Sunday, February 28, 2010

Do You Need a Coach?

The other day I was looking through Facebook when a topic popped up about coaching. There was discussion about whether you should hire a coach if you are a triathlete. I was curious about the topic and began thinking about it while snow blowing my driveway. I am not an expert on this topic, but I do have some thoughts.

First, because someone can swim, bike or run really fast, it does NOT make them a coach. Because someone can post a fast time in a race, it does NOT make them a coach, either.

Second, everyone THINKS he/she can coach. Trust me, they can't. I have been asked to coach or help coach a variety of athletes. Although I feel I could do an adequate job, I always say "no". I actually know a person who has done one sprint and one 70.3 and is advertising herself as a triathlon coach. And, because someone holds a USAT Coaching Certification, this does not make them qualified to coach YOU.

Third, why do you want a coach? To get faster? To win? To learn more? Or are you just willing to give your money away to anyone who has an opinion on what YOU should be doing to be a better triathlete?

Now that I have that out of the way, I will start be explaining why I hired a coach. About 5 years ago, I felt I was doing everything I could to be the best triathlete. I read a lot. I asked questions. I went to clinics. Started a triathlon club. In reality, I had peaked. I wanted more. I wanted to be an "All American" triathlete and the only way this would happen would be to hire someone.

So, what was I looking for? I wanted someone who I could call or see at almost any time. I wanted someone who wanted to know "me", not just my goals. I wanted to be able to ask questions, seek support and get through the challenges that I knew I was going to have.

When I finally hired a coach, things went very well and I improved. Although much of the training early on did not makes sense to me at the time, I was beginning to get faster and faster. I was able to ask questions, meet with her and figure out what was best for ME. Was I winning races? No, but I was getting better day to day and year to year. It worked out really well and we clicked as a team.

Back to the bigger you need a coach? In my opinion, it really comes down to your personal goals. Do you want to finish? Podium? Survive? Win? Those are the real questions. What do YOU want from your season? What will make you feel safe, comfortable and satisfied? Do you need a set program or can you just wing it?

Here is what really scares me about coaches and coaching. In our age of technology, there are so many options. You can go online and find anything you want about triathlons. There are free programs, expensive programs and crazy programs. My advice, buyer beware.

If you are going to hire a coach, here is what I would suggest:

*Personal Touch: Any coach who is worth their credentials will want to really get to know YOU. When I say "know you", I mean, they will take the time to talk with you either in person or on the phone (I prefer in person). They won't have you fill out a survey form, rather, ask you specific questions. This includes pre and post-season meetings.
*Availability: Your coach needs to be available to you, no matter how many clients they have. You are paying for a service and if they can't respond to phone calls or emails in a timely fashion, they are not worth it.
*Cost: What are you willing to pay and what will you get? I am not a fan of sliding scales but I do understand the reasoning. However, coaches are now charging upwards of $600/month for their services. Is it worth it?
*Time: You much time do you have to dedicate to your training. If you can only commit 5 hours a week, why bother?
*Ability to Adjust: Like everything mentioned previously, can this coach adjust your schedule on short notice to fit your needs? What if something happens, are they willing to work with you to make it work for you?
*Experience: Have the every raced before? What is their background in the field. I think having a coach that has experienced what you may have to go through will always be more beneficial than someone who has just studied it.

I think there are some really good coaching service out there. Can you get stuff online, sure. Will it help most people, yes. However, I still think YOU have to decide your personal goals before spending the money.

I am taking a year away from being coached and am going to "coach" myself this year. I have no expectations but I want try some things that I feel may help me later on in racing. I will be my very own guineau pig in the hopes of helping others in the future. I expect this year will be full of unexpected highs and lows.

I'll keep you posted. Until then, good luck in your training.

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