Daniel  J. Green by Daniel J. Green

Motivating clients during virtual coaching sessions is not all that different from motivating them when working face-to-face. Clients like to feel as though they are making progress toward their goals and receiving positive feedback along the way. You already know your clients, so think about what has worked during past in-person sessions and apply those techniques to your virtual sessions.  

In a recent ACE live panel seminar entitled “Take Your Coaching & Training Business Online,” three virtual coaching/training experts offered tips and techniques to help you motivate your clients when working in a setting and with a process with which they may be largely unfamiliar. The key, the experts said, is to be truly engaged, even more so than you might be in person. It can be tough to give clients your undivided attention, so be sure to limit distractions and focus on the session, whether you are discussing the client’s goals and desires or monitoring his or her movement for proper form.  

Of course, it can be just as difficult for clients to focus on your voice and image on a tiny phone screen when distractions abound at home. Therefore, you may have to work a bit harder to hold the client’s attention and keep him or her motivated throughout the session. 

Creating a Motivational Climate 

A “task-involving” climate promotes a focus on individual effort and improvement and makes sure everyone is made to feel valued and welcomed. Also, cooperation is fostered among everyone involved in this type of atmosphere. This is in contrast to “ego-involving” climates, which highlight the most skilled or fit participants among a group and rivalry is encouraged to the point where some people may feel embarrassed if they do not know how to use a piece of equipment or perform an exercise correctly. 

This concept applies to both one-on-one virtual coaching and small-group training, whether you’re working with a group who are all in the same home or have people from multiple locations participating in a single session.  

Perhaps not surprisingly, people who exercise in task-involving climates report having higher self-esteem, feeling a greater sense of relatedness to others and experiencing more enjoyment during exercise, versus ego-involving climates where they report greater physical exhaustion and higher anxiety (Reinboth & Duda, 2006; Vazou, Ntoumanis, & Duda, 2006; Reinboth & Duda, 2004). 

Your goals when working with clients during this COVID-19 pandemic should align with the outcomes of working in a task-involving climate—increased self-esteem, connectedness and joy. The last thing you want to do is exhaust your clients and leave them feeling anxious. 

In addition, you should work to create a caring climate wherein clients feel supported and a sense of belonging, as this has been shown to have psychological benefits. Be sure your clients know you have a genuine concern for their well-being, as this is associated with higher levels of enjoyment, greater commitment to the activity and higher empathic concerns for others (Brown, Fry & Moore, 2017; Brown & Fry, 2014; Brown & Fry, 2013; Brown & Fry, 2011). 

Here are four strategies you can use to develop a task-involving and caring environment during a virtual coaching session, whether it’s one-on-one or a small group: 

  • Emphasize process goals (e.g., completing two virtual sessions each week) rather than outcome goals (e.g., losing 10 pounds). 
  • Avoid comparing clients to other clients or to norms for their age, as simply getting them moving is a tremendous success right now. 
  • Celebrate the accomplishments of each client each time you meet. 
  • Encourage clients to share physical activity and movement with their family members. 


The Importance of Personalized Programming 

Personalized programming, which is the centerpiece of the ACE Integrated Fitness Training® Model and each of ACE’s textbooks, is especially important when working with clients during these trying times. Be sure that clients know you are entirely focused on them and their needs. Each session should be built upon the successes and struggles of the previous session and progress should be monitored and discussed along the way. 

As you transition to virtual coaching, it might be easy to stray from the techniques and strategies that made you a great health coach or personal trainer when working with clients face to face. You’re only human, and we all have unique and constantly evolving stressors right now. No one could blame you for losing focus on occasion. But do your best to be mindful during virtual training sessions and use a client-centered approach to motivate your clients and let them know that you are continuing to personalize their programs. 



Brown, T.C. & Fry, M.D. (2014). Motivational climate, staff members’ behaviors, and members’ psychological well-being at a national fitness franchise. Research Quarterly for Exercise & Sport, 85, 208–217. 

Brown, T.C. & Fry, M.D. (2013). Association between females’ perceptions of college aerobics class motivational climates and their responses. Women & Health, 53, 843–857. 

Brown, T.C. & Fry, M.D. (2011). Helping members commit to exercise: Specific strategies to impact the climate at fitness centers. Journal of Sport Psychology in Action, 2, 70–80. 

Brown, T.C., Fry, M.D., & Moore, W.G. (2017). A motivational climate intervention and exercise-related outcomes: A longitudinal perspective. Motivation Science, 3, 4, 337–353.  

Reinboth, M. & Duda, J.L. (2006). Perceived motivational climate, need satisfaction, and indices of well-being in team sports: A longitudinal perspective. Psychology of Sport & Exercise, 7, 269–286. 

Reinboth, M. & D

uda, J.L. (2004). The motivational climate: Perceived ability and athletes’ psychological and physical wellbeing. The Sport Psychologist, 18, 237–251.  

Vazou, S., Ntoumanis, N., & Duda, J.L. (2006). Predicting young athletes’ motivational indices as a function of their perceptions of the coach- and peer-created climate. Psychology of Sport & Exercise, 7, 3, 215–233.  


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