Steve Breitenstein has been coaching in a variety of settings for 20 years, spending the last 12 years in the private sector. He currently serves as the Director of Coaching at TCBOOST Sports Performance, while also coaching leadership development with Jeremy Boone and co-hosting “The Business of Speed” podcast.
Beyond coaching speed development at a high level, these roles require leading and developing a staff and interns, small business development—including marketing and sales—and personal brand creation.
Steve holds positions on the Illinois State Board of the National High School Strength Coaches Association (NHSSCA) and the College of Lake County and McHenry County College Boards of Health and Wellness Advisory.
Freelap USA: What’s it like to navigate the calendar year with a busy season, a slow season, the school year starting, winter break, and a preseason/off-season for all these different sports, all while trying to keep the facility full 52 weeks a year?
Steve Breitenstein: In the private space, you have a certain ebb and flow to what training is going to be. Regardless of how great you are at filling your facility, there are times in the year when you’re just going to be fuller. Obviously, the summer is when you feast because you have so many more hours in the day—no one’s going to school, and you can have people in almost all day long.
In the fall, there’s often a downside because you’re not anticipating that the fall will be slower. Now, we can utilize the fall and say, “You know what, this is going be great that it’s slower because we’re going able to double-down on all these things that we were trying to get ahead of.” Maybe it’s continuing education, coaches’ development, facility upkeep, networking, or even hosting a clinic that fits in well during that downtime window versus when you’re trying to juggle everything in that summer feasting time.
But in the past, sometimes we didn’t think about how this (summer) was going to end soon. You start thinking, “It’s just going to keep being this busy,” and don’t adjust your planning. Now, all of a sudden, you have all this downtime, revenues are down, and maybe you were kind of stretching yourself too thin with making purchases during that feasting time. You have to be more ahead of that. Now, that being said, you don’t just allow the facility to die during that down period. You have to keep people coming in. Another mistake we’ve made in the past is waiting until the summer is over to start trying to get the fall going.
I encourage every business on the private side to reflect like this—if you run a report today on how the business is doing, it is not indicative of what you did the past week; it’s more an indication of what you were doing 90 days before that point. And that’s why the report says what it says. There’s a 90-day lag, meaning when you start sending emails out, when you start sending out specific content, when you start tagging athletes in posts, when you do off-site demos, when you do workouts in the facility for teams, the results from all of those things you’re doing typically come 90 days out from when you hope there’s a payoff.The results from all of the things you’re doing to market your business typically come 90 days out from when you hope there’s a payoff; there’s a 90-day lag, says @SteveBstein. Click To Tweet
Every time you shorten the window on that, the more pressure there is for it to happen and the less chance that it falls the way you’re hoping it will. You have to have patience to see the payoff, but day to day, there has to be a lot of urgency behind your actions to ensure the facility will be set up for success. If I know September is going to be slow, and I waited until the end of August to try to get September busy, it’s too late.
In the private space, there’s an ebb and flow to when business is going really, really well or it’s perceived to be slowing down. But that slowdown doesn’t mean the business is dead; it’s an opportunity to work on things you otherwise may not have had time for. And anytime you feel like you’re in that low spot, and you’re running reports saying that business is in a low spot, don’t panic and look at what happened yesterday, the day before, and the day before. Really evaluate 90 days ago: What were we doing to set ourselves up for this point? Time and again, you’re going to find out that that will be a better indicator of what 90 days from now is going to look like.
Freelap USA: As the Director of Coaching in a high turnover field, what’s the key to keeping both yourself and the staff engaged within the private side with its unique challenges?
Steve Breitenstein: Coaching, in general, is one of the highest turnover professions on the face of the earth. You have to go in as a director, owner, or anyone in charge of staff and say, “We’re going to have turnover, period.” No one has taken a coaching job at 20 and then retired at 55 from the exact same place.
We take that as our initial lens for all the coaches we hire, and the stats now show that most coaches—millennial coaches—will be job-hopping every one to two years. That’s not always an indication that it was a terrible business or a terrible coaching job; it’s just the way that things are going as far as the trends in jobs. It’s tough to say, “I’m just going to stick this out for three to five years and then see what happens.” After a year, opportunities come up, and people take those opportunities.
In the private space, if we have anybody who lasts between two and four years, that was a pretty good amount of time that they were coaching with us. But that’s not what I go into it believing they’re going to do, and that’s what changes the environment. I want to understand and challenge anybody I hire on my staff: What are you really trying to do impact-wise in this field? Really? And how big can we talk about you going? Because when we understand how big of a space you’re trying to play in, we can better talk about the steps to help you get there.
Knowing this, when it’s time for you to leave for the right opportunity, we could have had you do so many things here along the way to help our facility because of your passion for what you’re trying to do next. Things like coaching at a high level, maybe engaging through social media, following up with clients, having referrals come because of the great coaching you’re giving your athletes and the experience you’re creating every single day.
Those things I just named don’t necessarily have anything to do with the facility you currently work at. They have to do with you developing yourself as a professional. But that’s what it will take for you to level up and play on a bigger stage, wherever you want to go.
