One of the most fulfilling moments for me as a coach, is when I receive an email from a college athlete saying something along the lines of, "Hey Steve, today my friend asked me to write her/him a program to help them [insert goal here]. Here is a draft of the program I wrote - would you mind taking a look and letting me know your thoughts?"
This isn't limited to young folks and athletes, either. It's equally thrilling when one of my adult clients takes a vacation, only to return and tell me about the strength training plan they designed and executed while on the cruise ship. (not to mention, they had some severe equipment limitations to work around.)
The reason the above exchanges make me excited is simple: it means I've succeeded in giving my clients ownership of the training process.
They've learned how to write sensible, intelligent programs. They've learned how to adapt a plan to meet equipment, space, or injury limitations. They feel comfortable enough, when the time calls for it, to train on their own. They're confident that their form is correct because of the many iterations they've performed during our time together, the hours spent refining technique of the major movement patterns.
I'm often surprised to hear that not all trainers take this approach with their clients. Rather than freely educate them and provide them with some autonomy, they hold their methods close to their chest, as if they're playing a game of cards.
Maybe it's because they don't want their clients to feel like they don't need their coach any more. Or perhaps they actually don't trust their clients to do things on their own.
Educate your clients! Give them ownership!
Send them articles on training or nutrition. Challenge them to write their next vacation workout plan - you can always help them edit it. Brainstorm ideas together with them. Invite them in to your head.
During training sessions, get them in the habit of grabbing the weights they need for each exercise. Of setting up their own equipment. Give them the copy of their training plan so they can record their data themselves.
When they ask you how much weight to use for the next set, ask them, "How much weight do you think you should use?" Make a discussion out of it. Push them to think critically.
Or after they finish a set of squats, deadlifts, or pushups, have them try to figure out what went right or wrong.
Of course, this all depends on how long they've been training with you. What I am *not* saying is to be lazy or cold-hearted. Just like in any discipline, the more novice someone is, the more external feedback and direction they will need.
The point is to help them not only from the position of a trainer, but that of a teacher, as well.
Help them see that they have a lot of power and say in the process - you are simply the beacon guiding them along the way.
If you avoid giving clients ownership in the process because you fear they may eventually become self-sufficient and leave you, then, quite frankly, what that says to me is that you're ultimately more concerned about yourself than you are about your clients' long-term success. And that's another problem entirely.
Besides, if you openly share with them, and continually challenge them to get better, they'll only respect you all the more for it, and may even stay with you longer than if you tried to keep them 100% reliant on you.
If you really want to help your athletes and clients succeed, if you really have their best interests in mind, then the relationship should always be collaborative in nature. That's on you, not them, to make happen.