A Question of Coaching

Mid-year and for many, despite not even a hint of summer, the season is already over. The major European Ironman races are done, with the exception of the UK, Sweden, Wales and for one of my athletes Kona, most of those I coach are already looking towards 2013; Lanzarote and Roth are proving popular in my camp. Inevitably I see a turn-over of athletes, for many the completion of the race goal leads them into new projects and time away from focussed training, and for others, with fresh 2013 targets in mind, it’s time to take a more structured approach and potentially hire a coach. My inbox is overrun with a mix of race planning, race analysis and enquiries towards my availability for the season ahead. On the latter point I am just about full again, but all enquiries are welcome.

There are some common themes that run through those enquiries, questions I routinely answer that it’s worth collecting and addressing as a whole. A few athletes are confident in their choice and ready to commit straight away, they simply want to know where to sign; it’s a little unnerving, but I know my initial questionnaire and a couple of months together will determine whether the relationship works. I also recognise I’m a luxury service and an athlete should clearly understand what they are buying. It’s important to give clear, honest answers to their concerns.

Am I good enough for a coach? Or quite often, the flattering, am I good enough for you to coach me? The simple answer is yes. Everyone can benefit from coaching regardless of ability, but an athlete’s experience and abilities should shape the choices they make. A beginner may gain more from a club environment as opposed to a coaching program delivered online; I can help them, but there are limitations to what I can do remotely and areas where I always recommend direct coaching, whether with me or a local specialist. Swimming is the obvious example – for a novice observation and feedback from a coach offer significant benefits, without that input I can only offer a focus on conditioning and generic drills within my sessions. I have helped beginners with training plans and it can work well, but it typically needs that support from additional coaches or specialists to throughly address issues of technique.

Do I need a coach? Always a tricky one. From a business perspective I should probably reply, “yes”, and attach my payment details, but the correct answer is: it’s a personal choice, nobody needs a coach.

What can – your – coaching bring to my training? This is the crux of the previous question and something every athlete should consider before choosing a coach. My brief answer, freshly written every time, is along these lines:

No coach can guarantee results, too many factors come into play over a season and during a race; however, a coach creates an environment that enhances an athlete’s potential of achieving their goals. A coach brings order to training and, more particularly, a structure targeted towards the goals, without a coach there may be a tendency for an athlete to do the training they like not the training they need. Plans are made, and continually revised, that progress an athlete while minimising the risk of injury or illness. And besides this, a coach provides guidance and support for an athlete – addressing their concerns, offering perspective, maintaining their focus and always ensuring they are building towards those goals.

If this broad definition of the coaching role matches the athlete’s expectations then, perhaps, the coaching relationship will work.

Ultimately it comes back to the athlete. What they need and whether I can provide it. Some lack the knowledge to achieve their goals, some need the support and reassurance and others need the motivation and accountability. I’m willing to give any athlete a chance if they are willing to do the same for me; not every coach-athlete relationship will work and you rarely know until you try it. But it’s still worth asking these questions before you start

Ironman Training Library

From nutrition to pacing - a collection of CoachCox blog posts focused specifically on Ironman training and racing.