Athletes and coaches come in all shapes and sizes! Most of us enter triathlon without a coach but with a little trial-and-error and some good friends to guide us, we decide if we like the sport enough to formally pay a coach. However, when you reach this milestone make sure to do your homework! Not all coaches are created equal!
When I first decided I wanted a coach, my criteria was to find someone who was fast at the specific race distance I wanted to focus on. However, I learned that this should NOT be the only criteria you consider when looking for a good coach. You cannot solely rely on certification either. Alternatively, just because a coach hasn’t raced the specific distance you are interested in doesn’t mean he/she is not a good coach for that distance. Below are a few of the important criteria I’ve learned make a GOOD coach for me:
- Train with them. If they are not available for you to interview and/or observe in a group session when you are considering hiring them, then they may not be available for you after you hire them.
- How do they interact with their athletes? Assuming most coaches have multiple options for levels of support; do all athletes of a given level get the promised attention? As a beginner, it is especially important for coaches to pay attention since the athlete is still learning a lot and may not know what to ask of a coach.
- How does the coach track/record your progress throughout the season, or do they?
- Does your coach help analyze your specific strengths and weaknesses (e.g. I’ve had back issues so my coach gave me specific injury-prevention workouts to do along with my race-specific workouts).
- Does successful completion of your coach’s workouts make you feel more confident?
- Does your coach listen and modify workouts based on how you feel (e.g. worn down may mean still recovering from a harder effort) as to avoid overtraining and possible injury?
- Do the athletes of the coach tend to stay injured? Or healthy?
- Will your coach tell you the truth even though it may not be what you want to hear?
- Do the athletes of the coach set personal records (assuming they actually follow the prescribed workouts of the coach) or make little or no progress?
Here’s a specific example:
I trained with a group of friends, one of which is a coach, for a few months – we all started our long runs from the same location, but I was not formally coached. This coach would share some knowledge with me since I was there, and I’d get to see how her athletes progressed. I actually wasn’t even considering getting a coach at first, but I started getting injured (hamstring troubles) and wasn’t getting faster at my goal distance. I knew I needed help and I saw her athletes getting faster without getting injured. We met over dinner one night to discuss what I’ve been doing to train/race the last few years and what she could do for me as a coach. I was floored! I was so impressed! She shared some examples of the resources she has access to and uses and how she planned to use them for me. She took the time to learn about me personally to help better prepare me as an athlete (e.g. I get sooooo skeerd before races that I make other people uncomfortable). She’s already making ground on lessening my pre-race anxiety! In fact, at Albany Half Marathon, I remember her example of a race picture which showed a bunch of guys with serious faces all starring at their watches and a single guy with a relaxed grin. This guy was the one who won! On race day morning, I continually thought of my race plan – just stick to the plan. I thought of my preparation leading up to the race – I’d run this fast already in training – I can do this! A few girls ran past me early on, but I stuck to the plan. I was happy regardless as long as I stuck to the plan. Unexpectedly, I caught them in the back ½ of the race to earn 3rd overall female because I stuck to the plan! My coach’s plan for my success! She helps me to feel more confident about myself and there is an amazing camaraderie among all of her athletes – I truly feel I am part of a Team!