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At some point, almost all athletes - be they runners, swimmers, triathletes or other - will consider the notion of employing the services of a coach. Typically, the more competitive the athlete the more seriously they will take the idea.
But is it worth the money to hire a coach to take your performance to the next level? And if the answer is yes, what qualities should you be looking for in a coach?
How long is a piece of string? Tough to answer, right? Well so is the coaching question above, for all athletes are unique and have different hopes, expectations, likes and dislikes.
Some people opt for the hard-as-nails coach who sets a program and demands excellence. No room for excuses. It’s a ‘No guts, no glory’ type of ethos and for many it works. High expectations from the coach, a strict schedule and little option for compromises. I know of several local and high-profile coaches who operate this way; some people loathe them and some people love them. There can be no doubt that they often maximise the skill-sets of their athletes and extract the best possible performances from them.
Other athletes desire a sense of compassion and understanding in a coach. Someone who understands the rigours of raising a family, holding down a job, and working in and around other commitments. Someone who will readily lend an ear and tweak a training program to enable life to happen around sporting pursuits.
So, which is better? In theory, the answer is somewhere in the middle. A coach should motivate you to work hard, rise to the challenge, and take you out of your comfort zones sometimes while simultaneously educating you in other aspects such as recovery, nutrition, hydration, and race day strategies. But ideally they should be willing to bend, to listen, to be flexible and realize that most people have responsibilities that surpass the next swim meet or triathlon.
Good coaches ought to have a sound knowledge of biomechanics, anatomy, and physiology. A good coach should have experience either competing in the sport and/or training other people to perform well in the sport. Some athletes gravitate toward coaches who have excelled in their chosen sport, as if they have a back catalogue of real-life training and racing experiences with which to call upon in their teachings.
Some athletes seek a coach who embraces the ever-changing world of technology in training and racing. Power meters, heart rate, data analysis, lactate threshold testing and VO2 Max to name a few. Some of these may not be part of the new-wave of training, but some coaches zero in on this data as an invaluable piece of the puzzle, while other coaches rely on old-school, tried and tested modes of training and racing. Neither is right nor wrong; it’s purely a case of personal preference.
A good coach should understand the psychology of training and racing. Being able to reach inside the minds of athletes is key, walking them through potential issues and pitfalls, and instilling in them a deep sense of self-belief that they can rise to meet the challenge ahead, whatever that may be. Ever wondered why Tiger Woods’ coach was a super old guy who could no longer swing a club? Or Mark Allen’s (6 x Hawaii Ironman Champion) former mentor in triathlon had never raced a tri in his life? The answer is because these mentors had a way of making their athletes believe. Believe in the process. Believe in themselves. Believe deep down that they could push on in trying circumstances.
In the final analysis, a good coach needs to build a strong rapport with their athletes, a relationship built on mutual respect, trust, and honesty. Coaches need to have good people skills or the process simply won’t work beyond the short-term.
Word of mouth is an excellent place to start when considering employing someone as your coach. Ask friends, read forums, look at blogs and internet posts to research potential coaches. Contact the coach directly and ask a few questions, or maybe arrange coffee and a chat, to see if your intuition suggests it may be a good fit.
It would be remiss to forget the cost of employing a coach. It’s not rude to ask. Let’s be honest, it could be the key factor in the decision making process.
It goes without saying that dedicated coaches spend considerable time and energy thinking about ways to bring out the best in their athletes, how to best manipulate the pieces of each individual puzzle. Coached athletes feel a sense of accountability and that, in itself, generally leads to a situation where everyday people reach above and beyond what they are capable of doing on their own. There are exceptions, and some of the best athletes in sport over time have been self-coached, but a coach worth his/her salt will push hard toward the blurred line of absolute potential.
All things aside, there is definitely merit in that.
Ask yourself this question – what is improved performance really worth to you? If improving in your chosen sport occupies a good chunk of your head space, then maybe it’s time to do some research and invest in a coach.
By: Kerry Hale