Getting personal with the legend James FitzGerald about Optimum Performance Training and CCP!

by Sean Greeley Categories: Fitness Marketing, Fun Stuff
James Workout 1
James FitzGerald executing proper deadlift form

Sean: This is Sean Greeley and I’m here with my good friend James FitzGerald from Optimum Performance Training. James and I have been friends for many years and it’s great to introduce him to the NPE community and the folks who haven’t had a chance to learn about him yet. James, great to talk to you today.

James:  Yes, you too. It’s great to be here.

Sean: For those who don’t know you yet, can you share a little bit about your background as an athlete, a coach, a facility owner and an educator? You’ve done a lot of things but I love to have people start with the history of where you’ve come from. Take us from the beginning.

James: I’m a Canadian boy and growing up I had a lot of opportunity to participate in a number of sports, which led into, I guess, just physiology in general or the education around that. I went through university to basically study a little bit more and discovered I really loved strength conditioning and everything that went with that.

I got into coaching and from there took it on an individual level as an entrepreneur working in numerous different facilities and basically just honing my trade. Over time, I fell in love also with the next piece of that evolution, which is coaching other people along with not just coaching people in fitness but also coaching other coaches how to coach fitness.

Over that period of time, we’ve developed a huge international following of giving people an opportunity to work with us on a one-on-one level as well as coaches worldwide who follow our OPT CCP program, which helps people coach fitness better. With those years of experience, almost 20 years doing it now, up to today where I currently still am a husband and a father of two beautiful girls.

I live in Scottsdale, Arizona. I have an unbelievable team of folks here working on site with me in Scottsdale. Numbers are growing daily to help support all the things that we do. We have onsite athletes that compete in the sport of CrossFit™ as well as the NPFL. We have full-time folks who do that here with us.

We coach people internationally and worldwide online for exclusive coaching. We have on onsite presence as well with the strength and conditioning and personal training system here. Doing it all. Got my hands in a whole bunch of different pieces—research and design, constant upgrade for coaching as well as living it.

I’m pretty much living the dream right now. Still have an opportunity to be a CrossFit™ athlete and more soon as NPFL athlete as well, based upon my age bracket. I’m excited about that.

Sean: For those people who don’t know your background as an athlete, I’d love for you to share that with everyone. I think that’s where we all connect here. All of us have a passion for sports and athletics, myself included. I know you started as a soccer player back in the day and then the original CrossFit™ Games Champion as one of your first claims to fame. If you’d tell us a little bit about your athletic background and where that’s led you to today.

James: You just spoke of it a little bit. In high school, I had numerous opportunities to be in multiple sports, which led me to love the broad array of opportunities that I had, and into university as well, playing multiple different sports. I went from eight in high school consistently throughout the year to three major ones up at a university level and played national level soccer as well as junior hockey and college level basketball.

I had a major injury in soccer and basically was a major turning point for me to discover physical training and strength conditioning in general just to rehab myself. I fell in love with that and then continued my athletic journey with multiple things that I experimented with, along while playing hockey and basketball but fell in love with the weights and participated in full-day fitness competitions, bodybuilding, powerlifting.

I dabbled in all kinds of the bodybuilding techniques and learned about the systems. I got into CrossFit™ years back as a method of fitness to change things up and found out that I was quite good at it relative to the people who were doing it because of my background in powerlifting and my aerobic capabilities.

I started with that in late 2004, 2005 and then in 2007 there was a competition that came out, the First Annual CrossFit™ Games, and I was lucky enough to win that year and then participated in 2008 and came in 11th place. It was a very close finish at the end. I was 5th place after day one and finished 11th, I think, overall in that one.

James Family Pic
James FitzGerald pictured with his wife, Leighanne and his two girls Hannah and Chloe

In 2009, I think I was 10th or 8th going in to the last event and didn’t make it, basically petered out and took a real bad hit. I didn’t prep for it. I was basically thinking I was retired by that point because I was training so many other people for it that I just didn’t have the love to go back. But I was kind of excited to actually play again and went back and I really shouldn’t have so I took a major hit.

