Is your new intern a shadow or a ghost?

With the close knit community vibes synonymous with CrossFit classes comes those keen to learn more about how to coach.

There’s a stack of reasons why someone would choose to offer up their free time to learn the ropes of coaching from those who are currently practising in the building.

In my altruistic world view I like to think the reason is at least partly because being people of the community – who feel they belong – they harbour the desire to serve. It feels good to return the favour, working from their own positive experiences with the training methodology. They naturally progress towards becoming more community minded instead of self interested. That’s pretty cool, especially considering most of these people are volunteers, with full-time jobs.. At least, that’s how it was for me. Actually to be perfectly honest, I didn’t want to coach at all. I just wanted to show up and train and leave. 5 years later, I’m glad I took the step towards thinking of people other than myself.

If you have someone who is keen to learn from you, take that as a compliment.

we have all seen shadow coaches who struggle with confidence; Unable to find their place in the swift moving, fast paced classes. In my mind, I have to ask, how are the established coaches contributing to that? Having a shadow coach is not an opportunity to bolster the coaches feelings of value, superiority, or competence. It’s not suppose to implicitly highlight the shadow coaches perceived lack of ability to contribute anything. Whether this is conscious positioning or not, when you add no value to the time your shadow coach has investing in being present to learn – This is the message you send.

They may turn out to be a great coach or a terrible one, they may coach in your gym for a long time, or they may not. The outcome doesn’t matter. The real question is are you here for the development and bettering of people – or something else?

How do you make your interns feel when they are on the floor with you? Do they look like they are having fun when they are slouched against a pole with glazed droopy eyes, barely conscious?

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On the flip-side – Yes – if you are doing a great job as a coach, you are probably highly engaged with your members leading into a session. This means your available time to add purpose for your interns shadow coaching on the floor is limited. I encourage you to think of your interns who are shadowing your classes as another member; One whose experience you are also trying to influence, motivate and encourage for improvement. If you can teach 30 people to snatch, surely you can give your intern 3 things to look for and feedback on at the end of the session.

TOP TIP: Keep it simple.

Here’s a snapshot of how we have worked together to develop a custom made guide for interns to follow each time the take the floor at CrossFit East Tamaki. It’s helped to add purpose and value to those interns time during the awkward shadow coaching stage. The guide is administered externally to the coaching staff – by myself. Modes for collaboration and sharing of observations are done via our Intern facebook page. This was a deliberate act to reduce the impact for the coaching staff on and off the floor.  The intern knows in advance what they are heading into the building to look for and feedback on, the coach can be brought into the loop quickly and efficiently, there is consistency of focus across the eight sessions regardless of which intern or coach is timetabled for the session, and the coach can get stuck into the main guts of the mahi – which is delivering a great session for the members. In this case – the interns were taking the floor for the first time. This is the first three in a series of eight sessions.


The immediate change we all observed was that with clarity of purpose, the new shadow coaches were proud, instead of shy. They stood tall, instead of leaning against the pole. They were highly engaged with the members and attentive to what the coach on lead was doing, instead of struggling with presence of mind. They all had a notebook which was not a requirement, and they took notes throughout the class to help with the feedback loop at the end of the class.

Disengaged habits are common and irritating when you see them. The default position is to say ‘they have a long way to go’, or ‘they lack initiative’, or they ‘don’t appear keen’. If these habits show up all the time in the majority of interns who are shadowing, it’s not the interns who need to use their initiative – it’s the way we engage them to learn which needs to change. Setting expectations and contracts for initiating the intern process may appeal to some, but actions always speak louder than words. Just like you show your members what to do explicitly, you need to do this for new coaches too.

Because lets face it. It’s frikkin boring watching CrossFit classes, and even worse when you can’t participate or contribute in a meaningful way.

Another benefit of the feedback loop was the reciprocal development which resulted from having an intern watch a coach with a specific focus. Coaching on the floor was more deliberate, coaches focussed more on role modelling the aspect under observation so the intern had a clear picture of how that element of coaching worked in practice. The feedback at the end of the session was great for the coaches. It’s not often you get feedback on your practice and while it was no more than a 5 min chat at most, it facilitated a deeper conversation and clarity of thinking for both coach and intern. It gave the process of coaching and interning purpose.

If you like what you see, try setting out some clear objectives for your interns to look for when they shadow, so they are a shadow and not a Ghost.


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