A Pro Triathlete Talking With Her Coach While Looking At A Cyclocomputer

Do You Need a Coach?

BY George Ganoung

Hiring an endurance coach is a viable option for athletes of all levels. Here are some things to consider when deciding whether or not it’s time to hire a coach, as well as what to look for during the hiring process.

One of the wonderful things about endurance sports is at their core, they are simple. To participate, you only need some basic gear and the desire to hit the road, trail, water or snow.

But for many, as they practice their favorite activity more, just partaking is not enough. Ambitions grow, and targets and goals tend to develop. Pursuit of these goals generally requires some combination of better fitness, technique, preparation and tactics.

Many athletes might be able to get there on their own by applying techniques found in books, blogs, magazines, and videos. But for many, professional, personalized help is the best way to move forward. This is where coaches come in.

The Role of a Coach

Like any advisor, teacher, or tutor, an endurance sports coach has extensive experience and/or education with training techniques and skills development in the respective sport. They apply that knowledge to help athletes maximize their potential more effectively than the athlete could on their own.

While everyone is different, more experienced coaches have the benefit of having observed common scenarios multiple times and can better diagnose and guide athletes who are going through situations the first time.

Based on some in-depth initial Q&A and analysis, an endurance sports coach can unbiasedly consider your ability level, current state of fitness, life situation, and time constraints. They then use that information to help you establish and fine-tune your goals.

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At a minimum, a coach works to develop a training plan, plans daily workouts, and provides those workouts to the athlete via TrainingPeaks or other delivery mechanisms. The coach then reviews feedback from completed training through objective (power, heart rate, speed, distance etc.) and subjective feedback from the athlete.

Analyzing that feedback, the coach, in turn, tweaks training as needed to help you progress and develop. In addition, coaches may provide varying levels of one-on-one communication and consultation on technique, skills and other factors that impact performance.

Aerobic improvement is obviously important in the endurance sports world, and this is usually what we focus on when we think of coaching in this context. But developing skills and instincts, fine-tuning preparation, and improving racing tactics are all very big factors in endurance sport as well, and working with a coach can certainly help in these areas.

Considering Costs

When looking at the range of service offerings, the first question most folks ask is, “How much does it cost?” While cost is important, it’s critical to consider price in context. Background, experience levels, certifications, education, and past performance all factor into pricing. Also, like most services, there is a broad spectrum of service-level offerings.

“Basic” Coaching Packages

Generally, lower-cost “basic” coaching packages focus primarily on fitness plans and prescribing tried-and-true approaches to all their clients, adjusted slightly for time and fitness levels. Tailoring and “on the fly” adjustments to meet a client’s specific needs are minimal, and interaction with the coach is likely minimal as well. In some cases, an athlete may not even get to choose their coach if they work with a larger organization, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For many folks, a basic plan with minimal tailoring and personal communication works perfectly fine.

In general, as prices increase, higher-end coaching packages tend to include more frequent and in-depth client and coach engagement and a higher degree of tailoring and use of different approaches. They are likely to consider your work-life balance and unique schedule when planning workouts and training blocks.

In-Depth, Personal Coaching

Higher-end coaching services usually support having more frequent and in-depth coach-athlete communications as well. Where a “basic” plan may only include a couple of limited interactions between coach and athlete a month, a higher service level may have unlimited interactions, with athletes and coaches interacting regularly throughout any given week.

Outside of the training plan construct, many coaches also provide straight consultation, generally charging an hourly rate to cover specific topics or address techniques more specifically or to provide some type of general analysis.

To use an analogy, the range is similar to education. At one end you have the seminar that is designed to be relatively inexpensive yet effective at a high level for a lot of people, but the students have limited flexibility, minimal individual attention, and relatively little opportunity to interact with the instructor.

At the other end, you have one-on-one tutoring where the student hires a specific individual, and gets individualized attention in the areas they specifically want help in. The tutor is selected because of their grasp of a specific topic and ability to interact with the student; it’s more individualized but also usually costs more.

Things to Consider When Choosing A Coach

In addition to service levels and experience, different coaches fill different niches based on their backgrounds, styles, experience, and focus. Before committing, shop around and think about what you want/need and what you are trying to accomplish by enlisting their help. Take some time to consider what is important to you as an athlete and jot down some questions to ask yourself (and the perspective coach) when looking at different options.

The following are just some examples and can vary depending on your situation:

Ask YourselfAsk Your Prospective Coach
How unique is your situation?What are your credentials?
What level of services do you need?How many athletes have you coached? Any testimonials or success stories?
How important is it to you that your coach either races now or has raced successfully in the past?Do you race yourself?
How flexible is your schedule? How can I expect to communicate with you by email, phone, text, etc.? How often can I communicate with you, and how quickly should I expect responses to questions?What is your current availability? How many athletes are you currently coaching?
How rigid is your daily schedule? Can you meet and commit to a prescribed plan provided by your coach?How flexible is your schedule? How can I expect to communicate with you by email, phone, text, etc.? How often can I communicate with you, and how quickly should I expect responses to questions?
Are you open to critique and feedback on your performance and schedule?How much do you take an athlete’s work/life requirements into account?
Are you open to changing your current training and racing approach?Is consultation on equipment/race prep/tactics, etc., offered in your service?
Are you willing to buy additional training equipment needed? (i.e. power meter, swim buoy, drag parachute, etc.)Is any additional training equipment required for your service?
Do you like to train by “numbers” or like more “organically”?What fundamental training styles do you subscribe to?

Conclusion

A coach is certainly not a requirement for participation in endurance sports; however, working with a coach can provide many benefits. A good coach’s experience, depth of knowledge, and unbiased perspective can assist you in getting more out of your endurance sports experience and help you achieve your goals.

If you choose to go the coaching route, make sure that you take the time to consider what services you need and what is important to you and ensure these qualities match up with the perspective coach’s offerings and style.

Photo courtesy of ©BrakeThrough Media

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About George Ganoung

Coach George Ganoung has over 30 years of combined endurance sports experience as an athlete, team director and coach. He owns and operates Otterhaus Performance Coaching www.otterhaus.com

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