In 2010, I was lucky enough to participate again in the Games but really was not CrossFit™ enough to be back in there. So I dedicated a lot of my time then to coaching other people and still dabbling with it. Now I’m 40 so I’m in a category as an athlete still where I participate in that. I’m still an athlete at heart. It’s always been in my genes and I’m continuing to participate as such.

Sean: We just had the Opens and I know you went through that now as part of the deal to get ready for the CrossFit™ Regionals and then Games. That’s something I know you not only went through yourself but you trained a ton of people online and all your athletes to go through that. How did the Opens go?

James: Just awesome, really. Not necessarily just using scores and scores of clients in terms of a method of improvement. We have a really refined system for coaching now for people for it as well as understanding the mechanics of it and taking a lot of the stress away, so it was a really great process.

For me personally, I did really well, considering what I wanted to achieve. I felt really good about how well I maintained and did as best I could. I gave it every shot I could per workout and I’m happy about that. I finished 63rd in my conference as an All ages and then I finished 22nd in the Worlds in my age group for 40 to 45.

I have one opportunity now to qualify for the Games, the 40-45 coming up. I still have to stay top 20, so it’ll be a good task, a good challenge for me. We have hundreds of clients who qualify past the Opens into Regionals that are representing OPT, which we’re really excited about. In different matters, coaches of CCP coaching athletes as well as our direct clients, so it was a really great experience for all.

Sean: You have now your own facility in Scottsdale, which is just amazing. I’ve been out there. You’re soon doubling that facility and expanding further. You’ve got now a Training Camp, which is a full-time center where athletes come and live and train year round. Tell us a little bit about how that’s evolved for you in the past couple years.

James: As you know, Sean, I like seeing ahead and changing the rules of the game. What happened in the sport is everyone was participating but I started to notice a couple years in that this was a sport, however, we weren’t treating it like a sport. People were working 40 hour shifts or they’re good in the sport so they’re thinking, “What should I do? You know what I should do? I should open up a gym because I’m a good athlete and so all I need to do is this weekend certification.”

It was basically, honestly, killing these people. They were actually talented and I could just see in the future ahead and so I wanted to treat it as such. I had the capital and also the ability after all of the successes we’ve had with our businesses in Calgary to basically move on to that next piece. When we came down here that was one of my goals.

I just put the word on the street and called out to people and said, “Hey, I have a place where I can train you so you can treat this professionally.” We have athletes onsite now who just do that full time. They do some part-time work, sometimes for us and for other areas, but they’re here full-time training twice, sometimes three times a day, five to six times a week where they get hands on with me and my coaches to basically treat this like a professional organization, a professional sport.

Sean: Not only have you had an amazing camp and a place where athletes can go and grow and be supported, but you’ve now taken a true leadership position as an educator in fitness worldwide with the OPT CCP system and modules. For those who don’t know much about it, can you tell us about the foundation of the philosophy and the structure of your educational model?

James Teaching
James is pictured teaching one of his OPT Business Systems course

James: I started it because I saw a missing link in terms of who the leaders were and who was training people how to coach and how to do it. I saw that leadership largely coming from an academic model, which was like 30 to 40 years old in terms of how you’re supposed to coach fitness. This, combined with current methods of leaders within fitness, made me realize that there’s no real middle ground of people and what to follow in order to become a coach.

Let’s just say you are interested in becoming a coach in fitness, you have to either go through some national organization, which is dumbed down and is a production model based upon academic models, which are flawed in physical science, in coaching and consulting, as well as assessment and practice.

Then you have people who are assessing and have movement design and program design application but it’s very biased based upon what they think and also the cost is unbelievable. Twenty thousand dollars for one year for four modules to just learn how to do assessment and stuff for people who just need to get more fit, I think it’s ridiculous.

On the end of the spectrum, those weekend certifications that are $800 to $1,000, which basically said, “Here, you’re a personal trainer. Go and do it.” So I saw a missing link in terms of the middle ground and recognized what made me successful in terms of what I have that I work with. There needs to be five specific areas that I believe everyone who’s an entrepreneur wants to be within coaching, strength coaching, personal training, owning a fitness business needs to have and that is definitely life coaching ability, ability to resonate with people and consult with them.

