Expanding Your Coaching Services

More coaches are seeking partnerships with outside experts to better meet the needs of their athletes. Find out how these partnerships work best, giving even the "maverick" coach a competitive advantage.

Coach Ryan Kohler talked with Joe Friel about the different ways coaches can go about structuring athlete and business services.

Here’s a cheat sheet to the pros and cons of typical arrangements.

EmployeeMore control in maintaining how your business is run Paying salary during periods of low volume/revenue
Independent ContractorRelatively easily to find an expert
Incurring cost only for services provided
If volume gets too high, contractor may not be able to meet the demand 
PartnershipCollaboration that shares in the rewardCollaboration that shares in the risk 
Investment in another business means you are liable for losses in the other business 
AllianceCollaboration without giving up independence 
Little to no financial investment 
If dissolved, it’s back to business as usual 
Potentially less commitment from one or both parties 

“As coaches we should know where our expertise starts and ends. It’s on us to fill those gaps.”

– Ryan kohler

Need help with athlete services?

Fast Talk Laboratories can help extend your coaching business through athlete services like sports nutrition, testing, and data analysis. Contact us to learn more.

Video Transcript

Joe Friel  00:06

Hello everyone, what I want to talk with you today about is something I’ve seen that’s been going on for some time now in coaching. It’s something that goes back to when I was in my early days of coaching, and that is providing expertise to your clients that may be outside of your realm of personal expertise as a head coach.

What I see happening in businesses now is we’re bringing on people to be a part of this team of experts that provide services that we may be somewhat weak in ourselves, or it could be the opposite. It could be that we also have a background in this, but we don’t have the time to provide the service to all the clients like an outside expert can do. When I talk with a bigger coaching outfits, they’ve almost always got somebody involved in some providing some sort of expertise to their clients.

To help with this conversation today, I’ve brought on Ryan Kohler. Ryan has been on both sides of this. He’s been the side of being an expert in terms of providing the services to the clients. He’s also a coach, so he understands both fields. Ryan, I want to welcome you today. Thanks for being here with us. You might fill us in on your background of how you came to be a coach and an expert in the fields of things related to coaching.

Ryan Kohler  01:27

Sure, thanks for having me, I love being on here. I’ll start by saying I’ve been pretty lucky with how my career has unfolded. I’ve been coaching almost 19 years now, and been able to continue that coaching process throughout.

But, like you said, I’ve have been able to dip in and out of different sides of that. One was starting at CTS where I had my coaching stable, and then I took on one or two additional roles as maybe bike fitter or physiologist to do testing. I was able to progress into even having my own business for a time and then also moving into the role of working within a larger team, at Boulder Center for Sports Medicine, and over at CU Sports Medicine where I was able to run with a team of providers and still provide that coaching, but also bring in additional experts along the way.

Different business models for services

Joe Friel  02:21

One thing that comes up, and this is always an issue when you’re talking about bringing people to help out with your company, is how do they get paid? That’s always a problem that the coach is going to face. How did you experience that some being on the other side of the relationship, seeing both sides of this now. How do you think this relationship should work out as far as the expert the team member being paid for their services?

Ryan Kohler  02:48

So initially, my first experience with it was really being hired as an employee as a full time staff member and you’re paid, you’re there for a certain amount of time. With that setup there’s of course, much more control that the business owner would have, and there’s some consistency there for both parties.

I feel like it’s really progressed since then, and having gone out on my own and then gone back to roles where we’ve had an entire team and we’ve brought people in and out, then we can look at more like a contractor status where you pay someone to do a specific role. Basically that’s a little bit safer in some cases, whereas you may also run into hurdles where you’re not in alignment over certain areas. But, when I feel like things have transitioned into which I really like is more of this like partnership or alliance where you talk to someone and if we both have similar goals, if you can provide a service for one of my athletes, and I see that it helps both of us move forward, then that in my mind really seems like a big value add for the athlete. It helps both of us move forward where now we’re increasing value for that athlete.

Partnerships that turn into referrals

Joe Friel  04:03

I think it’s there’s also a possibility here of increasing value for your company, if you bring in people who are outside the company. Contract laborers, in fact, who have contact with athletes, I know when I was doing this, one of my team members was a physical therapist. He became a staunch supporter of my company, and he saw athletes all the time who would come in with injuries. He was in a position to say to somebody, “Have you ever considered working with Joe Friel’s company for coaching?” They’ve expected or interested in trying to find a coach, I can see that being a part of this also. Have you seen any of that happening in the roles you’ve played in this relationship with outsiders?

Ryan Kohler  04:47

I think it increases that whole collaboration. For the athletes particularly they like to see that I feel like, and when we’re talking about the value when they see coaches and other experts working together, I think that just builds and gives them a broader network that they know they have access to.

Then, within that there’s the word of mouth, referrals as well. I still feel like that’s a huge thing, because coaches and athletes talk a lot. There are a lot of referrals that go that go on through this kind of relationship.

Joe Friel  05:18

There’s lots of possibilities there. So that’s something I found that worked really well in my company, was just having somebody who is on my side, who is not directly in my company. It was a big payoff in terms of marketing for finding people outside the company.

How to handle new methods and technology

Joe Friel  05:34

So, you found people that you agree with, you philosophically agree on nutrition, or bike fitting, or sports medicine, or whatever it may be. You’ve got some sort of agreement going on here. How do we handle this when there are things that come up that are new? Like, there are always changes going on within within a field of field of expertise, in nutrition, for example. There’s something that comes up that we’re just starting to think about. But it’s something new that the coach perhaps, and you as nutritionist may not fully agree on. How do we how do we handle that situations when they pop-up?

