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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 through applying techniques obtained through reading books, blogs and magazines, or watching videos. But for many, they may want more personalized help on how best to move forward. This is where coaches come in.

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

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

In general, based on some in depth initial Q&A and analysis, an endurance sports coach is able to unbiasedly consider your ability level, current state of fitness, life situation and time constraints and help you establish or fine tune realistic goals.

Based on this, at a minimum, the coach works to develop a training plan, including 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, hear rate, speed, distance etc.) and subjective feedback from the athlete.

Analyzing that feedback, the coach in turn tweaks training as needed to help the athlete 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.

While fitness is generally a big part of any improvement in the endurance sports world and this is usually what we focus on when we think of coaching in this context, developing skills and instincts, fine tuning preparation, and improving racing tactics are all very big factors that likely need to be addressed.

The Coaching Marketplace

When looking at the range of service offerings, the first question most folks ask is “How much does it cost?” While cost is certainly important to everyone, 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.

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 is 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. This is not meant to be critical of this on this approach; for many folks a “basic” plan with minimal tailoring and personal communication may work 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 incorporate work-life balance into training routines more extensively and more personally tailor the fitness side to work within an athlete’s time constraints and unique schedule.

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.

Coaches who operate in this space often provide individualized feedback and direction on technique, tactics, skills, equipment, nutrition, strength and even get into more “life coach” feedback as well in terms of finding a “right fit” for sport in an athlete’s busy life. Many coaches will work with their athletes on pretty much any aspect of the sport as it pertains to their situation.

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 and 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 can fill different niches based on their background, style, experience and focus. Before committing, shop around, think about what you are after, 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?
Are you able to take the time to communicate routinely with your coach? How much do you want to communicate with your coach and how do you prefer to communicate? Email, phone, messaging etcWhat 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, 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?


A coach is certainly not a requirement for participation in endurance sports, however, there can be many benefits to enlisting a coach’s services. A good coach’s experience, depth and breadth of knowledge, and unbiased perspective can assist athletes in getting more out of their endurance sports experience and to be better at refining and working toward their performance goals.

If you choose to go the coaching route, ensure that you take the time to consider what services you need, 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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