If you are looking to diversify your current training options, experience new cultures, explore other countries and fuel your entrepreneurial spirit, then you might want to consider working internationally.

Sounds exciting? I have had the pleasure of traveling to many countries as a presenter, teacher and conditioning coach, and have always enjoyed international travel. We glean so many insights from different cultures, and fellow fitness and sport professionals in other parts of the world are eager to get cutting-edge training information. Read on to learn about one meaningful international work experience I’ve had, and see if you have what it takes to work overseas.

Working in Russia

Recently, a National Hockey League (NHL) coach who had taken a job in Russia invited me to become part of his coaching team. I had coached in the
NHL for 11 years, taking care to be professional and positive each day. I gave
my best—full output every second—on the ice. This attitude built me a professional reputation that has translated into opportunities. As a sport conditioning coach today, I have received offers from hockey teams before, but this was my first international one. I saw this chance to help current and aspiring Russian hockey stars improve their performance as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.

I now report to the Russian government’s minister of defense and am tasked with providing sport conditioning services to the Olympic hockey team in preparation for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, British Columbia. (In the hockey world, some programs in other countries are run by governments.)

How did this career possibility become a reality? Once I had researched the situation, traveled to Russia, become acquainted with the culture, met with the team’s coaching staff and leadership and evaluated the current training systems, I was prepared to offer my assistance. Rather than take a full-time coaching position myself, I became a coaching consultant. With the help of my team in Vancouver, we advertised for, interviewed and hired an aspiring hockey conditioning coach. He first moved to Vancouver for hands-on training in our sport conditioning center and later picked up his life and moved to Russia. I have provided ongoing mentorship and leadership from my business in Canada.

Evaluate Your Skills

The Russian government is committed to providing excellent sports programs, and it was interested in hiring outside expertise to discover strategies for improving hockey performance. Do you have expertise that you could share with other professionals in another country?

Before you rush to pack your bags and update your passport, you should consider whether you really possess the entrepreneurial spirit you require to succeed in a foreign country. Many business owners fail in their attempts to work overseas, assuming that it will be simple and profitable.

What skills do you need to develop or strengthen to improve your chances in a new business venture? See if you possess these crucial entrepreneurial skills:

Effective Goal Setting. Examine your client success rate. Have you demonstrated your ability to set clear and achievable goals for yourself and to execute your commitments?

Knowledge of Strengths and Weaknesses. What are your best assets? What competitive edge sets you apart?

Problem-Solving Skills. Describe the diverse roles you have held in the fitness industry to quantify your experience in providing solutions to common challenges.

Leadership and Vision. Gather examples of how you show passion for your work and are able to inspire others to follow your lead.

Innovative Knowledge. Define your ability to provide valuable business services that don’t currently exist in certain other countries.

Basic Business and Finance Skills. Categorize your business acumen, detailing client retention, accounting, marketing and financial management skills.

Does this list describe your abilities? Successful entrepreneurs must enjoy assuming risk in order to reap the rewards and must establish a clear business plan before venturing into international business.

Gain a Competitive Edge

If you believe you have the skills and experience needed to work internationally, you may want to do so on a one-time or ongoing basis. Many companies, large and small, have successfully stepped outside North America to do business in markets that are less competitive. Global business trends are on the rise. While the U.S. growth rate may be slow at 1%–2%, some countries have emerging economies that may be growing at 10%–12%. This statistic means more opportunity to provide services in the fitness industry (Border 2008). The North American fitness and sport conditioning market is fairly well defined in terms of roles, expectations and compensation. In other places, however, the industry is still quite young, creating opportunities for entrepreneurs to provide consulting, teaching and training services.

Here are some examples of ways you can work in other countries:

  • Create an athlete conditioning program for a local sport organization or club.
  • Consult with elite sport organizations on sport conditioning methodology.
  • Develop a personal training business division within a fitness club.
  • Manage a team of new personal trainers.
  • Provide workshops using innovative training concepts and tools.
  • Open your own sport conditioning or fitness center.

