Finding the Right Coach, Part 1
The season is wrapping up for most northern hemisphere athletes and the transition period, or what some call the 'off-season,' is about to begin. This is the time of year when you take a 'vacation' from focused training and recharge your mental and physical batteries. It's also a time to review what the past season was like and to start thinking about next year's training and racing. Some will set very high goals for the coming and year and begin to wonder if they can pull it off by themselves. This will lead many to seek professional coaching. The following is Part 1 of three parts on how to find the right coach for you. Parts 2 and 3 will be posted later in the week.
When I started freelance coaching of endurance athletes in 1980 I didn’t know of anyone else doing it. It wasn’t until 1989 that I heard of another coach – Marc Evans. I was so starved for someone to talk with about coaching that I flew out to California just to meet with him for a few hours. In 1992 I came across the second – Rick Niles. By 1997 there were a handful of us in triathlon with somewhat fewer in cycling. That year I met with a dozen or so of the triathlon coaches in Colorado Springs to establish the USAT Coaching Association under George Dallam’s guidance. Last time I checked there were more than 1700 triathlon coaches and over 1200 cycling coaches in the US. And this was only certified coaches – those who have been tested by their national federation and received a license. I’m sure there are thousands more across the US without licenses and certainly others around the world.
Finding a coach is no longer a challenge. Go to a race and grab the first person you come to. This person will either be a coach or has a friend who is. No, the challenge now is finding the right coach for you. Of course, if you don’t care about your race results then about anyone will do, I guess. That’s not to say that there aren’t many good coaches. There are. Actually, I’m very impressed with the quality of coaches I come across. There are lots of very sharp coaches out there. On average, the quality of coaching has risen while the quantity has also gone up. That’s unusual.
Being smart isn’t enough, however. What you need is someone who understands your unique situation and conditions, and can help you achieve your personal goals. That’s the hard part. And there are other lots of other qualities this person may have that are also important. You need to find out all you can about prospective coaches to help with the decision of who to hire. Here are some basics to consider when trying to find the right coach.
One thing you must always keep in mind is that the coach works for you. It’s not the other way around. You need to find someone who matches up with you and your unique situation. The right coach for you is someone who understands and has experience with athletes just like you.
• Your sport. There are still coaches out there like me who work with athletes in different sports. But the trend is to focus on only one. Some limit their clients to subcategories within the sport such as Ironman triathlon, mountain biking, time trialing, or swimming for triathlon.
• Your experience. There’s a world of difference in coaching a novice compared with coaching an experienced athlete. Some coaches are better with one than the other.
• Your age. There are coaches now who specialize in junior, master and senior athletes. If you fall into one of these categories you may want someone who has coached many others who have age-related needs similar to yours.
• Your gender. Some coaches focus on working with female athletes. I know of one who prefers to coach masters women who do short-course triathlons. So it can get quite specific.
• Your location. If you are a novice you’re likely to need lots of help in developing the skills of your sport. That’s best done by someone who can be face to face with you often. If you experienced and have good skills it really doesn’t matter where you live on the planet any more.
• Your equipment. Do you have a heart rate monitor, power meter, accelerometer, or GPS? Do you have powerful software such as WKO+? While all of this stuff is not necessary if you are a novice, such devices can help the experienced athlete achieve very high goals. You’ll need a coach who knows how to use and analyze this data.
• Your terrain. Do you live at 7500 feet in the mountains of Colorado or on the table-top-flat coast of Florida? It would be beneficial if your coach had experience dealing with the unique challenges of such terrain.