Overcoming self-doubt to go from student to coach to gym owner: Meet Todd of South Loop CrossFit 


Crossfit Coach and Small Business Owner


Could you tell us a little bit about your background?

Cis white male raised predominantly in the suburbs of Chicago. Played a lot of soccer growing up, and also was into subcultural music (punk, hardcore, and metal). Have always been over-analytical and not great with emotional connections with other human beings. Studied chemical engineering in school with the intention of becoming a research scientist working on alternative energy, but the formal academic lifestyle didn’t sit well with me.

Currently, I’m an owner of South Loop Strength & Conditioning (a gym offering group classes and personal training for athletes who want to perform their best and general population folks who want to look, move and feel better in Chicago) and also Legion Strength & Conditioning (an individualized coaching business primarily for athletes looking to compete in the sport of CrossFit — although we also work with other sport specific athletes and people who want an individualized approach to their training programs). And I play guitar in a death metal band called Like Rats.

How did you get started as a crossfit coach and small business owner? 

I had no intention of ever being involved in the fitness industry.

Before I started coaching CrossFit, I was working as an environmental consultant and regularly going on tour with bands. I thought I wanted to make a career in the music industry, but got very burned out on the touring lifestyle after one particularly grueling episode playing bass for a few weeks on Warped Tour.

I had been doing CrossFit on my own, and walked into a gym at the right place and the right time to pick up a lot of coaching hours right around the same time that I was laid off from my consulting job.

After about a year of coaching, I ignorantly and optimistically started to take steps towards opening my own gym — and since then, I’ve been trying to learn how to do all the marketing and managing that’s necessary to have a functional business.


What was a defining moment in your life?

I guess I think more in external sources of information and frameworks rather than in personal experiences, since it’s really easy for me to name a bunch of books and records that I would consider to be “defining” for me, but it’s hard to come up with a specific “moment.”

I suppose that asking the owner of Atlas CrossFit if she needed any help with coaching could certainly be considered “defining.” I was definitely uncomfortable putting myself out there to ask if I could take on a role like coaching (“Why would anyone want me to coach them? I’m not qualified to do this.” and other generally awkward thoughts). Not sure if I would have ended up doing what I’m doing now if I hadn’t had that specific conversation.

What fears or resistance did you face in that process?

As mentioned above, I’ve historically struggled with social interactions and asking people for things. At the time, I had a lot of false assumptions:

  • Everyone knows what they’re doing all the time and is annoyed by anyone asking them for anything
  • I had little value to offer and anyone who helped me was probably taking pity on me and just doing me a favor

So, it was a lot of me to raise my hand and say “Hello, I would like to do this thing that I may or may not be fully qualified to do.” I generally assumed that the response to anyone asking for anything would be sort of a scoff and a sneer, and then laughter behind my back as I walked away with my head hanging down. Not sure where that came from — my parents are nice people, I promise.

Is there a favorite quote or mantra that gave (or gives) you inspiration? Or did you have a power song?

I often find quotes to be simplistic and cheesy. I’m the guy who (see above) scoffs and sneers at inspirational quotes.

I don’t really know that I have a power song either, but I really haven’t been able to get enough of the Italo disco classic “Feel the Drive” by Doctor’s Cat recently.

And since I feel like I’m not answering the question, I’ll look up something from Danny Kahneman about how fallible our minds are, since our systematic errors in thinking and our ability to occasionally be self-aware and correct for these inherent biases is constantly fascinating for me:

We’re blind to our blindness. We have very little idea of how little we know. We’re not designed to know how little we know.

How do you define bravery?

I think a lot of concepts surrounding bravery and mental toughness get misinterpreted to refer to something that’s a combination of pushing yourself and relentlessly thinking positively in the face of obstacles.

What I find to be much more valuable traits — in both competitive athletes and in business — is adaptability and resilience.

Bravery is probably something like the ability to disconnect from an emotional fear response and activate higher order thinking. I think stubbornness and wishful thinking are often reactive traits that are the opposite of being adaptable, and — if bravery is to maintain a positive connotation — it should include some element of acting in an adaptive way rather than a reactive way to challenges.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to someone facing a challenge?

Well this certainly depends on the challenge. The advice I would give to someone trying to figure out how to make their failing business profitable is probably much different than the advice I would give to someone trying to improve their ability to feel comfortable in social situations. (Note: I am probably qualified to to help in one of those areas, but not in the other)

It’s a platitude, but success leaves clues. Sure, there’s plenty of variables and luck often plays a role in success and failure, but there’s probably someone out there who has been through a comparable challenge to just about anything that anyone is currently experiencing.

It would be great to be able to have a conversation or an e-mail thread with these people, but oftentimes the best you can do is read their books or listen to their podcasts. But the hard part is finding the capacity to implement any sort of corrective action — and not just be too tired, too busy, too stressed, too self-doubtful, too stubborn, etc. to do anything about it.

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If you’re in Chicago check out Todd’s gym South Loop CrossFit — he’s easily the best Crossfit coach I’ve met and a brilliant dude.

Raika SarkettComment