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How To Choose the Right Coach

With all of the books, blogs, and pre-written training plans out there, it’s easy to find yourself feeling either over- or under-trained. Or, more commonly, you’re just feeling like you aren’t improving fast enough. If this sounds familiar, it’s time to hire a coach. After all, you aren’t meant to be an expert at everything, and a set of outside eyes will help to craft a training plan that’s tailored specifically to you.

How do you know which coach is right for you, though? First, remember that no matter how hard you drive yourself toward the top step of the podium, sport is meant to be fun. It’s important that a coach doesn’t inhibit this feeling of joy. In fact, a coach should be there to intertwine your love of sport with your lifestyle. Confusing the matter, though, coaches seem to be popping up everywhere. And more and more often, they’re sporting certifications from a dozen agencies that all tout the “right” way to coach. However, your coach will not just be constructing your training plan; they’ll actually be your partner in your sport. They’ll lift you up when you succeed and be there when you fall. To this end, I recommend that you interview potential coaches as you would for any job.

Before you begin, it’s important that you have a clear idea of what your personal relationship to the sport is. What are your personal goals and realistic expectations? Do you prefer a hands-on coach or a less-guided program? Do you need a one-on-one local coach, or are you able to work remotely via online training programs? Once you’ve established what you want, start looking at what individual coaches offer and how their background, experience, training methodologies, and personality may work with you. For instance, do you desire a coach with extensive experience in your sport? If they have experience, is it important that they’ve performed at the top? Have they been coached before? If so, by whom? What is their level of education in sports physiology, psychology, exercise science, or similar disciplines?

The above are the simple “interview” questions to ask, but coaching isn’t just sitting at a computer, typing into spreadsheets, and analyzing metrics. It’s actually a highly personal relationship. My track coach has seen me crumple at the side of the track in vomit, and my coach has seen me ball my eyes out when faced with the shear loneliness of the sport. My sports psychologist (and former triathlon coach) Skyped me from Bhutan and prevented me from imploding a relationship because the lack of winter riding had me stressed out. And yes, even coaches have coaches. I’ve had the honor of working with some of the best in the business. The following is a list of the specific traits that I’ve found to be paramount in the coaches that I have chosen.

A coach must never dictate. Rather, they need to gently guide you. They need to teach you more about yourself, your abilities, and your desires in the sport, while never forcing you to race or try an event that you aren’t comfortable doing. They must treat you with respect.

A coach must be willing to share the INs and OUTs of racing in an event. After all, you need to grow in your tenure as their athlete. Each time that you race, you should learn something new and be able to take it into your next event.

A coach provides positive reinforcement but is not a vapid cheerleader. There is nothing worse than being told that “you look great” when the sag wagon is riding your rear wheel.

A coach must acknowledge that the differences between men and women don’t dictate that women should train differently. Along these lines, a coach must never adversely compare their athletes or pit them against each other.

A coach must have experience in your discipline of sport. This doesn’t mean that they need to have won every event that they’ve entered, but especially for endurance events, having someone who’s been there makes conversations about nutrition and suffering more candid.

Above all, a coach is human. They are not demigods. They make mistakes and they should willingly admit to them. After all, they will learn from you as much as you learn from them.

Finally, you’ll want to be realistic about budget. Coaching programs across the Internet strive to undercut each other — those are generic programs. If you want a truly customized training plan, you’re going to pay more. In general, the more one-on-one your coaching, the higher the premium. You may wish to start with a simple online plan, with the option of upgrading if you feel that you need more individualization or contact. Many coaches offer multi-month packages or discounts to clubs.

Coaches work hard for their athletes to achieve, but we can’t race the race for you, and we can’t train for you. You need to be realistic about your desires, as well as how much time and dedication that you’re willing to give it. Once those goals are established, the synergy between you and your coach strives to develop your potential.