An Interview with Travis Motley
“To be honest, what you learn in an internship will be many times more valuable than what you learn out of a textbook. Take your education seriously, but also realize that practical experience in the sport training field is the best kind of preparation for your career.”
Travis Motley is a sports trainer at Impact Strength Performance in Bellevue, Washington. He founded Impact 5 years ago and has been developing his business ever since. Travis earned a Bachelor of Science in Health Science from University of South Dakota in 2007. He is also certified by the National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association and the International Youth Conditioning Association.
Travis decided to become a sports trainer after playing college football. He realized that he wanted to continue to be involved with adults of all ages as they set physical fitness goals. He particularly enjoys working with high school athletes who are training to play college sports.
In your own words, what is a sports trainer?
A sports trainer is a title that can include many positions, including personal trainers and physical fitness trainers. What I do specifically is athletic development, which involves working primarily with athletes and adults who would like to be trained as athletes. I also work with some high school students. I have even gone to high schools and worked with an entire sports team, but usually I work with individuals who come into our facility and are looking to improve their overall fitness level and targeted athletic skills like speed, endurance, strength and power.
If a student said to you, “I am interested in becoming a sports trainer,” what would your response be?
I would tell a student who is interested in becoming a sports trainer that they need to be aware of what their goals are in terms of their career. Sports training is a niche within my field. Many people will say that they are interested in becoming a personal trainer or a fitness coach, but these are such general terms that they may not actually align with the specific jobs that are out there.
While you are in school, I would suggest that you study an area that is related to your career goals. If you are interest in become a life coach, take classes that will prepare you for this. Or if you are interested in weight loss, make sure to tailor your physical education and nutrition classes to this interest, because it will help you to become a weight-watch specialist once you enter the job market.
What level of education is necessary to become a sports trainer?
You don’t need any formal education to become a sports trainer. An interest in and a passion for the job are the most important requirements, along with certification.
Are there any licensing or certification requirements to become a sports trainer?
Yes, there are many certifications that sports trainers should hold. One of the better certifications is through the National Strength and Conditioning Association, which requires 3 to 6 months of study before taking a test. It is no small investment of time, or money. Many of the certifications that you receive in my field can cost $200 to $300 for the materials used while you study, and an additional $800 to $1,500 just to take the exam.
Why did you decide to become a sports trainer?
The main reason that I decided to become a sports trainer was to be able to do what I love. I have always been an athlete. I played college football, and I just never wanted to leave the environment where kids are working hard and bettering themselves. I believe the saying that if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life.
For the longest time, I thought that there was no money in the sports training world, but then I started studying the business side, and I realized that there is a lot of money to be made. So, making money plus doing what I love was a no-brainer.
What were the biggest misconceptions that you had about becoming a sports trainer?
My biggest misconception about sports training and fitness as a field was that there was no money to be made. I thought that no matter what I called myself, whether I was a strength and conditioning coach or a sports trainer, I would always make between $30,000 and $50,000 a year. These are average salaries for a lot of people, but they don’t have to be.
What do you enjoy most and least about being a sports trainer?
One thing that I love about my job is being involved with kids, especially high school kids. Some of the high school athletes I work with have a personal dream to play college sports and they are very motivated people. I love becoming their number 1 fan and forming a relationship with them and their families. From the kids’ perspective, they are constantly surrounded by authorities who are telling them to work harder and that what they are doing isn’t good enough. I feel like they look to me as someone older who doesn’t take that attitude. I am on their side.
In contrast to enjoying the face time with many of my clients, I also have to deal with the money side of my business, which requires me to tell people that they have to pay a certain amount of money to work with me. It is an uncomfortable feeling to tell someone, especially a kid’s parents, that they can’t work with me if they can’t pay my rates. When I first started as a sports trainer, I would tell people that I would work with them because I just wanted to get kids in the door and see what they could do physically. I lost a lot of money that way.
No matter what position you hold in this field, you will always have to deal with the money and marketing side of the business. For me, this is the hardest part, but it is essential to keep yourself afloat and be financially successful.
What is a typical week like for you?
