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Coach to Grow, Teach to Learn, the Dafna Hayman interview

Dafna Hayman Kettlebell Pistol

Dragon Door: How did you first get involved with fitness and training?

Dafna Hayman: I was a dancer growing up, and since I grew up in Israel, when I turned 18, I enlisted in mandatory military service as a Commander in the Israeli Air Force. Towards the end of my service, I took a personal training course and worked as a trainer and group exercise instructor while I attended Law School. After I graduated, I worked as a lawyer for a year, and didn't like it. I was around angry people all day and quickly realized that I wanted to get back to what I loved doing.

I was offered a business opportunity to start and manage a new-concept fitness center in Israel from the ground up. I accepted the challenge and loved it. One position led to another and I spent most of my career in various management roles. After having two children, relocating to the United States, and spending a few years managing fitness centers here I decided to pursue an MBA at Babson College. During that same time, my third child was born.

I was a stay-at-home mom for a few years, and when I was finally ready to re-enter the work force, I realized I had lost touch with what I really loved about the fitness industry. As cliché as it might sound, I really missed working with people and helping them make a change. When you are running a business, it ultimately doesn't matter if you are running a grocery store or a fitness center, it's a business, and I wanted to work directly with the people. So, I got recertified as a personal trainer in the US, opened my personal training business and never looked back! I have a private studio where I train most of my clients, and I also teach small group training and group fitness at Boston Sports Clubs.

My outlook on training is completely different now than it was when I was in my twenties. I experienced first hand what it is like to juggle life, work and motherhood—and how easy it is to lose your own identity during the crucial first years when the kids are so young. I took my last dance class when I was pregnant with my first child and it wasn’t until after my third baby was born that I started to take my own training seriously. After years of not working out, I realized I needed to do this for me. I was working at a fitness center nearly every day, but could count on one hand the number of times I’d worked out! I was a busy mom and always had valid excuses for putting others first.

So today, when people say, "It’s easy for you, you were probably always fit and you love it," I laugh. It’s simply not true, I only just made a commitment a few years ago and stuck to it. I make sure I am always training for something that scares me enough that I don’t dare slack off! It’s never easy and like everyone, I need to schedule time in the day to workout—but it’s important to me, so I do it! Now, I see the results of all my hard work and that is extremely motivating. I also feel like I’m modeling a good lifestyle for my kids and for other women who may feel like they’ve lost control of their health.

Dragon Door: What brought you to the SCC?

Dafna Hayman: I was first introduced to Dragon Door through kettlebells. From the minute I picked one up, I was hooked! I worked with them a lot—in fact I think I got a little too hung up on them! After six months of training, I attended the Boston RKC in June with Angelo Gala and Phil Ross. It was an amazing experience and I immediately started looking for the next "thing". I was so impressed with Dragon Door and the instructors that I wanted to find opportunities to interact with them. I realized that I wasn’t very good at calisthenics and didn’t like it very much. The PCC caught my attention but I wasn’t sure it was right for me, so the SCC was a perfect chance to test the waters.

As a trainer, I think it is extremely important to learn how to move your own bodyweight before loading your movement patterns with external weight. Most trainers start training and dream about the "killer workout" they will put their athlete clients through. But the reality is that most of us work with a de-conditioned population that needs to re-learn how to move before lifting heavy or swinging a kettlebell. Professionally, I find it a lot more rewarding to work with a sedentary client who immediately says, "I hate working out and will never like it." Then I can watch them get better at moving as they slowly catch the fitness bug. The SCC was a great starting point for calisthenics and it gave me some good tools for myself and my clients. I think it is a great one day workshop for anybody, not just trainers.

Dragon Door: Excellent! When we talked earlier you mentioned that you also do some executive coaching, what does that entail?

Dafna Hayman: Yes, I am currently an executive coach in the program for leadership development at Harvard Business School. Executive coaching gives an individual the chance to pause and examine how they appear in their business environment: What kind of managers are they? How do they perform as co–workers and individual contributors? We talk about what might be holding them back at work, the gaps in their performance as a manager, and within their team or company. It is very introspective, but also takes an outside look at how they perform and are perceived by co-workers and direct reports.

Everything is fair game in one-on-one business coaching, it is up to the coachee how much personal information he or she wants to share. It can get pretty personal because your personality, insecurities and life experiences impact how you manage and perform as a leader. But generally, the coaching is more business and goal-oriented.
Dafna Hayman Twist

Dragon Door: What do you think are some of the characteristics of a great leader?