You need to have some assessment ability so you can see exactly where people sit and actually watch and assess what they’re actually going to do in fitness. That’s the problem with a lot of assessment protocols, their assessing these wacky pieces that are actually never applied in the fitness program, which actually makes no sense in terms of true function of an assessment.

In program design, you better know what you’re doing. The program design is the third module which we teach. The last two modules are obvious with nutrition and having the correct application relative to meeting people where they are and then progressing them for health or performance as needed. Lastly, the thing you and I deal with, which is together collaboratively, is business systems.

People have to have some busy savvy if they want to be successful. We have five pieces that I designed to pretty much make that coaching progress along in their education and to meet them where they’re at and pretty much give them all the competency pieces they need to have a successful career in this profession.

Sean: I know you and I have had a blast teaching business systems for a couple years now. One of the modules that’s the most exciting and enjoyed by everybody who goes through it is your life coaching system. Can you tell the folks a little bit about that who don’t understand life coaching or don’t know what it is? How does it work? What’s it all about?

James: We kind of laugh at it because the first thing we say in the weekend is, “Welcome to life coaching but you’re not going to become a life coach.” We make it clear to folks that we just talk about life coaching practices. The naming of it, when it’s front room for you and your clients, is actually just consulting.

We just teach people to create awareness and have consciousness in terms of what they have on their side of the fence, like you like to say, or your side of the tennis court, what you’re presenting to people and then how are you going to resonate with folks to basically create influence, to sell, to help them, to guide them to learn about yourself.

Really, we discuss over two days pretty much hammering out all the really intricate details of how to notice things and how to explain them, how to prescribe and then how to create action on that. We talk about the variations and the continuum of the masculine/feminine piece. We talk about generational pieces.

We talk about how to build trust with clients and what’s involved in increasing competency, reliability and caring for individuals. Sean, if you can visualize a new client and a coach sitting down, everything that surrounds that entire conversation and the pieces in it, we dig into to ensure that you have a ton of tools in your pocket such that you can start to resonate with people.

Most times at the end of the weekend most people recognize they have a lot of stuff for themselves they need to work on first (which they’ve become very grateful for) before they actually leave. So the life coaching one is the what we recommend first and foremost because you need to be able to have conversations with individuals and actually resonate to do anything, to create value in what you provide, to talk about exactly why they’re in front of you and what their direction is, to talk about their true values and what they truly want to do.

Sometimes, as you know, some people don’t actually have a high value in exercise or great nutrition. So with that conversation you want to discuss what are those high values to you and how can we apply what I know as a professional in fitness and nutrition and design that are going to allow you to express those highest values and how they’re tied in.

We discuss those things in life coaching and it’s truly a life-changing piece that carries on beyond just the coaching, if you know what I mean? When we leave, we just understand that they’re going to change hundreds of lives and it’s very inspiring for both Sharon Prete, co-conductor, and myself for that weekend.

Sean: It’s an amazing program. I know us having been friends a number of years and knowing the origins of that with a great mentor of ours, Bernie, to see that come to light and continue on is just awesome. I can’t recommend it enough. I talk to coaches and our staff all the time who speak with coaches. Anybody who’s dealing with human beings needs to have that skill set to coach effectively with what they learn in that system.

James: Yes. What Bernie Nowakowski taught you and I, RIP, he really brought to life the beauty behind human behavior and all the constructs and systems that go into everything that plays a part in that interaction with client and coach. We’re just fortunate enough to be able to carry on some of those pieces of fundamental systematic, as well as just higher order thinking, into the program that folks really love.

Now, Sean, just as a side note from that, Sharon and I have really brought a real world in the trenches approach to the course, which, has really upgraded it tremendously. We speak on a level of coaching as well as to the coaches and it’s really added a solid approach to it after Bernie’s passing.

Sean: Absolutely. Can’t thank Bernie enough for all the work he did. It’s awesome how it can carry on today. One of the things I wanted to touch on here is you and I, through those courses and through the work we do, talk all day long to a ton of CrossFit™ coaches who are facing a lot of challenges in their business and those continue to grow for a number of reasons.

