The Curse of Knowledge


Beware of the curse of knowledge that haunts new and experienced coaches. Though this isn’t as severe as the Avada Kedavra curse in Harry Potter, it can have some negative consequences. How is being smart a bad thing? How can knowing a lot about something you’re very passionate about hurt business? Allow me to explain this to you from a firsthand experience with the dark lord himself (I’m not done referencing Harry Potter, so hang in there).


As new coaches we are so excited to share with the world how smart we are and how hard we have worked to learn these skills. We learn fun super science terms, muscles, exercises, corrections, the list goes on and on. Once we get our first client or group, we get into a routine of wanting to “WOW” these people with our new learned skills. Though this is a proud moment for us as coaches to have earned whatever education it is that we are teaching, we must pump the brakes before we start to lose people.


A prime example of the curse of knowledge is over coaching. I’m as guilty as Harry when he used magic outside of school, for being one to have over coached a client. Over coaching a client can be something we may not be aware of, but might be doing. A fine example of over coaching a client is giving them too much to think about when learning a new exercise. So remember how I said being super smart can be bad thing, here is how.


We know and understand how an exercise should look like and be instructed. We sometimes get so caught up in how to get a perfect squat or hinge, we end up giving the client far too many cues and end up confusing them. This not only frustrates you as a coach, but frustrates the client and ends up making them feel insecure about learning. So rather than trying to use every single cue you have so they can have a “perfect” squat, fix one thing at a time. This can range from set to set or even week to week or having them do a different variation of the exercise.

Clients do not have the body awareness that we do, they did not spend hours and hours learning what we know. Give them credit, encourage their progress to learning, and make it fun. Don’t be a Dolores Umbridge when you are coaching a client and expect them to have perfect technique and not make it fun. Instead be more like professor McGonagall, someone who expects hard work, but knows that they do not need to master the craft from the very start.


The curse of knowledge continues when you are not diverse with your coaching. New clients may find it challenging or difficult to move in new patterns that they aren’t use to, but there is a difference between not knowing how to do an exercise and being completely lost. When a client has no understanding of what you are asking them to do, then you are over coaching or not using the right cues. Not everyone is going to pick up on the same cue you use for each exercise. As coach you are a teacher of movement, as a teacher you need to understand that there are many ways people learn.


Teaching the squat may vary from telling someone how to squat, to showing them how to squat, or actually getting them into a position (if given permission) of a squat. This is your auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learners. Be able to adapt your cueing from each of these learning types, this does take time when learning your craft. I advise taking your time watching other coaches coach, this will help with picking up on different ways they teach exercises you use.


Watching or learning from other coaches is completely underrated as a new coach or a coach with experience. Continuing to learn is what makes someone successful in any field. Once you get into a mindset of “Oh now I have this certification or this college degree, I am done with learning for good” you have just set yourself up for failure. One thing that I have taken away from every professional I have met is that they all continue to learn. Learn how to coach diversely and be like the bag that Hermione used the Extension Charm on (it’s a bag full of a bunch of stuff, like SO MUCH STUFF) to coach.


The curse of knowledge shows up when you try to use terminology used amongst other fitness professionals with your clients. For example, if I approach Ron on his squat and tell him “Ron that was a great squat, but during the eccentric phase of the lift you had some valgus knee going on and also some lumbar flexion, on your next set I want you to focus on externally rotating as you are coming up while maintaining an erect spine”. Terms like this should be used amongst those who know these terms, you know, like other fitness professionals, not clients. Instead say something more of the line of “Ron, that was a good squat, but I want to make it a little bit better. On your next set let’s think about turning your knees out as you are coming up and keeping the chest up to the ceiling.”


Talking with large terminology can be a surefire way of losing a client’s interest. Showing them that you know each muscle group and what muscle is causing what action with every exercise will be redundant. As a coach it is good to know these things, and occasionally sharing this information when it is necessary or when they ask you. Most times clients don’t even care, they just want to feel better or look better. Once you start using terms they do not know, they will be disengaged and feel inferior because they don’t know what you are saying. Avoid using terms that your clients won’t know, but from time to time sneak it in as a conversation starter for something.


Some clients may actually find the terminology interesting and would like to know exactly what muscle is doing what and why they are doing an exercise, in that case share with them your knowledge. 90% of the time when you work with clients, it won’t be about using cool terms you know or your understanding of the body, it’ll be about how their day has been, how their family is doing, what they are having for supper, etc. Your clients will always come first, do not talk down to them with your knowledge of your practice, instead learn about their life and their interests and talk about that. They are the reason we are here, share with them when necessary and educate properly.


In summary, it is great to be smart, but it can come at a cost if we do not know how to properly use this knowledge we have. Don’t over coach a client, not everyone is going to learn the same way, and client’s do not care how many cool words you know. Do not demand perfection, always continue to learn, and always listen rather than “WOW” a client with your cool terms. As you continue to coach and learn more with time, remember that too much information may come with a cost.