Dafna Hayman: That's the million dollar question, but I will try to sum it up! There are clear attributes such as charisma and likability factors, along with the ability to be objective and introspective. In my opinion, good leaders are the people who check their egos at the door, and empower the people they work with. It’s hard to say what separates one good leader from another, but humility plays a huge role. The best leaders know that they still have a lot to learn, and surround themselves with people who are strong in areas where they are not.

I heard Brene Brown recite Theodore Roosevelt's "Man in the Arena" quote and it always stuck with me. I think it really defines what makes a great leader—somebody who dives in and gets their hands dirty instead of just observing and giving orders. In our context, I think the quote can also define great coaches and athletes:

"It’s not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly…who at best knows the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly" –Theodore Roosevelt

Dragon Door: it seems like there would be a fair amount of mental crossover between your personal training business and the leadership/executive coaching that you do. What are some of the biggest similarities?

Dafna Hayman: Absolutely. I like to call it "suits to spandex" coaching, and there are days that I literally go from my spandex to my suits. There's definitely a lot of crossover, because you're working with minds—both types of coaching involve process analysis and practice. In both fitness coaching and executive coaching, if you have the right process in place you’re half way there.

A good coach is a good observer, and can take in any situation—either someone’s squat or a situation that's unfolding in a business context. As a fitness coach, you want your client to become autonomous with the skills you are teaching, especially if those skills were previously very difficult for them. It's the same with business coaching, if you catch a dysfunction in the process and give the right cues, then things fall into place. Then, when your client becomes autonomous in using the skill, then you know you’ve done your job correctly. Clients hit their goals when they are committed to practicing the necessary skills. Achieving goals is extremely empowering, whether it is physical, mental, or emotional.

With many of my fitness clients, I have seen a direct link between achieving fitness goals and achieving success in other areas of their lives. Something magical happens when people put themselves first and push for fitness goals they never before thought possible. It gives them confidence which carries over to their careers, parenting and relationships. When you push yourself physically and mentally—and then hit a goal, that develops self-efficacy. Success breeds success.

Dragon Door:
Speaking of goals, what calisthenics moves are you working on?

Dafna Hayman: Pull ups were a huge challenge for me, and last year was the first time I committed to training them. I got my first underhand pull ups, but then had a t-spine injury and lost them completely. I have been working really hard to get them back. At the SCC, I did my first overhand pull up since the injury! So, getting better at pull ups is definitely one of my biggest goals. Since the SCC I’ve been more mindful about working on my bridges and inversions as well.

Dragon Door: What was your biggest takeaway from the SCC?

Dafna Hayman: The importance of getting to these workshops! Of course I learned a ton, but what really stuck with me was the post-certification high. It was the same feeling I had after the RKC. There’s something about getting yourself to these workshops—and I don’t care how many years you've been training, or how great you are—but, spending time with people you can learn from, the energy in the room, and the connections you make are all so important.

Even though we're coaches focused on helping other people, we need someone to look at us! I strongly believe that every trainer needs a trainer. I never write my own programs, because if I do, I’ll only train what I love and not necessarily what I need to be doing. I think it’s good to have an objective eye. At these workshops you learn and teach—you have the opportunity to try out different teaching methods and learn from other trainers.

In business coaching, we like to say that we are teachers and learners, it just depends on the situation. At the SCC workshop we switched modes every few minutes which is great. I find that across the board, Dragon Door leadership and instructors are so generous and forthcoming with sharing their knowledge and experience. They truly care about your success. There is so much talent in that group. They create a workshop atmosphere that revitalizes you as a trainer, and that was my SCC experience!

Dragon Door: I am so fortunate to be able to go to so many workshops, and even when I am in an instructor role, there’s always so much to learn from the participants. Their interactions, issues, and the resulting troubleshooting brings endless insights to everyone involved…

Dafna Hayman: Very true! For example, during the push up section of the SCC, my partner and I were done, so we walked around the room, and interacted with some of the other participants. We also observed some of the other partners coaching each other. We even found someone with the same scapular winging issue that my partner and I had been discussing, so we walked over to see how they were helping him correct it.

Dragon Door: What’s next for both sides of your coaching?

Dafna Hayman: I’ve been gradually expanding both my executive coaching and fitness coaching businesses. Growing my business always goes along with my continued education, so I already signed up for the June PCC and also hopefully start working on the RKC-II skills. My long term goal is to maybe work towards the Iron Maiden Challenge for my 40th birthday which is few years away!

Dafna Hayman Kettlebell Pistol thumbnailDafna Hayman, RKC, SCC, FMS, LLC, MBA, ACE trains individual clients in her private studio and leads small group training and group fitness at Boston Sports Club. She can be contacted at, read her blog: Follow her on Facebook: Dafna Hayman – Personal Trainer, and Twitter @DafnaHayman