I wanted to have you speak on that for a moment about what do you see, specifically the challenges that the CrossFit™ coaches face today and in the months and years ahead, and how can the educational models that you have really support addressing those challenges?

James: The major thing that comes to mind is that there’s no similarity between the CrossFit™ facilities. If you are going to be trying to look at what differentiates you, if it’s important for you to have clients and to have money and to put food on the table, then you pretty much have to have a good idea as to what’s going on passed that front door or the sign that’s on the wall.

What CCP does to certainly help those people is not change the sign on the wall. That’s what some people have some fear over. It’s not that. You just better know what you’re doing in the back end. If you do know what’s happening on the back end and you have some business savvy as well as some great upfront assessment and design, as well as you know how to resonate with people, my feeling is that that’s going to be a separator in how you run your business and how you are going to separate yourself from all the other places that are the same name.

Some of the fears that folks have, which are real, that no one likes to talk about is that there’s no limit to where these places can be in terms of physical location. You may be lucky enough where you’re not affected by that but there are a ton of people that no one wants to discuss, only I hear it all, that are being severely hammered based upon folks just opening up 500 meters down the road and pulling people over because it’s a lower cost.

People see it as something else, as just another commodity or another fitness system. That’s the major thing in which we can help those people. We can help create some great competency inside which helps them manufacture how to, not necessarily only retain, but to get clients and really upgrade their experience.

Outside of that, the one thing that I have that’s going to be something that’s interesting down the road that people need to be aware of is that if it’s largely played out to be centered around the whiteboard, fitness and fitness competitions. People have to ask the question like: Is it sustainable and what’s going to happen when, in terms of just the business and its marketability, the affiliate numbers start to go down.

The first insight we had on that was that this year there were 40,000 increased participants in the Open and a ton of them were new people, which basically recommended there are 40,000 more people this year but 60,000 were new participants. It makes you go, then, where are those 60,000 people that were missing if we had 140,000 last year and 180,000 this year?

It’s looking like things are changing. What happens when there are 11,000 affiliates next year and then there are 10,500 the year after and then 9,000 the next year? People have to say, “What’s going to happen in terms of the overall business structure and the support that you’re going to have from everyone, in terms of that name being put on your door?”

I think that’s something that has to be considered. If you have great business practices and, like you talk about, Sean, great goals and projects set up as well as some good competency inside, you have 10-year plans for your business and it doesn’t even matter what your name is. I see that as one of the things in which CCP can help out for those folks, as well as also talking about some things in there that they have to be prepared for when it comes down the road.

Sean: Let’s shift gears and talk about something that’s extremely exciting. I’ve been hearing about it for the past few months here from you and a few others and that’s the NPFL. If you can tell everybody what the NPFL is and what the big news is and what’s happening. It’s exciting times, for sure.

James: The NPFL is a Professional Fitness League that was organized by Tony Budding who is formally of CrossFit™ and Media Director for CrossFit™. He basically had the insight that this could be a really cool event after they finished the World Event where they had the World team against Team USA.

NPFL Combone crowd
Spectators watching the new NPFL format based on CrossFit™

He saw that there was a large interest in people in their conversations around that. Also, just the viewership and how exciting it could be. On the inside, they just didn’t buy it so he left CrossFit™ and now has designed a league format where athletes can participate. It’s not just a participant sport, meaning you have to make into the league. He wanted to have this opportunity for, really, the fan experience.

There’s so much beauty within the performance itself with the athletes, but it’s just really hard to watch on a large scale. There are so many other things that are great about it for entertainment purposes that I don’t need to dig into. You can just imagine having a collection of eight of the most sophisticated, beautiful bodies with unbelievable engines just out there on the floor working together to do work.

It’s very entertaining and pleasing to the eye if it’s done very simple and it’s understandable for the audience. Basically, what the NPFL is going to do is allow the opportunity for people to own and operate a team. I am a co-owner with Jon Callahan of the Phoenix Rise. I’m also the coach and a player because I’m over 40, or 40 and over.