Say you’re going from private to owning your own space, to maybe going into the college space, to intern in a professional setting, or to being an entity not having your own space but just coaching out of everywhere, traveling around coaching people. You will need to check a lot of boxes regardless of where you’re going next. We have to make sure that we understand where you’re going next for some of the specific things, even though there are so many common things that will also help the facility. But I never want to harp on those things. I want to make this as much about you and challenge you to where you want to get to next.I’m never upset when people leave. I want to see you succeed, whether it’s in our facility or not, and that’s where I’ve shifted the way that I try to lead, says @SteveBstein. Click To Tweet
That’s the leadership model I’ve taken. I’m never upset when people leave. Usually, I’ve thought they should have left before they left because I could tell they either were ready to take on a new challenge or weren’t a great fit in the private space. I try to have conversations early about that as well because the last thing that we ever want to do is just fire somebody and say, “Not a good fit.” I want to understand: Where do you really need to be fitted? Where do you want to be making an impact? Where’s the right spot for you to thrive? Let’s move you toward that. I want to see you succeed, whether it’s in our facility or not, and that’s where I’ve shifted the way I try to lead.
Freelap USA: We all have to sell the value we provide, whether it’s to athletes or parents or head coaches. What would you say to those who insist “I don’t want to sell” as an argument for not wanting to be on the private side? Correspondingly, what’s your view of social media in the coaching field and the value it can bring to coaches who utilize it?
Steve Breitenstein: If someone is opposed to selling, I would say that they’re not a particularly great coach. Because, as a coach, you are always selling the experience you’re creating for people. There are some coaches in settings where athletes have to come back, no matter what. Let’s say you train on Monday; you had to dog them out; you conditioned them. It doesn’t matter because they just have to show up on Wednesday to train again if they want to play. In the private sector, you can’t have that kind of experience because someone might choose never to train with you ever again. They’ll pay someone else to do it.
I’d flip that and say if you approached your team the same way I approach an individual client who pays me, how amazing would that experience be for the team? If I took every session in which I interacted with that team and thought, “If this doesn’t go great today, and I’m not able to make the kind of impact I know I can and should, they’re never going to train with me again,” I think that would change a bit of the lens of where I spend more of my time as a coach.
Maybe the X’s and O’s are not the ultimate thing I’m pursuing then; I need to understand a little better how to connect with people; I need to understand relationship-building even more; I need to understand experiences and how to guide experiences. But that’s always the thing that comes up when people say, “I don’t like to sell.”—Well, that means that you’re not really maximizing what you can do as a coach.
Regarding social media, it’s not an evil thing—it’s just that some coaches have taken advantage of it to promote things that maybe aren’t as valuable as they believe they are, or that we know they are as coaches, because they’ve put a ton of money into that, and they’ve spent a lot of time editing those posts.
For us as coaches, you have to think about the business side of all this constantly —it’s something we shy away from talking about at times, particularly for those of us with that old-school mindset of “Man, he’s got to grind it out and just do what you do where you’re at.” But your ability to generate revenue for yourself by utilizing social media is such an easy, easy opportunity for coaches who maybe are in a place where they love the athletes they work with and the teams they work with, but the school can’t pay them enough. Or in the high school setting, when they can’t physically pay more.
But if you can do a little bit of this on social media, it’s driven in some clientele who now want you to send them programs or want to come in and work with you, which allows a little more control over your future in your career. It doesn’t mean you have to abandon where you’re coaching to go full-time and just make videos all the time. But you’re allowed to have a little bit of control to tell the story that you want and provide the type of lifestyle you’ve always wanted, in a field where sometimes it’s tough to make the type of income that you want to make.There are so many great coaches who I would never have known about if it wasn’t for social media, but I do now because of their willingness to take a risk and just share some of what they’re doing. Click To Tweet
Also, on the other side of it, by posting and engaging with other coaches, your opportunity to learn from other coaches has never been easier. There are so many great coaches out there who I would never have known about if it wasn’t for social media, but I do now because of their willingness to take a risk and just share some of what they’re doing. Sometimes, that inspired me to reach out and have conversations and learn more from them, whereas in the past, it wasn’t always that way.
If you think back to early clinics, the only people who spoke were the ones who were perceived to be the very best in the industry. Maybe that was true; maybe that wasn’t true. Maybe it was just that they happened to be in a really great organization, they had a lot of success, and they were there at the right time. Not to take anything away from the people who spoke at those events, but there are some phenomenal coaches all over the country and all over the world who, thanks to social media, are getting to be known. And the value in the creative thought processes they share pushes the industry forward and challenges people to become better as coaches.
Freelap USA: In terms of marketing, what are some things you thought would work that didn’t pan out and some simple but effective things that you keep coming back to? Additionally, can you speak on the marketing concept of touchpoints and how to accumulate more and more of those touchpoints over time?
Steve Breitenstein: For the private sector, it definitely just keeps evolving with the type of content that people really enjoy. Early in my career, I’d think that if I sent someone a well-worded email, they’d immediately just sign up for whatever I was offering. But no one ever does. And in fact, the longer and more drawn out the email, the less people want to read it and the less they want to respond to it.