For me, a typical week often involves working with either high school individuals or teams, usually after they get out of school. So, I spend the mornings working on business tasks, usually from home. Around 3:00 p.m. I go to my facility and train clients there. Occasionally I will train clients on-site at their high schools. I generally work with clients from 3:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
However, my schedule is very different from your average trainer. A more typical trainer’s experience would look like this. You graduate from school and get certified as a physical trainer. You go to work for a gym. The first thing they will do is put you on towel duty or something similar, so that you have the chance to get to know people and get a feeling for the gym. After 2 or 3 weeks, they will give you a couple of new sign-ups to train and, slowly but surely, you will gain more clients. In the beginning, you will often spend more than 12 hours at the gym because you will be waiting to pick up brand new clients who walk in. Once you become more established, you will have more control over your schedule.
How do you balance your work and your personal life?
I balance my work and personal life by staying on a schedule. I have a 6-month-old son and I have been married for 4 years. And I am still learning the time-management skills necessary to stay present in all aspects of my life. In my opinion, a trainer’s best friend is a calendar, whether it is online or on your phone or hanging on your wall. I know what I am doing every hour of the day, so that when it is time to turn my phone off at 7 p.m., I will actually be able to if I stay on task.
What personality traits do you think would help someone succeed as a sports trainer and what traits would hinder success?
Overall, I think that there are a variety of personality traits that could help you to succeed, depending on what kind of trainer you want to be and what kind of client you want to work with. If you take the trainers on The Biggest Loser as examples, they have type-A personalities. They are very aggressive, upbeat and have high energy. They are a lot like boot camp instructors. This works for them because the clientele that they work with respond well to that kind of an attitude.
But I am much more laid back, because I work with clientele who need someone who is more supportive in a friendly way, who will crack jokes and make training fun. I think that the best trainer will be someone who can adapt to their clients’ needs.
However, it definitely won’t help you succeed if you are self-centered. Everything I do has to be about my clients. I very rarely talk about myself with my clients, unless of course they ask and then it is fine to share part of my personal life. But they are paying for a service from me, and a large part of that service is paying close attention to them and their growth, the challenges and successes in their lives.
Looking back at your formal education, is there anything you would have done differently?
If I could go back to college, I think that I would take more science classes. I would also figure out what niche within the physical fitness industry I wanted to pursue and then take classes that are geared toward that.
Are there any extra-curricular experiences that you think a student interested in becoming a sports trainer should pursue?
Students who are interested in becoming trainers should pursue internships, and there are quite a few of them out there. I recommend that students check out strengthcoach.com, which is geared a bit toward sports trainers. On the website you can find leadership programs that will allow you to travel to some of the top training facilities in the world in places like Phoenix, Orlando, Boston and Orange County. You will spend 2 to 3 months with the training staff, learning how they write their programs, how they monitor their clients’ progress and every other part of their process.
To be honest, what you learn in an internship will be many times more valuable than what you learn out of a textbook. Take your education seriously, but also realize that practical experience in the sports training field is the best kind of preparation for your career.
What classes did you take during your schooling that you have found to be the most and least valuable for the work you do today?
All of my physical education classes were valuable to what I do today, but I also took an approach to my college classes that I wouldn’t necessarily recommend to other students. If you can, you should really try to take classes in specific areas of interest. I didn’t do this, so most of my classes were general knowledge. Though these are helpful, they didn’t really prepare me for the on-the-job experience. And, of course, the best way to get this kind of experience is to get out of class and get into the field.
What words of advice or caution would you share with a student who is interested in becoming a sports trainer?
One piece of advice I have for students is to avoid following fads in the physical fitness industry. Don’t fall in love with random exercise techniques and the latest YouTube videos. There is a lot of bad information on the Internet about exercises and physiology, and I would just generally steer clear. Your clients won’t show long-term results if you are constantly changing your approach, and you won’t develop as a trainer unless you develop long-term skills that are tried and tested over time.
I would also recommend that students read Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by Tony Hsieh and The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss. These are life-enhancement books that have helped me to think about how I want to shape my career.