>TriMadness Coaching Series – How Do I Make the Coach-Athlete Relationship Work?

>Last week, we really got deep into the TriMadness coaching series by learning about how I classify the different fundamental coaching models and started to explore the initial steps that one should follow in their quest for hiring a coach. We then spent some time looking at how one finds a coach, the types of questions one should ask a prospective coach and whether USAT coaching certification is a “must have”.

You can read the prior installments in the series here:

Part One: The TriMadness Coaching Survey – The Results
Part Two: TriMadness Coaching Series – The Prologue
Part Three: Why Should I Use a Coach?
Part Four: How Do I Pick the Right Coach?

Recall that the next several articles in this series are predicated upon the thought that you’ve decided to go down the path of what I call the “Relationship Coaching” model, where you will hire a full-time, dedicated coach. Later on in the series we’ll spend more time focusing on the “Self-Coached” and “Off-the-Shelf” models.

In today’s article, we’ll be reviewing what factors are critical in making for a successful coach-athlete dynamic. Now, I’m going to be up-front and honest. Those of you who know me in person will read the title of this post and think to yourselves that I’m an emotional twit…how the heck would I know anything about how a relationship works. Therein lays the beauty of this series. Even I’m learning new things as we progress…

Your Background Info

By all accounts, having a successful relationship with your coach comes down to using effective relationship skills. Listening. Asking questions. Thinking. Communicating needs, desires and expectations. These skills create a cycle that builds upon itself and fosters a dynamic relationship.

I could honestly just end this post here. The story’s been told.

But, I’m not sure that if I just end right here that drives all the right points home.

You’ve likely invested some time in picking a coach that feels right. They answered some of the questions from my prior post to your liking. You liked their sense of humor, perhaps. You got the sense that they would challenge you in the right way and boost your self esteem when required. (God, this sounds like dating…)

Here’s the rub. That process needs to happen again…just this time in reverse order. And the more open you are with a prospective coach, the better off you’ll be. Coaches will ask you a ton of questions: your background, your current fitness level, your race experience, and your goals. Be open and honest. “I want to know their why. I want to know why they are doing this. I want to know what drives them,” says Mary Eggers, a coach from New York.

The first step in most coach-athlete relationships involves some paperwork. Ben Greenfield, a coach from Washington said, “All athletes fill out a comprehensive questionnaire that answers every possible question on their health, triathlon and exercise history, as well as nutrition, job and lifestyle questions.”

Why on earth do coaches want to have all this information? There’s countless reasons (getting a baseline on your fitness & nutrition, defining tolerance limits to perhaps shield them from potential liability, to understand your motivation, etc), but in general, the questionnaire is your first communication step. Think of it as speed dating, except you’re baring a lot of yourself in the first few minutes. Without having a clear window into your background and goals, it would be literally impossible for a coach to help you plot a roadmap to your success.

Over communication

OK, this post is beginning to feel like something straight off of the Dr. Phil show. There’s no mistaking that perhaps the make-it or break-it element for a coaching relationship is communication.

You’ve got to communicate regularly with your coach.

Why? Well, life happens. You have to take a business trip. Little Johnny gets strep throat and you can’t leave the house for four days. You get strep throat and can’t leave the couch for four days. You get injured. Without communication, your coach is going to think that you’re just plugging along happily doing workouts.

What are the best ways to communicate with your coach? That varies. “We talk on the phone, skype, meet for workouts and/or coffee, email, text, everything,” said Eggers.

“I communicate with my athletes daily if that is what they need from me,” said Angela Bancroft, a coach from Maine. Greenfield further stated that he often communicates with his athletes “multiple times per day.”

Of course, communicating daily with your coach may be too much for you (or her). This is a critical question that you should ask during your due diligence. You should understand how frequently the coach wants to hear from you, the best communication modality to use, and if there are limits on duration (for example, of phone calls).

What should you share with your coach? Well, almost anything. First and foremost, your coach needs to know when you can train, what your schedule is. Tell them about your good workouts. Tell them what is difficult in your routine. Tell them what you down right suck at. If you’re feeling less than motivated, share that too. Just don’t expect to always have a sympathetic shoulder to cry on.

“I’m not a therapist,” said Eggers. Don’t expect your coach to wallow in your pool of self-pity when you’re not performing well. “I don’t accept excuses, hand hold,” said Elizabeth Waterstaat. “I don’t tell them it’s OK to skip workouts. Don’t expect fluff, sugar coating or hand holding from me.”

With all of this said, however, expect your coach to share some motivation with you as well. Your coach will learn your strengths and your “hot buttons”. He’ll know when and how to push you so that you gain optimal results.


Well, this was a short post. And with good reason. The path to an effective relationship with your coach is through communication.

With communication comes familiarity. Familiarity and openness breeds trust. Trust is a requirement in coaching. “Commit and trust your coach. It’s why you hired them,” said Greenfield. Without trust, there is no solid communication.

The effective coach-athlete dynamic boils down to a simple cycle of communication. Now, if all our other relationships were that easy!


4 thoughts on “>TriMadness Coaching Series – How Do I Make the Coach-Athlete Relationship Work?

  1. >Wow, felt like I was standing in the "Self Help" aisle at Barnes & Noble!If I even get a coach Joel I will use this series as my guide — you should put this all into a book!

  2. >I agree with Jeff, this is great stuff!! This whole series is really awesome to read and I really think should be a must read for anyone thinking about getting a coach.

  3. >As someone who can attest that I met a coach with great ideas, but whose ideas of communication differed from mine (i.e. ideal times, receiving feedback, etc), I have to say the communication piece is huge. It goes beyond just how well you get along sitting and chatting. It is how receptive they are to your feedback and you to theirs, and even the style and timing of communication.

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