There are 14 players per team. There will probably be eight teams to start this season. Pretty much there are 11 matches or races per event. It’s a two-hour event. It will, hopefully, be seen on T.V. worldwide for people to have the opportunity to watch it. It’s going to be an entertaining piece of one team versus the other from different geographical locations.

Picture it just like any other professional team—New York versus L.A., Phoenix versus San Fran. It’s going to look like that where these teams go against each other. There’s going to be more teams in the league over time. It’s going to be a place for athletes who really have the ability to perform for fitness and showcase what they can do but then also make money and get paid for it like they should for entertainment purposes.

I wanted to be a part of it as soon as I heard. We just had such a vertical system, I guess you could say, for the virtual reach on the Interweb for the culture that we’ve built, for the athlete selection that we have. As soon as the team opportunity was announced, I had 12 males and 12 females that I could just throw right on to a team. It was unfortunate we had to sign only eight of them—four males and four females.

We already have the system in place, the capital, the location, the interest and also how to geek out on all the specifics around it. It’s going to start up this year. August 23rd to October 6th will be the first season. We’re going through the combines right now and identifying talent to go into the draft, which will happen in June.

Then we’ll select the full roster of teams and start competing. It’s only going to grow. The idea is phenomenal. The backing and securities and the management group is just superior. It’s very professional and that’s why I’m really attracted to it as well. We’re quite excited to get it underway and get going with it.

Sean: It’s great to see everything exploding for that and folks should look for that this summer after the CrossFit™ Games are over. That’s when the season kicks off. It will be, obviously, some of the same athletes from CrossFit™ who are transitioning into the NPFL. I know there are big talks now for T.V. deals that are going to be coming along that are in negotiations now.

I don’t think we can share it yet but some big networks look like they are onboard or will be onboard shortly. It’s going to open up tremendous sponsorship and other opportunities for these athletes, for the sport, for the team. It’s exciting to see how this continues to scale in the years ahead. We’ll be seeing you on the field, I guess, come August. That’s the first competition?

James: Yes. I’ll be participating on behalf of Phoenix Rise as a 40 year old. For the athletes that you have for each match, there has to be a male and a female who is 40 years of age or older. Obviously, there’s reasoning for entertainment purposes based upon that. Obviously, they want to curtail to a certain audience as well to show that fitness is broad based upon that.

The tests will allow these people to do it too without getting a thrashing like you would within a regular competition in fitness over a weekend. The T.V. deal or not, this is going to grow and it really is going to create a difference in culture. Just give it time and let it coast for a bit here. This is the first you’ll hear of it but I can guarantee you it’s going to be a big bulk of conversation to come up in the future. It’s going to change everyone’s thinking about the way we do things.

NPFL athlete racing
NPFL team format in action

Sean: Fantastic. You guys are doing it all, from being an athlete yourself to coaching athletes to coaching a team, owning a professional sports team, educating coaches around the world with the OPT CCP system. Tell people where they can check you out and learn more. I want to strongly encourage everybody that’s reading this right now to get on over and sign up to learn more about OPT because it’s amazing what you guys are producing and continue to produce. I know there are only bigger things ahead.

James: is our website for the virtual world that just wants to see and touch from the outside. There are a number of things on there that you can get into and just touch to basically see what we’re doing. The blog will give you an up-to-date, constant format of the training programs we give freely everyday as well as just information sharing. would be a person that you would want to start a conversation with around any of the coaching and just interest in it. I’d be more than happy to give you some information on the direction to where you want to go or even just ideas and concepts of where you can start your journey based upon that, if you were interested in anything we talked about today, especially within the life coaching piece.

I’m always on the presentation circuit, so if you see my name out there, James FitzGerald with OPT, make sure you ask me some questions if you’re interested with our CCP program.

Sean: Excellent. James, thanks again for your time today. Great talking to you as always. Again, I encourage all the coaches out there in our community and athletes to check out OPT. You’re going to love it when you do. I encourage you to go say hi to James when you get a chance to do so. Thanks again, James, and have a great day.

James: Thank you, Sean, you too. Take care, man.

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