For me, it’s flipped to simple messages with the idea of “I’m not trying to have anyone say yes to training with me from this message. All I’m looking for is some sort of response that can start a dialogue.” When I made that shift with why I was sending messages, the responses came way faster and at a far higher percentage. It actually led to opportunities to have conversations about what training could look like. So completely flipping that around, it’s so simple to say, “I just want to start a conversation,” versus “I want to sell you on something.”
The really simple marketing ideas utilize social media as a great way to continue relationships with people. I’ve talked about this with our staff so many times: it can simply be tagging an athlete in a post that might speak to them. Sometimes, they immediately text you and say, “Hey, I saw that you tagged me. I’ve been meaning to come back in and train; I just didn’t even think about it.”The really simple marketing ideas utilize social media as a great way to continue relationships with people. It can simply be tagging an athlete in a post that might speak to them, says @SteveBstein. Click To Tweet
I didn’t have to sell them on anything, reach out to them directly, or send them an email. Legitimately, all I had to do was just tag a specific athlete because of a post that made me think about them. It could’ve been a thought as simple as “We used to do that drill. I’m going to tag them in it and see if they remember.” But now you’ve become front of mind to them, which sometimes is the biggest thing when you’re marketing.
Advertising and marketing advice frequently mentions that it’s never just one moment in time that sells someone on a product or a service when they’re getting exposed to it. And there have been numbers that fluctuate for as long as you can track this about how many marketing exposures (touchpoints) it takes before someone will actually act. Ten years ago or so, we threw around numbers like seven or maybe even nine points of contact before someone really acted on your marketing. This means that perhaps they saw a T-shirt, they saw a handout, they saw a business card, they had a demo, they had a friend who trained there, and/or they came across the website: that would be at 6–7 right there. Now, the next time they see something, they’re like, “You know what; I should train there,” but they can’t really point back to exactly why they started.
With the amount coming through social media feeds, those in the marketing space have been talking more and more about you needing even more points of contact. Nick Brattain and I have discussed this back and forth a lot, and he said it might even be up to 15 points of contact before somebody acts on it.
Social media is where we’re flooded with information and content, which is great, but if you’re in someone’s feed, you fly by, and they can barely even pause to see it. Now, you may have to do two or three posts to equal what one post would have done four or five years ago. The same thing with emails; we all get tons and tons of spam emails that we just delete or unsubscribe from regularly.
So if that’s my one point of contact, seeing that something came from me or my company, and I need to send maybe another thing that would count as two…but I can’t overload their inbox because they’re just going to get rid of me too. It’s being creative with the types of touchpoints and then just being consistent with them.
Freelap USA: In the digital age, having a brand is a big topic. Could you elaborate on describing social media as a “living, breathing resume”?
Steve Breitenstein: It’s really difficult for someone in my position to decipher who is a good coach when I get a stack of resumes. After you’ve seen 50, 60 resumes, they all start to look the same. The names of the schools look different, the names or maybe the types of teams they worked with are a little different, but essentially, it’s the same resume over and over and over. By utilizing social media in a smart way, where you’re actually sharing quality training, some ideas on experiments perhaps, things that you’re curious about, things that you’re learning from people, ways that you’re applying it to different situations, and just sharing some insights, you’re essentially creating a living, breathing resume of who you are as a coach. And you can also show the evolution of who you are as a coach.By utilizing social media in a smart way, sharing quality training, ideas on experiments, etc., you’re essentially creating a living, breathing resume of who you are as a coach, says @SteveBstein. Click To Tweet
Posting regularly shows you’re willing to commit and be consistent with things; you’re willing to go beyond just coaching in the hopes of doing something bigger and making a bigger impact. And when I think of a potential hire I’m looking to make, one of the first things I do is look for their social media. I actually prefer if they include it, so I know where to go to find exactly what I want to find.
There are so many coaches who haven’t put in any sort of work on any sort of platform. I check them all: Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I just want to see what they’ve shared and the type of content it is because that will give me some insights into who they are. But if they haven’t posted at all, and then I talk to them about, “Are you willing to create some content? Are you looking to brand?” And they’re like, “Oh yeah, for sure.” It’s hard to say, “Yeah, I believe you,” when they haven’t done anything up to this point.
When you go into a college setting, many staff value having an Instagram page for their department; a lot of colleges have that. And if you step in and say, “I can run this easily. I’ve run my own for years. I can do this and highlight our athletes and highlight some of the training we’re doing,” it’s another bonus for why you’d be a great fit on staff. And then they flip through your social media and think, “Man, the quality of this is great. It’s simple; nothing is outside of what we would approve here.” That’s such a valuable skill set, and you just bring more to the table.
Just think about where we utilize social media right now. Where do we post content right now? Where could it be five years from now? There are endless possibilities. And on the private side, I’ve seen it go bananas in the last seven years with the introduction of TikTok, the way all the other platforms pivoted to be even more interactive, creating even more of a community.
What a great way to check in with your athletes because they’re already there, and that’s where I can interact with them much easier. I always say that I’ve had several athletes who engage with me faster through social media than if I texted or called them. It’s not this weird entity; it’s just a part of who our younger generation is and what they do. And I don’t want to be too much disconnected from that.
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