Having been a coached athlete longer than I have been an endurance coach, I have learned a thing or two about coaches, coaching styles and what athletes should expect from their coaching experience. It should be said at the onset that we need to be clear up front with our coach about what we are expecting for our monthly coaching fee. If I am paying for a training plan only, then I shouldn’t expect unlimited e-mail, a weekly phone call or Skype, or my coach to ride with me. Truth is, the title of this blog could have been named a number of things, but it all boils down to several important characteristics we should expect when working with a coach, or look for when hiring a coach to help us reach our athletic goals.
Triathlon and endurance coaching may come at many different levels – from in-person to “virtual”, and prices vary widely. I find this leaves some athletes a bit unsure of what they should expect. From time to time I have athletes reach out to me, who are working with another coach, to ask my opinion about expectations when they are struggling with their own coach. While I always encourage those athletes to have honest conversation with their coach about their needs, I also tell them there are certain non-negotiables we should have as athletes.
This is probably the number one complaint athletes have about coaching – coaches not responding timely to questions, or not responding at all. Most coaches make it clear whether or not e-mail and other communication is unlimited for the athlete, and the time frame they will respond – 24-48 hours, etc. But if you consistently aren’t getting a timely response to your questions, or at all, speak up now. This may indicate trouble ahead.
Timeliness is similar to responsiveness, but this is more related to training plans and schedules. Most coaches build out their athlete’s training schedules 1-2 weeks at a time, with Mondays being the first training day of the week. I have known athletes who wake up Monday morning only to find no workouts on their schedule for the entire week. Not only should you have some sense of the “big picture” of your training for the season, you should have your weekly schedule a day or two in advance. If you have to continuously ask your coach for your workouts, then that’s a big problem.
I am not sure what is worse, a coach not building your workout schedule timely, or a workout that doesn’t make any sense! Coaches have different styles of writing swim, bike and run workouts. That is the norm, and should be expected – especially when a coach is writing custom workouts versus a “canned” or “cookie cutter” approach. However, just like you wouldn’t want your physician writing a prescription that isn’t clear to the pharmacist, you also don’t want your coach writing your workouts in this way. Workouts should be written in clear language that doesn’t leave the athlete guessing. If there is ever a question, ask!
Professionalism may seem like a no-brainer, but I think it is worth noting. And I fully recognize that not everyone will see this the same way. Endurance coaching is a profession. As an athlete, I expect my own coach to be a professional – both in person and in social media. Athletes shell out a lot of money for their coach’s knowledge, and trust they will have their best interest in mind. As a triathlon and run coach, I consider it an honor that athletes put their trust in me to guide them towards their athletic goals. I think my athletes expect me to be and act like a professional. In my opinion, anything less would disrespect them and the sport.
While a coach clearly cannot be an expert in everything, a good coach cannot run out of ideas either. Most coaches have an existing network of other coaches or professionals who specialize in the different aspects of the sport. If you are struggling in a certain area, like nutrition, bike fit, swim mechanics, etc.; your coach should be able to help you figure out how to problem-solve. Even if that means sending you to another professional who is an expert in that area.
Confidentiality and Privacy
Just like in other professions, confidentiality and privacy are important in coaching. Athletes should expect their coach not to discuss their training with other athletes. This goes with comparing athletes to other athletes too. A coach’s work with the athlete should be confidential unless otherwise agreed. Athletes should also expect privacy. As a coach I never assume my athletes are good with me posting information about them on my coaching social media sites. In fact, I know many athletes who would prefer I didn’t post any information about them, so I always ask for their permission first.
Communication is the key to any relationship – especially between the athlete and coach. Accountability is shared, so if you aren’t getting what you need from your coach, please reach out to discuss the problem before it goes on too long. It might be a simple misunderstanding. A proactive conversation up front about how you see a successful coaching experience will go a long way. We all deserve a chance to get it right!