ATC and success

I had a young man message me about becoming an ATC and some snipets that may have defined my success in coming up. I believe he is a young personal trainer in a big box gym.
This was my response to him if I understood his questions of me correctly.   Either way, some brief snipets and a psuedo-comedic finale typical of me.

An athletic training degree is very specialized, and it does not give you a lot of leverage to work outside of that field. It is a legitimate health care professional, but 1) particularly in NJ, you are not allowed to use any of those skills outside of an “athletic” setting, which would be a school, organized event, college, or professional team, and 2) it holds no credibility by the public (should you be trying to create that for personal training endeavors).
If you are keen on becoming an athletic trainer and following a career there, then by all means, but I don’t think it is a premiere choice to augment any personal training goals.
If your goals are to get into professional sports and climb the ladder at the minor league level, then the ATC will be extremely valuable.

I was an ATC first and then went right to PT school with the idea of being a PT would make me a better ATC. The way my career in professional basketball became funneled into strength & conditioning, everything all fit together in terms of certifications and formal and continuing education.

As far as what has made me successful, if that is even true I’m not sure, it is a combination of like what everyone else says: who you know, being in the right place at the right time, kissing the right people’s asses, checking your ego at the door when necessary, and hitting line drives whenever you get a chance to pinch hit.
If there is one thing that I am not humble about, what I am probably better at that others is simply wanting to be better than everyone else. That is a hard thing for some people to grasp. Many people say they want to be good at what they do or help people or this and that. The better folks will say they always want to be the best they can be. Very few people look at their lives and walk out the front door every day and say to themselves I want to be the best at what I do that has ever walked the Earth. That will never happen of course, but when you have that intensity and live your life towards that end, you will by default be the best you can be and serve those that have come before you and those regularly around you.
I think this is what has made me “successful,” and again success is decided by others, not me. I actually don’t think I am all that good at what I do. I think everybody else just sucks.

  • April 25, 2010

Leave a Reply 8 comments

Perry Nickelston Reply

Ok that last line is a classic! So gonna use that one. It is true that there are a lot of people out there who are terrible at what they do. So much misinformation, one can have a hard time determining what is BS unless you take the time to make yourself better…so you can spot the BS a mile away. Nice post.

Charlie Reply

Perry, I am not so sure people can pick off the BS. Look at the prominent names out there that are just average or downright atrocious. Look at the throngs of people waiting in waiting rooms for stim and heat and knee extensions. Look at the hundreds of thousands of dollars paid for Mentorships for information that almost a decade old now.
Look at any big box gym @ 445pm on a Monday or the personal trainer coming home with triple digits for hurting people or the PT owner tricking people with buying some Official PT Provide of the Minor League Team closest to you.

People can’t see the BS. They can’t even find the toilet.

Robert Van Evera Reply

“I actually don’t think I am all that good at what I do. I think everybody else just sucks.”
I understand that and believe it could be called applied humility. Humility coupled with excellence is truly the formula for success.

Curtis Lofton Reply


While I kind of “feel” into the personal training realm when a friend of mine in the athletic department offered me a job at his gym several years back, I definitely realized very quickly that always striving to be better and expand your toolbox (along with the ability to determine which tools fit best in which contexts).

Now having said that, I’ve also started to realize that as much as I’ve always loved my own training, I am starting to think that I don’t have the necessary fire to do what it takes to at least attempt to be the best. For example, I always strive to learn new things and to separate the wheat from the chaff, but this often leaves me feeling even more clueless, because the more I learn, the more I begin to realize that if I know even 0.00001 percent of what there is to know, than it would seem like an overestimate. And then when I see a small group of truly excellent professionals like you, with a multi-faceted background and a seamless blend of theory and practical application, it almost makes me feel like a chump for getting to work with folks in any capacity. I’ve also noticed a tendency to get stressed about the many things I realize that I don’t know, instead of being thrilled each and every time I pick up even one small new wrinkle or skill to add to my arsenal.