Communication Skills

Do you need to speak the language of the country you’d be working in? Many people consider language a giant barrier to communication in a new country. Interestingly enough, however, movement is a universal language of its own. Athletes know how to observe a skill and intuitively repeat it using their own body mechanics. Initially, in our Russian hockey experience, neither coach nor athletes could communicate well. However, the training environment was electric as all the players focused on learning new skills and drills and pushing performance barriers to the next level. As professionals in the sport and fitness industry, we must realize that individuals who share our passion for exercise and for improving the human machine are very motivated to acquire fresh skills. Training concepts and tools in some other cultures may seem outdated to us, but with an open mind and a patient teacher, everyone is capable of learning new things.

A critical mistake would be to assume that the North American methodology you bring to your unfamiliar environment is the best and only way to train. That type of attitude does not lend itself well to bridging the gap between cultures. The opportunity to inspire others also provides each of us with an opportunity to learn from the people we encounter. If you approach your new situation with a desire to teach and to learn, the depth of your experience will increase substantially.

Inspire the World

From my perspective, having the opportunity to work with athletes in another country simply validates my philosophy: everyone wants a competitive edge. Though the methods and the culture may be different, we all share a passion for health and physical performance and a desire to improve the human machine. There are no limits to what you can achieve! n

Tips for International Business Success

In a new country, easing your path to a favorable outcome requires careful planning, research and networking. From my experience, here are some helpful suggestions to pave your way:

Learn Cultural Differences. What are the major differences between the fitness and sport industries in this country and those in your own? Are there any obstacles based on your age, sex or ethnicity that may affect your success?

Research Visa Requirements. What are the legal requirements of working overseas? You will need to get your papers in order.

Have Valid Credentials. Do you possess the appropriate fitness and sport credentials to work in this country? Some countries require a degree, diploma, certification or other qualification. Do your homework to make sure you are eligible to work there.

Use Your Contacts. On one of my first trips to Russia, I needed a location to implement some new testing methods I had developed for hockey players. I went to an old Russian sport school, and the first person who happened to see me was a professor who recognized me. He had played goalie for the Russian Red Army team and then coached for years. Now he is a 72-year-old professor, teaching kinesiology students who specialize in coaching hockey. He uses my book Complete Conditioning for Hockey (Human Kinetics 2007) for part of his curriculum. The connection we made opened many doors to procuring the testing space we needed.

Conduct Market Research. You need to learn as much as you can about the country’s fitness and sport industry before you travel there. Contact government agencies, education/training companies, conference companies, fitness clubs and sport organizations to discover more about the opportunities available.

Get Local Advice. A true assessment of the industry comes from individuals working in fitness and sport in your country of choice. Use your IDEA membership networks to locate other members who can give you valuable details about the lifestyle and potential services available.

Take a Vacation. The best way to learn about a new culture and its business opportunities is to experience the lifestyle firsthand. Take a short vacation to your country of choice to gain personal insight and more in-depth information before you formalize any plans.

Investigate Tax Laws. The U.S. Department of Commerce can provide details about tax requirements related to working in another country.

Develop a Business Plan. With all the information you have gathered so far, your next step is to develop a solid plan for working overseas and pursuing a new opportunity. Share your plan with peers, business experts and your banker, and ask for their opinions about the structure and validity of your strategy. This feedback will be very helpful.

Peter Twist, MSc

"Peter Twist, MSc, is the president and CEO of TWIST Performance + Wellness™. He is an exercise physiologist who coached for 11 years in the NHL and is currently partnered with the China Olympic Committee to lead the training and rehabilitation of their summer and winter Olympic teams. His company operates franchised health centers in four countries, and offers health, fitness and sport certifications in 30 countries. Peter is the recipient of the 2010 IDEA Program Director of the Year award and the 2013 IDEA Fitness Inspiration Award. He is a passionate motivational speaker at corporate events and in 2015 was inducted into the National Fitness Hall of Fame. Certification: NSCA"

Leave a Comment

When you buy something using the retail links in our content, we may earn a small commission. IDEA Health and Fitness Association does not accept money for editorial reviews. Read more about our Terms & Conditions and our Privacy Policy.