The Vocational Path: Do You Need A Bachelor’s Degree?

I graduated college in 1998. I earned my CSCS credential a month later. I was proud.

It took me over a year to get my first client–a soccer player named Nic.

On the morning of my first appointment with Nic, I found myself asking “What do I actually DO with this client?”

That’s when my education began.

Only old-timers like me will remember the early days of fitness certifications and diplomas. Colleges weren’t sure what to include in the curriculum, and most certifications were taught by people who were great athletes but hadn’t coached a client to lose weight. Weekend seminars focused on the method–like how to teach yoga poses, or how to teach weightlifting–but none really addressed the biggest problems faced by trainers. No one told me how to get a client. No one told me how to keep a client. No one told me how to get a client to stick with their program, or how to charge them, or what to do when they didn’t show up.

Unfortunately, not much has changed. While CrossFit’s Level 1 Seminar is an exceptional improvement in the world of coaching coaches, it’s still focused on the methodology of CrossFit. And while most Universities now have a Kinesiology, Fitness or Exercise Science program, I’ve never found one that could help me make a career.

Now, I’m biased: I think many kids should skip college and start a business (I wrote about it on I think that most of the kids in high school today will need entrepreneurial skills to succeed in the post-industrial economy.

When my own teenager asked “what should I take in college to get a job as a fitness coach?” I started thinking about the problem more seriously. Here’s what I’d do in her shoes today:

1 – learn enough to train a client 1:1. Don’t waste a full semester on anatomy or physiology yet. Learn the basics of movement; the value of intensity; and the fundamentals of nutrition habits.
In short, the Two-Brain Coaching First Degree and Nutrition Coaching Courses.
Again, I’m biased: we built those courses with this precise goal in mind, so of course they’re my top recommendation.

2 – get 5 clients and make a bit of money.
I’d probably put her through the PTDC course so she can learn to sell her service well.

3 – decide how to scale up into a business. She has three options: to get a job working for someone; to coach groups (in person or online); or to open a gym.
Depending on her choice, I’d send her to the Two-Brain Coaching Second Degree Program; the CrossFit L1 (because that’s the method she loves most); and maybe the Two-Brain Business Startup Program.

4. The crazy part: all of these courses, put together, cost less than ONE semester’s tuition at college–even if she lived at home.
She’d be knowledgeable and insurable. THEN I’d recommend that she deepen her education by studying theory.
Lon Kilgore’s Anatomy and Physiology Courses
A Yoga Certification
A business mentor
…these things still cost less than a year at school.

She’d emerge with a job (at minimum) and a plan. Not a degree, no; but after a decade of asking myself “What is school for?” and reading stuff like Seth Godin’s “Stop Stealing Dreams“, I’m not really concerned with degrees anyway.

What do I remember most about my college nutrition course? The smell of french fries. My nutrition teacher would typically hit the Drive-Thru on the way to class; tuck her McNuggets and fries behind the podium, and then lecture us on the Food Pyramid for an hour. You know the result: the teacher’s influence overshadowed the value of her lesson, and my education went backward. Mentors are more important than curriculum.

The most successful trainers in history don’t have University degrees. Instead, they know how to build an audience, and guide that audience to health.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about the value of a Master’s Degree.

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