Keep Your Coaching Business Alive During COVID-19

Coach Development | COVID


Darren Dillon

Darren Dillon is the owner and director of Kickstart Fitness Ireland. Founded in 2010, Kickstart Fitness has grown from what was initially a bootcamp in a local park into what is now a center of excellence for TRX®️Training and functional training, and a high performance hub for strength and conditioning. Darren also serves as head of performance at Shamrock Rovers FC, working with and programming for the academy through to senior professional soccer players. He is also Ireland’s only official TRX®️ Master Trainer, delivering all the company’s education courses to the Irish fitness industry.

// Keep Your Coaching Business Open While Lockdown Part 1

If you’re like me and most other coaches I know, the coronavirus outbreak didn’t simply sneak up on your business – it came out of the blue and battered it like a force 5 tornado. Before we get into the steps you can take to pick up the pieces and keep paying your coaches and feeding your family, I first want to admit something: I was unprepared for this. The speed and severity of the changes wrought by this virus and the shutdown that resulted were so startling that I barely had time to catch my breath. The next thing I knew, the company I’d spent over a decade building with day after day of hard graft was floundering and I was left wondering how to survive, let alone lead the coaches and clients who depend on me. 

But in the end I came to a simple – if stark – conclusion: I didn’t have a choice. There were only two alternatives. Either I step up, rally my team, and figure this thing out, or I quit and let everything go to waste. When I thought about it in these terms, there was no choice. I had to endure, adapt, and lead from the front. This article is about how I did it – and you can too.

Bricks and Mortar to Online

The first thing I had to do was look at how our business – Kickstart – used to operate. Our model was solely predicated on getting people through the door, and providing such a high level of coaching and service (along with showing how much we care about them as people) that they kept coming back. Sure, there are a lot of good online platforms that provide digital programming like TrainHeroic/CoachHeroic, but I’ve only ever dipped my toes in those waters. Why? Because the in-person model was all I knew, and it was where I was most comfortable, both at my gym and the football club I serve as performance director, Shamrock Rovers. 

Now suddenly this wasn’t an option anymore. The Irish government mandated that both the gym and the club shut up shop. So what now? Well, the only solution open to me and my team was to investigate the best options for taking what we do online (the cool kids would call this “upskilling” – I call it “survival.”) 

We soon settled on using three platforms that we found were easy and were comfortable with. Facebook, TrainHeroic, and the all new popular Zoom. We’ve been using these platforms for years to share new classes, promote community events, and celebrate our clients’ successes. Our lower tier membership offering is now on Facebook. This includes daily recorded workouts, recipes and other nutrition advice, motivational quotes, and so on. This is priced below what we’d usually charge for the in-person equivalent.

There is nowhere to Hide

At Kickstart, we’ve always done small group-focused programming over eight, 10, or 12-week blocks, as this provides an opportunity to focus in on a particular lifestyle or health goal – like losing weight or building muscle – or a certain training style/modality. In the past few weeks, we’ve done our best to come up with an online equivalent, which we deliver via Zoom sessions. 

This has been one of the trickiest things for me personally. I thought that because I’m on the pitch with the players at Rovers most days and strength train at the gym several times a week that I was in good shape. Not so, at least when it comes to my cardiovascular fitness. This was starkly illuminated when I had to start not just coaching our group training workouts on Zoom, but also participating in them. There’s nowhere to hide when you’re on a live video feed. But rather than getting down about the hole in my own conditioning, I’m using it as fuel to get better, and am now thankfully not feeling  quite as worn out as I did after the initial few sessions. 

Another challenge with the Facebook and Zoom workouts is connectivity. Not all of our coaches or clients have fast broadband internet, so we’ve had a couple instances when the feed has cut out abruptly. Fortunately, our members have been very gracious and understanding, as they’re having similar problems with their own work-from-home setup. But still, the first time one of our coaches just disappeared from the screen it felt like my stomach dropped as it would going over the crest of the biggest hill on a rollercoaster!

Keeping Calm on the Rollercoaster

And that’s a pretty good analogy to close with. Life feels like that right now, doesn’t it? Like we’re being sent around a track, rocked this way and that, up in the air and back down again without time to even process what’s happening, let alone take a pause before screaming. In the next piece in this series, I’ll transition from the practical steps we’ve taken to keep Kickstart going to the mindset component, which is just as crucial right now, if not more so, as the uncertainty of the COVID-19 shutdown continues. 

In the meantime, I’d love to hear the tactics you and your fellow coaches are using to best serve your members and clients. Feel free to hit me up on social media (find me on Instagram at @darrendillon_kickstartfitness) and share your highs, lows, and experiences. Together, we will get through this. Because ultimately, we don’t have a choice but to press on and endure. Our families, athletes, and fellow coaches depend on it.


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