Ryan Kohler  06:15

For me, one of the things I look at is always bringing it back to the fundamentals. There’s so much technology these days, that the fundamentals really never change. But there’s all kinds of technology that push athletes and coaches into different directions. Maybe it’s a great line of business for a coach to get into, but if there is something new that comes up, I want to come back and say, Okay, how does that affect the fundamentals? Does it really change the progression of the athlete? Does it really change your philosophy, and how you work with that athlete? Or can we boil that down and say, No, we’re still moving in the right direction. So I think with all of the new tech and devices and things that are out there today, it’s great.

I do see a potential pitfall where you can get drawn away from those fundamentals, and that could change the path that we’re both on. But ultimately, that’s my first step is to come back and say how does this affect essentially, the basic science that we that we follow?

Joe Friel  07:12

There’s a certain relationship the coach has with the expert, that is based on things that are fairly at the root of what we’re talking about, as far as nutrition, for example. Or how you do a bike fit on an athlete, or all these other topics are all going to have little things that pop up from time to time, their new ways of thinking. But, to me, it seems to come down to having conversations, as you mentioned, between the expert and the head coach, to make sure we’re still seeing things the same way, because we don’t want to wind up contradicting each other. That would be a real dilemma to deal with for contradicting one another.

Ryan Kohler  07:51

Right, and if we look at bike fit, and all the data that’s available now. If I send an athlete to a bike fitter, they may have a very unique way of looking at the data that I’m not familiar with. But like you said, if we talk about it, and I get a better understanding of it, now it’s a learning opportunity for me, and vice versa. Then ultimately, we keep hopefully moving that athlete forward down that path, even with differences in opinion. I think the athletes appreciate that too.

Communication between the coach and outside expert

Joe Friel  08:17

Good point. One of the things that happens here is there’s going to be a relationship between the athlete and the expert on the team. Should the coach be informed of what the expert is telling the athlete? This is what I think the athletes should do. Or how do you how do you bring in the coach in this two way relationship that has been established.

Ryan Kohler  08:38

My main goal is to keep openness at the forefront.  As a coach, if I send an athlete to someone, then I’d like to just establish that initially, and maybe that’s talking with the athlete or talking with the coach to say, “Here’s what I would love to see in terms of communication, does that work for you?” Whereas on the other hand, as the expert, I tend to, if anything over communicate with the athlete and the coach. So, when I talk with the athlete, I may send an email or do a quick phone call with the coach and say, “Hey, here’s what we’re chatting about. Here’s the latest and greatest with the athlete, just to keep you informed.”

Joe Friel  09:13

Yeah, because I recall when I was dealing with the same sort of situations several years ago, that I basically was the person who had to make sure that things were done in the way that the expert is suggested that they be done. For example, nutrition, or it could be exercise therapist, that’s provided outline of exercises that need to be done. I’m the guy who makes sure it gets done. There needs to be a three way discussion going on here all the time, so that I’m aware as the coach, I’m aware of what the nutritionist, the team member, the expert is talking with a client about so I can make sure that it gets done. That’s the bottom line.

What I always found was that when I had an expert working with an athlete like that, there was a much stronger feeling on the part of the athlete that we needed to make sure we got it done in a particular way, because now there was two people who were had suggested this to the client. This expert has suggested, this is the way you do it. I’m following up saying, Yeah, this is what we’re going to do. It’s kind of like we’ve really got this thing rolling all together, we’ve got a team approach being carried out to the nth degree.

So Ryan, we’ve been talking here for some time now about how to provide more services to your clients. This is something even a small company could do, I could be a two or three person coaching company. I can provide a lot of services that maybe only bigger companies are providing right now in the area. How do I go about using this in the market in my company to get the word out that there are ways that athletes can improve by coming to my company, as opposed to going to a different company?

Value of adding athlete services

Ryan Kohler  11:02

Yeah, I think anything we can do to bring on those additional team members, and if we use a larger organization, as an example, we see more of these Sports Medicine and Performance Centers coming up. They all seem to be sort of modeled after the same thing, which is have a big integrated team where an athlete or anyone can come in off the street and say, “I need this, this and this,” and they can get it in one place.

I think even as small coaching businesses, if you’re just a single coach, adding even one person now increases that value, and it could even be more convenient, in some cases, for an athlete to come to you and see, “Oh, you have a nutritionist,” or “Oh, I can get coaching and bike fit.” That’s how I would start essentially, and I think that’s an easy way to go because you can then just build it gradually. As those athletes see the value in it, they’re going to talk and I think that’s going to help 1) keep them on board and keep your attention high, and 2) when they go ride with their group or their teams or whoever else, then more likely that they’ll mention that. I think through that word of mouth, then that’ll help your business grow.

Joe Friel  12:07

Ryan, so thank you for your input on this. It’s nice to have somebody who’s been on both sides of this, has been a team members, an expert ,and also as a coach. You understand where we’re coming from in the coaching business, and also how to provide a service. This is something I’d have you consider as  a coaching company yourself, is how do I go about providing more services to my clients in ways that are beneficial to my clients, and also are beneficial to my company?

It gives you a lot of edge up on people that may have a bigger company than you have a bigger coaching company. But it’s a way that you can provide services that are way outside of what you’ve been providing recently. So give it some thought, it may not be something you can do right away, but maybe something you want to consider down the road. Maybe you start off by just bringing in one person as an expert on your team. Somebody who fills a gap that’s quite noticeable right now. But down the road what you’re going to be able to do is say with once you figured out how that works for your team, is to bring on another person for them to provide another area of expertise. Give it some thought hopefully works out for you. All the best!