Coaches are often so focused on the training side of their businesses that they negate a very important part – the legal side. While I am not an attorney, as someone with over 20 years experience in the fitness and coaching business, I’ve come to learn the importance of the following ten areas:
A liability waiver that all clients must sign prior to working with you is a must! While general waivers are available online and can to be customized to your practice, it is strongly advised to have an attorney create one for you. The waiver must cover you, your business and any and all associates/partners from all liability – including death.
Professional liability insurance is another must have. While there are several insurance companies that allow you to register for insurance online, it is advised to contact them directly to ensure that the policy covers exactly the activity/sport that you will be coaching. For example, a policy might cover running and cycling but not swimming. If you are a triathlon coach, this is an issue. Another potential issue is that a policy might cover indoor cycling but not outdoor cycling.
It is also advised to get a minimum of a 1 million (1M) USD per occurrence policy. If you coach at a facility that requires insurance, they will often require a 1M minimum policy.
Many facilities not only require you to hold a 1M per occurrence policy but also to put them (the facility) on your policy as ‘additional insured.’ This is typically a service that does not cost additional money and often can be done yourself online.
STAY IN YOUR LANE
It is critical to understand your scope of practice and knowledge and most importantly, to practice within this scope. As a professional coach, you are not a registered dietician, physical therapist, doctor or licensed massage therapist.
As such, areas to stay away from are advising and prescribing sports supplements and to some extent, eating plans. Additionally, you cannot diagnose or ‘treat’ an illness or injury. Nor can you practice any sort of manual bodywork, other than stretching. You can take a deeper dive into ‘staying in your lane’ HERE.
ASK FOR PERMISSION
If you are working one-on-one with clients, more than likely you will need to physically cue them at some point or another. Regardless of how benign you think a physical cue might be, you must inform the client as to why you would like to physically cue them and then ask for their permission. If they say ‘no,’ you cannot make physical contact with them… period.
DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT, AND DOCUMENT SOME MORE!
Documenting with as much detail as possible what occurs in your sessions with clients is important for two main reasons. First, this documentation serves as a way to track your client’s progress or lack thereof. Secondly, it serves as a record of exactly what you told them to do during their workouts or if working with them in-person, it describes exactly what you did with them. So why is this important?
Here’s a scenario:
A client threatens to sue you because they claim that you injured their left shoulder during the last session. However, based on your records, you didn’t do any shoulder exercise or any upper body exercise at all. In this case, your records show that your client’s claim is not possible.
As I noted previously, I’m not an attorney, let alone one that specializes in business formation. So, I’m going to keep this short and sweet. Formation of a corporation (C or S Corporation or Limited Liability Company-LLC) is typically advised over that of a sole proprietorship, primarily due to the fact that it creates the business as a separate legal entity from you. This means that assuming that you operate your coaching business through your corporation, you are not personally liable for court judgments against your company.
ALWAYS ACT PROFESSIONALLY
In many ways, this is the most important. You must act ‘professionally’ at all times. Now, I understand that ‘professional behavior’ is a bit subjective so I’ll mention a few of the bigger ticket items:
- Start/end sessions on time
- Reply in a timely manner to emails, texts, phone calls
- No inappropriate touching (see ‘Ask For Permission’ above)
- Don’t overstep your boundaries (see ‘Stay in your Lane’ above)
- Stay away from conversations about religion, sexuality, race, politics, etc…
It is not possible to know if a client will attain the result they are looking for. While there are many reasons for this, they are not important given the context of what we’re discussing. The only thing that you need to know is that because you cannot 100% guarantee that a client will succeed in achieving their predetermined goal, you cannot promise that they will. Doing so and having a client not reach their goal is a recipe for disaster. If a client asks you if you can guarantee success, the correct response should be something like, “While I cannot guarantee success on race day, so long as you adhere to the training program, I believe that you will be in a very good place to meet your goal.”
As noted above under the heading ‘Stay in your Lane,’ you are stepping out of bounds by acting in ways that are outside of your scope of practice. Therefore, it is advised to have a network of specialists that you can refer clients to such as dieticians, physicians, physical therapists, massage therapists, etc…
In addition to referring clients to specialists to ensure that they get the best care, having a team of specialists also reduces your liability exposure.
KEEP ACCURATE FINANCIAL RECORDS
You believe that your client has completed all of their 20 sessions however, they think that they have two sessions remaining (they canceled twice outside the agreed upon cancellation window of 12 hrs). Making sure that you have accurate bookkeeping and notes in regard to payment dates/amounts, session dates and sessions that were late canceled is critical to running a coaching business.
If you have a cancellation policy, it must be understood and ideally typed out and signed by the client so that they understand that they will be charged if they cancel a set number of hours prior to an appointment. This way, a client will not believe that they have two sessions remaining even though they are out of sessions (as noted above).
While not an exhaustive list, there are many considerations when running a coaching business to ensure you don’t set yourself up for legal issues. Be sure to run your business professionally, and treat it like any other type of business by protecting yourself with waivers, insurance, clear communication, and proper expectations.