Tips for Training Former Athletes

Personal Training

Tips for Training Former Athletes

By Tonya Gutch, MS, Professional Fitness Trainer and Precor Master Coach

Make training day game day for your former high school and collegiate athlete clients. Learn strategies for crafting a lasting training programme for former athletes.

No matter their phase in life or current fitness level, most former high school or collegiate athletes have evocative memories of catching the ball in the end zone to score the winning touchdown, serving that winning ace, or sprinting across the finish line in first place. Of course, there is real happiness and joy in recalling the good old days of yesteryear. These unforgettable events might have occurred 5, 10, or even 30 years ago for many of our clients!

As a fitness professional, we want to tap in to that inner athlete that was once driven by determination and love of sport. At one time in their life, they had a clear vision of their fitness and performance goals.  Today, other priorities like work, school, and family may take up most of their time. A great way to approach a client like this is to make them feel like they are back in the game of their glory days - an athlete’s mindset still exists in their head!

Making this transition from former athlete to a new status involves setting realistic goals and rekindling the old fire. The role of the fitness professional is to guide clients toward appropriate intentions that correlate to their current physical health and way of life. This may involve evolving their perception and purpose of fitness, but not giving up the thrill of movement and sport. In other words, as coaches we can re-create the exciting times of being that former high school or collegiate athlete.

Giving them back their coach

Fitness professionals can offer the same accountability and motivation as former coaches and practises.  We can help design new goals and lead our ex-athlete clients through appropriate and beneficial programmes. For example,

Nell, the star volleyball player of yesterday…

Back in college, Nell did little else but eat, sleep and breathe volleyball. She was a star!  So much of a star, she was a “walk on” for her University’s women’s volleyball team as a freshman. Fast forward to Nell at age 56.

Up until the age of 22, Nell had always had a coach scheduling workouts and providing motivation. Her past athletic training had taught her discipline, but life changes, four children, and unfulfiling workouts, and mismatch personal trainers had left her uninspired. Nell noticed changes in her body due to her current life style. Nell needed to feel like that star again! 

How to approach a client like Nell.

If you are a fitness professional currently working with a former athlete similar to Nell, here are a few tips to help figure out how to make them feel like that star athlete once again.

1. Train smarter, not harder. 

During practises, athletes are told to jump higher, squat lower, lift heavier, or run faster to be the absolute best – aligning with the old adage that “more is better.” This training approach may have worked in the past, but will not necessarily be appropriate now. Instead, focus on the integrity of the joints, quality of life and living life as pain-free as possible. You will want to design programmes that incorporate elements of their past sports, such as ladder drills or band-resisted running drills. Of course, these drills will need to be modified or amplified for their current fitness/health status. Introduce them to the world of “recovery.” Vibration training plates, foam rollers, ice packs, etc. are perfect regeneration modalities to incorporate into your clients’ programmeing. It is pertinent to stress the importance of these regeneration modalities - that the majority of modern-day athletes utilise these techniques to help recuperate at a faster rate, thus, helping them get stronger and faster.

2. Team Training

Create engageing, interactive, and fun partner-based small group training sessions so they can feel like they are part of a ‘team’ again. Focusing on camaraderie and teamwork to achieve a goal will encourage accountability to both you and their peers.

3. Recognise they are no longer the high school/collegiate athlete.

Former athlete is their new status. This can be a hard pill to swallow for some clients, because they will always have the mindset of an athlete. Be sensitive and aware of this thought process. It can be fun to ask questions about their former team workouts or favourite coaches.

4. Create new and appropriate goals for their current phase of life/fitness.

As their coach, you will want to help them set new goals. In the past, their training goal may have been a big game or upcoming race. Establish new goals by helping them transfer their athletic mindset to a new challenge, such as a cardiovascular goal of running in a local 5k race or achieving a challenging aerial yoga pose. Alternatively, their goals might be to feel great throughout the work week, or to start sleeping better.  

Key Takeaways

As a fitness professional, take the time to find out what motivates this unique group of clients. Choose language, exercises and analogueies that reflect their former life as an athlete, but align them with new and realistic training goals. Let them know that the best “game day” to train is a better and healthier quality of life.

Author Information

Tonya Gutch
Tonya Gutch's picture

Tonya is a guest lecturer for the Cooper Institute and a professional fitness trainer at the Cooper Fitness Center in Dallas Texas. Tonya has owned and operated a personal training business, trained professional athletes, and coached national and world fitness champions. Tonya’s competitive edge has earned her gold medals in the AAU National and World Aerobics Championships, as well as three gold medals at the National Aerobics Championships on ESPN. Tonya has been involved with the Precor Coaching Center since its inception in 2015. 

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