First Steps in Triathlon Coaching

Contrast my life on the road with my life in an office and it’s no surprise I wanted to extend it. Early in my travels I considered a sustainable athletic lifestyle: work that provided enough to fund racing, but gave time and flexibility to train. The idea became a daunting reality when I returned to the UK last summer. Life was built around training. I’d gained a lot of experience, I’d read deeply into the topic and I continued to learn more. Coaching made sense. Something I enjoyed and something I had the potential to do well. But was there a market to support me?

The answer proved to be yes. I’ve offered coaching for over a year, but it’s only in the last six months it really became a business. The transformation began in La Santa with a pep talk. I had to get serious; I had to apply the energy and focus I put into training into coaching. I nervously dived into the process. Pessimistic at first, by November I believed it might actually work. Athletes were coming to me interested in what I had to offer. Three more months and I’m optimistic. The year ahead offers great opportunities as a coach and as a business.

There were two major hurdles. Like any business with a product I needed to make the market aware of it and establish the benefits it offered. I was the product. The individual and the coach were inseparable. I was a coach with a lot of experience as an athlete. I’d come from modest non-sporting beginnings and worked to achieve my results; they’d not been easy, they’d taken time. But race results are one thing: a good athlete doesn’t necessarily make a good coach. I wouldn’t be trading on my placings, but I could trade on my experience.

I was long absent from the UK and not part of my home triathlon community so rather than pursue the local market I focussed on an area I could develop. I had online presence. Not huge, but something I could grow. In it’s then form this blog was reaching end of life: travel was limited and training routine. There was an obvious opportunity for it to become a platform to express my views on triathlon. I’d occasionally dipped into the topic, but now I’d shift the emphasis. My life would become the background, how to train the foreground.

I’d lurked in online forums. A passive participant, but not a stranger. It sounds calculated, but I stepped up my activity. I became a contributor: offered opinion and shared knowledge. Being involved in the community was rewarding in its own right. The fact it improved awareness of my coaching and helped establish my abilities were fringe benefits.I wanted to be a member, not a user. I stuck to principles: advice given freely, contributions made when relevant and no selling. Be seen; be useful.

The amount of information I was willing to give away was critical. There’s enough on this blog to construct a crude replica of my typical training plans. I omit details, rarely outline the contents of sessions, but hint at types. Publishing the first piece along these lines was a nervous moment. Why would anyone hire me as a coach if they could read the answers here? I gave out a lot, but it was a taster. It addressed a far more fundamental question: why would anyone hire me as a coach if they didn’t know my view on training? Now they knew.

This is my public face. There’s been an awkward transition in my online identity. My blog and social media accounts are links to friends, but also a means to promote my work. I recognise the difficulty with this: the risk of being a spammer, but I wasn’t a vast user of social media before. They’ve been invaluable in raising awareness and broadening the community I engage with. I’m attempting to achieve a better balance this year, mixing the personal with the self-promotional. I always try to avoid the outright sale. Be seen; be useful.

I’m not a fan of marketing: I need substance. From the beginning the foundations of my coaching had to remain sound. Athlete centered: built for the individual. I’m there to answer every question in a timely fashion; each athlete gets my undivided attention when they require it. What I promise an athlete I deliver on: quality of coaching backed by quality of service. I’m always careful never to promise specific results!

I’ve made mistakes; it’s taken time to refine my approach. Early on I learnt being responsive, communicative and clear stands you out from the crowd. It sounds trivial, but makes a real difference. There was nothing new, but an application of simple business principles seemed radical in the coaching world. I’m prompt in my replies, I consider my answers and I admit mistakes. If there is a better authority I point an athlete to them. Every athlete has to know I’m working to help them achieve their goals.

I can talk a good game, but until I’m established I’m a risk. I’ve priced myself accordingly: a single low monthly rate. One system; one approach to coaching. There are no tiers or differentiation of service: every athlete gets custom monthly plans, unlimited communication and unlimited adjustments to those plans. The entry barrier is low with no start-up fee or minimum period of coaching. You’re not happy you leave. It forces me to live up to the quality of service and coaching I proclaim.

That’s it. No short cuts or radical approaches. Simple working ethics and straight forward coaching. I recognised that whilst the content of my coaching was most important the presentation was significant too. I invest time in my athlete’s plans and in the information I give out for free. This short post on coaching is the product of a few hours work! The process is enjoyable; I like sharing information. Its also an investment: I would credit my writing on the web with a large amount of my success so far.

Put the work in and you can reach a point where you can sustain a lifestyle. But it takes work and it takes time. There are many careers offering better returns, but I have what matters most to me: flexibility and a job I enjoy.