>To use a coach or not to use a coach, that is the question.
Why should you use a coach? Those six easy words above when strung together create such a complicated little question. Perhaps you’re new to the world of triathlon and you merely want to understand how to train for an event. Perhaps you’re an already accomplished athlete, and you’re looking to qualify for a USAT national championship. Maybe you want to win your age-group. Or perhaps, you just want to set a new personal best. The reasons for wanting to use some sort of coaching are too many to fully enumerate here.
It’s a pretty significant question as well. There are myriad factors that one must consider as part of the decision-making process. Over the next several weeks, we’ll do our best to lay some of them out for you so that you can make an informed decision about whether or not you think having a coach in some capacity is beneficial for you.
Before we get too far down this rabbit hole, however, we should probably spend a few moments looking at what I describe as the full suite of coaching opportunities that face us. One could call this a coaching life-cycle, but that might not be truly apropos in that the components of the model do not necessarily build upon each other. Understanding the different offerings within this coaching framework is clearly fundamental to the decision of “Why Should I Use A Coach” because through understanding the differences in coaching models, you’ll be able to determine which (if any) best suit your needs. To make things seem easier (at least visually), I’ve created the model below.
The Uncoached Athlete:
Frankly, this is where too many new triathletes start. So many folks get a wild idea that they should do a triathlon because their buddy did one over the past weekend, they watched the Ironman Kona broadcast, or read something about a local triathlon in their newspaper. They may be weekend joggers, reformed couch potatoes, or just someone who likes to do something on a whim. Without very much forethought or planning, these folks just start doing some running, a little bike riding, and perhaps some swimming. Unfortunately, this segment of our population has the most to gain from having some sort of coaching. They may enjoy their first triathlon, but the likelihood is that they may not either. They undoubtedly suffered during the run. Perhaps their nutrition was off, resulting in a bonk. As a result, these athletes may fall into the “once and done” category. This approach, in my opinion, is truly good neither for the athlete nor for the sport of triathlon.
The Self-Coached Athlete:
Based upon the results of the TriMadness Coaching survey, this category of athletes represents close to 50% of the triathlon population. There’s a wide spectrum of what falls into the “self-coached” category, and in some respects this category could be merged slightly with the “off-the-shelf” category that is described below. Self-coached athletes typically set their own race goals, establish their own training plans, and for all intents and purposes, go-it alone. They may utilize some sport mentors – folks who have been involved in triathlon for a while and who can impart nuggets of wisdom relating to transition set up, racing strategies, nutrition, etc. These folks could also belong to triathlon clubs, masters swim programs or running groups. A self-coached athlete likely is a sponge for information – reading copiously on blogs, websites and discussion forums for morsels of information that they can apply to their racing. Additionally, these athletes may draw upon their former athletic lives as a high school or college runner or swimmer, Cat 5 bike racer, etc.
There are lots of similarities between how I would describe self-coached athletes and athletes who use off-the-shelf coaching programs. The vast majority of the off-the-shelf programs are distance-oriented, and generally don’t provide much in terms of athlete-specific customization (hence the term “off-the-shelf”). What these plans do provide you is some coaching research and methods to apply to training for an event. Usually, someone with some level of coaching experience has penned the training plans that can be purchased from a dizzying myriad of online vendors. The plans typically give some guidelines to follow in terms of distance or time to swim, bike, or run. At the end of the day, however, athletes who utilize this type of coaching are accountable only to themselves. This can be a good thing for some, and a less than positive thing for others.
Before I started my research for this series, I would have likely classified this type of coaching as “Concierge Coaching”. This designation would have been based upon the fact that since I’ve never personally used a triathlon coach, I would have suspected that the type of service one received from a coach in this type of set-up would be really over the top, crème de la crème. What I’ve learned, on the other hand, is that this pinnacle of the coaching dynamic is really based mostly on relationships. Certainly a coach’s job is to help their athlete get physically prepared for an event. This is done through developing customized training plans (that aren’t only race distance specific, but are also custom-tailored for each individual athlete based upon their desire, abilities, and time), playing the role of cheerleader, and occasionally forcing their athletes to be accountable for missed or skipped workouts.
Why It’s Important to Understand the Coaching Choices
Well…as I noted earlier, it’s pretty fundamental that you understand the different types of coaching available so that you can decide what model best fits you and your needs.
At the root of it all, however, the equation is fairly simple. When considering the type of coaching you may or may not want, you need to clearly understand what you want to achieve. The chief differences of each of the respective coaching models lies in the amount of investment that you will have to participate in. In this case, I don’t necessarily mean financial investment (certainly there’s a financial aspect with both the “Off-the-Shelf” model and the “Relationship Coaching” model. We’ll cover that later in the series). Essentially, what I mean is your time investment in terms of developing your plan if you plan on being self-coached, researching and finding the correct “off-the-shelf” program for you, or finding the right “relationship coach”.
The core question is what are you looking for? How involved do you want to be in your own training planning? How much experience do you have, and are you able to come up with a detailed plan on your own? Is it easier for you to hire someone to walk you through the process and do the planning work for you?
We’ll certainly devote some time to both the “Self-Coached” and “Off-the-Shelf” models, but the first several installments of this series are going to essentially focus on the “Relationship Coaching” model.
Step One in Hiring a Coach:
For the next several installments, when I mention “coach”, I’ll be referring to the “Relationship Coaching” model. The live human who works with you to help you achieve goals, develop your training plan, and plan your workouts.
According to Elizabeth Waterstaat, a triathlon coach from Lisle, IL, in thinking about hiring a coach athletes should, “Ask yourself why you’ll be a better athlete with a coach.”
For some, the answer is accountability. When you don’t have to answer to someone, often times it’s easier to skip a workout. Typically, when coached, you have to report the progress of your workouts to your coach. For many folks, the fear of letting down their coach is motivation enough to get out the door.
For others, their triathlon goals are very specific, such as nailing a 55 minute Ironman swim or maintaining a 21mph speed over the bike course. The more specific you can be in knowing what you want to get our of your coaching relationship, the better.
“I would advise an athlete to write down all the things they want from a coach,” said Angela Bancroft of TriMoxie Multisport Coaching. To that end, expect a prospective coach to specifically ask about what you’re looking for and why you want to hire them. Mary Eggers, a coach in the Rochester, NY area, said, “I want to know their why. I want to know why they are doing this. I want to know what drives them.”
So, step one is that you must do a little self-exploration. You need to understand what you’re looking to accomplish as a triathlete, and have some idea of the ways that you think a coach might help you get there.
Next in the TriMadness Coaching Series: How Do I Pick the Right Coach?