It seems like the truly great ones in any area embrace the learning process and focus on what they do pick up, and not on what they haven’t r won’t be picking up, as opposed to feeling stressed about it like I do. This makes me question if I truly belong in this area or if I’d be better served moving on and sparing myself this unintended stress. But then I see people with no drive to learn anything new, sometimes raking in great money for hosing people. And that just gets me frustrated for feeling stresse out about all that I don’t currently know, because I know that just by caring about the folks I work with and at least trying to learn at every opportunity, I’d be more of a benefit to folks out there (at least comparatively speaking than many of the clowns taking them to the cleaners. But then again, I also feel they’d be better served seeking out someone like you or even finding a solid physical therapist and then coupling that with online consulting with someone like an Eric Cressey than working with me.

There’s this constant battle going on between just wanting to kick things into maintenance mode or continue on trying to develop in this area. The fact that it is starting to feel more like a chore than a joy is my first clue, and yet part of me wants to hang on. It puts me in a difficult spot, because while staying on top of things often seems like a chore, I recognize that once you let that go, you don’t deserve to be working with people………………which leads us right back to those out there who knowingly peddle BS that hasn’t been original in a decade plus or has been totally useless all along.

Jim Laskowski Reply

Hi, Charlie.

As far as strength coaches and personal trainers are concerned, it seems like you have a continuum ranging from all business and little to no training knowledge on one end (often seen with the growing bootcamp trend) to all training and little to no business knowledge on the other end, with some blend of the two appearing in the middle ground.

I find that my hunger for knowledge of the many areas that go into the training side of things leaves me lacking on the business side, which is rough, because it doesn’t matter how much I know if I can barely rub 2 sticks together financially. (striving to be great at what you do should increase the odds of doing well, financially, but this isn’t always the case) But I would certainly feel guilty being one of those guys who fleeces clients by displaying business acumen (some might say guile) that far outpaces his training knowledge. In an ideal world, I’d have someone else to manage the business end of things or slide into the role of manager and let others handle things like manual therapy, training, and what have you. But right now, it’s just me trying to build up to the point where I can bring in others with skills in these other areas, so that I can devote a laserlike focus to on area while actually making some decent money instead of filling my cranium with a lot of knowledge that can be applied to many areas, except ones that will help me improve my business.

A common theme these days is the guy who essentially pretends that his hobby is a career or the guy who knows far more than many out there making money but doesn’t even do remotely close to as well as they do. It’s merely a hop, skip, and a jump from burnout if you can’t find a way to become fairly profitable. Continuing education from quality sources is critical, but the childlike excitement and wonder in the process can get sapped if you’re just scraping by financially.

Charlie Reply

Jim – I would be remiss to deny that I have been blessed at points in my life to be able to trudge through bouts of less than elite finances. This has been no more than luck and circumstance.
But as I have said many times, if I didn’t take the $22k job to a minor league basketball ATC, someone else would have and gotten the glory.

Jeff Huston Reply


That last line of yours was both comical and revealing. The quality out there may definitely be weak, as a generalization, but the fact that someone like you has the type of humility that keeps the fire burning inside is proof why so many of us regard you as one of the absolute best there is at what you do.

A friend of mine who peruses fitness business blogs recently shared with me a post from one of the supposedly more reputable ones, and it left me with very mixed feelings. On the one hand, the woman was apparently doing very well drawing in clients (so I commend her for that effort), but then I read the following line, and it made me cringe

“So when your boot camper limps into the office after her first day of boot camp because her legs are sore from the 150 squats you made her do, she’s going to say out loud “I love Lindsay’s boot camp.””

I’d like to think that a thorough pre-assessment was performed and that this person had the movement quality and work capacity to sufficiently perform those squats sans negative repercussions, but I suspect that the “throw something at the wall and hope it sticks” approach may have been in effect. And if I were a betting man, I’d wager my house against this being appropriate for a large chunk of the folks in attendance.

The troubling part is that many times the general public thinks that being physically beaten down is the hallmark of quality, so instead of these types of things running their course when people get wise to what is going on, they tend to hang on for far longer than you might suspect. So better marketing without much back-up doesn’t merely result in putting yourself out of business faster.

I freely admit that this owner highlighted may have a thorough screening process, but that would make her an exception, and the “bootcamp” model doesn’t offer nearly enough customization to be appropriate (in my opinion) for many folks. There may be the occasional exception, but it has always struck me as far too general to be of much long-term value.

Charlie Reply

Bootcamps are tough to fit into the thought process I have. It is not my expertise.
The rationale that sticks for me is that if it is cost effective for the client, I guess they get what they pay for.

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