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masters3The most challenging part of coaching is deciding if one’s training philosophy is well matched with the athlete. Every coach will have particular beliefs on how to prioritise types of workouts. The second most difficult aspect of coaching is getting enough information from the athlete to write up an appropriate program. Incorporating every type of training and recovery technique known to man into a program of a person who has a job isn’t realistic. Prioritising types of sessions and creating periods of emphasis that suit each individual is where the skill of the coach is tested.

Many age group athletes have the misconception that I only work with pros or “full time” age-groupers. I don’t. Most of the people I work with are age groupers – I work with 12 to 15 at a time. I also work at my gym here in Christchurch giving fitness programs to average folks. These aren’t triathletes by any means. They’re just normal gym users trying to get fit. I also take the aquabelt fitness classes there at the pool as well as coach masters swimming. This is my “normal” job. If you think there are other coaches out there who can relate you to – the age-grouper – because they tell you they can then I’d like you to consider these questions: Do they have any kids? I have three. Do they have a wife who works full time? I do. Do they also fit in their training around work, homework, meals, taking their kids to sport, bed time stories, yard work, etc.? I do!!! Ask your potential coach about that and then you’ll have a better idea of who can relate to what you’re trying to achieve.

kona_vinuMy experience in working with triathletes the last six years has led me to make a few generalisations concerning how they set up their programs: most are too ambitious – by that, I mean that they have less time and energy than they think they do; most don’t start their preparation early enough; most don’t make adequate time for stretching and recovery; most do too many long runs too close to their important races; most don’t know anything about supplements and what advantages they can have, so consequently don’t believe its even worth looking into; most don’t do any strength work and wouldn’t know how to even if they did want to; most underestimate the changes and sacrifices they will have to make in their normal life to accommodate their new goals.

This last point is very important in deciding if a coach is right for you. Is the coach going to ask you to make changes to your life that you and/or your partner are unwilling to make? It takes a fair bit of communication both ways before deciding on a coach to find this out, and it’s crucial that you do or the program is likely doomed to fail.

I personally choose to work with athletes who have been in the sport for a few years. It takes this amount of time to realise the time, energy and monetary commitment involved. I also choose to work with athletes who have the time and energy to meet their goals. I firmly believe that triathletes and multisport athletes need weeks at a time where they have both a fair amount of flexibility with their work schedules and can also work fewer hours, from time to time. Call me an elitist if you don’t have the ability to arrange your life like this, but its been my experience over the years that folks working an inflexible 40 hours each week or more, plus commuting, plus a relationship and perhaps a family, are asking too much of themselves and every one around them when they decide to increase their training a substantial amount. I admire coaches who sincerely do their best for people in this situation, but it’s not me.

ProfessorCliffThere are a lot of coaches out there who are willing to tell you that you can keep your training very minimal and still improve. While I’m willing to agree with that in principle, I think modest improvement is the most you can expect at best. If this is all you are looking for, then there are a number of good books to guide you through your training. They’ll cost you a heck of a lot less and save you a lot of time as compared with hiring a coach to guide you. I would expect to improve my performance pretty substantially if I was to choose to hire a coach, and when I enter into an agreement with an athlete to help them, this is one of the fundamental things we have to agree on.

There are three other characteristics I feel are very important that a coach have:

  • The knowledge to apply training principles properly to each individual.
  • The ability and willingness to adapt the program when the athlete’s circumstances change.
  • The desire to still compete as well, the proof being whether the coach does some hard racing or not.

This last point is something I feel quite strongly about because I’ve been in close contact with so many coaches over the years that have lost touch with what it feels like to be an athlete. There are feelings we have that many coaches haven’t felt for so long that they’ve lost touch with them. The fatigue and the aches we feel when we’re training hard, the other sacrifices we have to make to reach our goals. What its like to stumble out into the sleet at 5am knowing that it’s the only opportunity you’ll get to do that run that day. The passion and the drive.

The first rule of being a great teacher — keep being a student.