A Brief Conversation on Distinguishing the Coach from the Athlete

“How much do you think your own performance affects your business as a coach?” Gill asked.

It’s an interesting question. We had established that although there were other factors involved at Ironman Lanzarote the quality of my preparation had played a major role, and while this was something I could address it was also clear I was unlikely to do this to the extent a peak performance required. I simply did not want the result enough to make the necessary sacrifices. Neither did I want to spend the following months writing race reports about limping over the finish line, on a practical level I would have to train more productively. The broader issue was whether that choice, to target a lower level of performance, would impact an athlete’s interest in my coaching.

“I don’t think it matters at all”, was my reply.

Because an athlete shouldn’t choose a coach on the basis of their race results; a coach’s personal performance is at best an indication they know how to enable athletes to perform, but what works for them may not work for others. A coach should be judged on what they achieve with the athletes they coach. But realistically, in a sport where coaches are as often as not also athletes, their own results can come into play; not least when their website – their business presence – utilises those results for content. As of course I do.

“It shouldn’t matter,” I backtracked.

I can see the logic that raises questions about my ability to coach when my results page shows a decline in performance and my race reports consist of excuses. The history is there – I have a number of sub-10 Ironmans, a couple of age group podiums and a pair of Kona qualifications – but the potential to question my training methodologies is also present when: I’ve injure myself through overuse on the run, I’ve spent a lot of time walking marathons and I’ve detonated two hours into the bike. If I seemingly don’t know what works for me can I know what works for others?

“I don’t train the way I coach others,” I added in my defence.

When I write about my own training I am honest about the haphazard way that I train. I present my data out of interest, to demonstrate ways to consider training or aspects that may work in a bigger plan, and also because – I think – people are still interested. When I write about training in general I am honest about how I approach the training of others, of the focussed, goal-oriented athletes I work with. The distinction may not be as clear as I think. So when I try to write an entertaining report on the many mistakes made in Lanzarote some may see it as a reflection on my coaching methods.

“The plans work, many of my athletes have been getting great results,” I pointed out.

“Perhaps you might mention that?” Gill replied.

Which is a good point. I have always been strangely reluctant to play up my athletes’ results; one reason a prospective athlete might turn to my results page is because there isn’t one for my athletes. I’ve never acted on offers of testimonials for the website, though have asked for references before. When I wrote about my personal worst in Lanza I declined to mention the top fifty finish and fastest British amateur time of 10:00:14 achieved by one of my athletes or the Ironman personal best achieved by another. I am bad at marketing and if my own results aren’t going to sell me it’s something I have to address.

“I suppose I should.”

Conversation moved on, but it planted the seed for further thought on the changing relationship of my coaching and my own training and how that is reflected on this website. Not that I intend to abandon the accounts of my haphazard training, nor am I warning you of an imminent marketing offensive, but it feels like a clearer distinction needs to be made between the coach and the athlete. And that has apparently been percolating in the back of my head, because my original plan for today was to analyse a couple of athletes’ power files from the CXIII Middle Distance Triathlon. I should mention, one of them won it, the other had a tougher day, but still performed strongly.