Friday, October 2, 2009

Finding the Right Coach, Part 3

Here is Part 3 of 3 on how to go about finding a coach.

What services do you want from a coach? This has a lot to do with how much attention you get. The most common complaint I hear from athletes about coaches they have had is that their coaches had too many clients and the athletes were overlooked. With this in mind, here is what you can expect as far as basic service offerings from coaches.

Unlimited contact and support. With this level of service the coach won’t quite become your mother, but will indeed be like a big brother or sister. You and the coach will get to know each other quite well. There are some coaches (like me) who only offer this highest level of service because it is very effective. This is always the most expensive service offered.

Limited contact and support. Some coaches offer less expensive programs that set a limit on how often you may contact him or her. If you are on a budget this is a good option. You’ll still get a customized plan. It just won’t be updated frequently. You’ll have to be your own coach to some extent to make this work.

No contact or support. This is usually a basic training plan or a program with some customization. The coach assesses your needs, builds a training schedule for a set period of time, and sends you off on your own to fulfill it. You must be good at coaching yourself to make this work. The advantage, besides low cost, is that you get a personalized plan. If you are good at self-coaching, you can implement and modify it as conditions warrant. Don’t expect the coach to check in with you for this type of plan. You’re on your own once the plan is in hand.

Training plan. Many coaches offer training plans that you may purchase on-line. These are generally written with a specific type of athlete in mind, such as first-time Ironman triathletes, or a base period plan for a category 1-2 road cyclist who trains 12 to 18 hours per week, or a 12-week plan to run a 3:30 marathon. Here again you’ll need to be your own coach to make decisions about changes, but this is a very inexpensive way to get a training program prepared by a professional coach. You can find a list of my training plans here.

What should you expect to pay for coaching services? Fees vary a lot in the field of coaching - from free to a couple of thousand dollars a month. As with most service offerings, you will probably get what you pay for. Fees ranging from $200 to $500 a month are common for unlimited contact and support. This is a wide gap with the higher-priced coaches having a lot more positives checked off from the categories described in all three parts of this post. Higher-priced coached will generally have fewer clients which means that you get more personal attention.

If you find a coach who doesn’t charge a fee you are likely to have big gaps in the program when you are on your own and may often find your phone calls and emails go unanswered. But I am occasionally told of free coaching services that are excellent. They’re rare so don’t expect that to be the norm.

Freelance coaching has come a long way in the three decades I’ve been doing it. What started out as a hobby for most progressed to a loosely run, single-coach shop and is now becoming a professional career field. The field is still evolving. For the last few years coaches have been joining forces and merging to gain buying power and increase market visibility. This is ultimately good for you as an athlete as it means a more professional approach and consistent quality of service. Big companies, however, are not for everyone. Most coaches still work as individual service providers and do a great job for their clients.

So how do you find a coach? The starting point is to search a list of coaches for your sport. The following websites will get you started:

These are all coaches who use TrainingPeaks to communicate with their client-athletes.

Here you will find a search page for US-based, USAC-certified cycling coaches.

This is a directory of triathlon coaches who are certified by USA Triathlon.

Treat your search for the right coach as if you are hiring an employee for a crucial position in your company. Don’t just sign up with the first coach you happen to come across. Finding the right coach will take some time. Allow a couple of weeks. But be aware that the best coaches often have a limit on how many athletes they work with at any given time and typically fill openings by the start of winter. So don’t wait too long to start looking. Now is the right time. You can find information about all of the topics described in this three-part post by reading about the coach on his or her website, by doing a Google search, by talking with athletes coached by this person, and, most importantly, by interviewing the coach.


At October 2, 2009 8:32 AM , Blogger putelis said...

Thanks for writing this Joe. Having worked in a different field that was establishing itself, you just writing these three posts sets a standard consumers can use and coaches will have to live up to or be left behind. Thanks for setting the bar high.

At October 2, 2009 10:24 PM , Blogger kratka said...

Thanx for taking the time to put together this 3 part series. It was quite timely and will help me greatly in my search.

At October 4, 2009 11:02 AM , Blogger Gordo Byrn said...


This was an excellent series of articles. You should pull it together for publication. Really enjoyed it.


At October 4, 2009 1:00 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Gordo--Thanks for your comment.


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