build a relationship with your athlete. What you get at the beginning is what I like to call surface data. What you need to do from here is listen. You only get to talk when you are ASKED to and when you need to ask a question. You need to be a diligent note taker, and you need to understand that the essential things are that need to be assessed. This latter part is crucial. Having the right systems and tools in place is paramount. The ones I use to evaluate my athletes are the 6 Habits of High Performers from Burchard, B. (2017) High Performance Habits: How Extraordinary People Become That Way book. I assess the athlete I have by finding out the clarity of goals they have, how they generate energy throughout the day, how they keep the important things first, how productive they are with their time, how they influence others around them and how they demonstrate courage in their sport and day to day life.

Step 3: The Dig

After we have assessed the land (athlete), we then can start the dig. This part is critical! This is where you have begun to build the relationship and started to gain the athletes trust. Now you need to dive deep into the strengths and weaknesses of your athlete. This section is meant to highlight the traits/qualities/habits of the athlete that may need to be changed or removed. Often this has more to do with their mental and habitual traits than it does with their physical characteristics. The amount you have to dig out will continually vary. Therefore, the coach must be flexible and patient. Some athletes may have a little or no baggage, while others have a lot. NEVER EVER cut corners on this end, do an excellent and thorough job!

Step 4: The Foundation

This is the most vital step in my eyes. Remember, you are building for longevity, not for quick financial gains. The more you invest in this area, the easier everything else will come. Having to go back and fix faulty steps is costly and can lead to persistent problems down the road. What this area consists of, at least from my experience, is above and below the neck qualities. When developing the above the neck qualities in athletes, I focus on improving communication, commitment, perseverance, and understanding of the six habits I mentioned above. As for the below the neck, I concentrate on increasing trunk awareness, a range of motion and fluidity and dynamic stability and mobility. I use back squat, dead-lift, row, and bench to set a strong foundation and then I use sprint and jump exercises (linear plyometrics and track drills) to improve on more dynamic movements.

Step 5: The Framing and Roofing

Once I have developed a strong foundation and once I have built a relationship with my athlete we can then start to hone in on specific areas of focus. This is where I begin to educate my athlete on the importance of nutrition and recovery. This step is as crucial as any. I tend to go through this area once I have full buy-in from my athlete because it is an area requiring a lot of focus and attention to see the most significant gains. I do not give nutritional advice because I feel it is a field that is much more complex than most people believe, so I refer out. For the recovery methods, I don’t have a cookie cutter model, but instead, I base it on the athlete and the athlete’s reaction to different training stimuli. This is yet another reason why introducing these elements too early may not be the wisest choice, however, as Dr. Stuart McGill likes to say “it depends.”.

Side Note:

One crucial thing to remember, there are experts all around you, so learn to collaborate, and you will learn to succeed.

Step 6: The Electrical and Plumbing

Now comes the fun stuff! This is what makes the house tick, what makes the athlete special. This is the area I start to introduce sprint and jump mechanics large quantities. I heavily rely on the force-velocity curve when developing my athlete. Utilizing different tools and systems, I attempt to address weaknesses along the entire spectrum. I look at the athlete’s maximal strength qualities to maximal speed, while always considering the specific needs of my athlete and his or her sports demands. Building from the foundational work and the assessment of the strengths and weaknesses I begin to teach more specific maximal sprint work, plyometric exercises and verbal and visual agility based exercises. Once my athlete has reached a certain threshold of athletic ability, we tend to focus our attention more in this area and utilize the weight room as an accessory to increase physiological needs rather than motor control coordination issues.

Step 7: The Clean-up and Selling the Home

This is the last step along the way. This is where we touch up any areas that need a touch-up and where the athlete decides the path of his or her future. This is where we step back and assess what we have created.

These seven steps have guided me and allowed me to assess and improve upon the mistakes I have made. However, for any new coach, I believe the essential tool in your toolbox is a system that allows you to see the errors you have made. To think that you will always make the right choices, to believe that any program is perfect, to presume that any path is ideal is naive. So, whether it be the seven steps I have designed (which by no means is everything that needs to be considered) above or something else out there, make sure it makes you critically analyze the work you are doing so that you can change and adapt quickly and continuously.


Burchard, B. (2017). High Performance Habits: How Extraordinary People Become That Way. Hay House, Inc.

Godin, S. (2008). Tribes: We need you to lead us. Penguin.

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