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The Athlete-to-Coach Journey

BY Joe Hamilton

There are many skills that translate easily from being an athlete to becoming a coach, but others may really throw you for a loop.

I have been into cycling in one form or another for the last 25 years. The time has gone fast, and I appreciate what I’ve learned from both training as an athlete and coaching. Like most, I started self-coaching. This mostly entailed reading every methodology I could get my hands on and trying it out during my training and racing. Once I plateaued, I moved on to hire trainers and cycling coaches to develop practical training. These new outside perspectives allowed me to appreciate the abilities I had while avoiding comparing myself to others. 

Making the Transition

Cycling has been my passion and a part of my everyday life, and I wanted to share this passion with others. So I did what most athletes-turning-coaches do—I spent an enormous amount of time and money on my coaching education and received the opportunity to apply my knowledge. Can I say I reached the pinnacle of mastery? No. Instead, I learned how much I don’t know and how complex and varied each athlete’s physiological makeup is. Applying common knowledge to practical training is not as clear-cut as coaching education makes it out to be. 

Ultimately, practical training comes down to realizing that athletes’ limiters and strengths cannot be approached with the same strategic approach. After all, individuality and specificity are what makes coaching fun! We must adapt our training to the best of our ability to fit our continuously evolving athletes. Within this vein, here are a few nuggets I have learned about what it means to be an athlete vs. a coach.

1. The struggle is real (but you’re not alone!)

As an athlete, I lived in a bubble. I believed I had specific life issues that impacted my training and no one else’s. Often, these consisted of challenges prioritizing work, family time and money. As a self-coached athlete, I created workouts, executed them, analyzed the data and quickly realized that this took enormous amounts of time. I soon began forcing my life to fit around my training rather than the other way around. 

As a coach, I aim to take away some of my athletes’ burdens and see the forest for the trees. When you’re an athlete, it is easy to get lost in the trees. As a coach, it’s refreshing to help athletes realize that training is just a small piece of their overall life that should enhance their experience, not take away from it.

I also learned that although each athlete is unique, we still share many of the same problems. A coach is there to objectively work through your challenges and advocate for solutions. Training is not about winning, but rather improving yourself as an overall athlete. Winning (hopefully) is just a byproduct of this process.

 2. Your athletes’ success becomes more important than your own. 

As athletes, we’re only responsible for ourselves (and to our coach if we have one). As a coach, you are just as responsible for your athletes as you are to yourself, if not more so. Their aspirations are your aspirations. Their wins and losses are yours.

If you strive to continue to pursue your own athletic achievement while coaching, prepare for the scale to tip towards your athletes. After all, your time and attention are limited and your clients should take precedence. It’s no longer just about you, but rather all of your athletes. If you find yourself seriously slipping in your own self-care and athletic upkeep, now might be the time to consider getting your own coach. After all, even coaches can benefit from coaching from time to time. That being said, sharing in your athletes’ wins is possibly the most incredible feeling in the world.

3. Once you admit you don’t know everything, the real learning begins.

As a self-coached athlete, I never believed a coach could show me more than I had already experienced or read about. But, when I got my own coach and eventually became a coach, I realized how much I did not know. It was then that I finally realized there’s an art to applying training principles.

Although scientific modeling and research can tell us a lot about physiology and athlete psychology, it’s never entirely water-tight in accuracy. This is just because simulations with controlled variables, executed in a lab simply do not account for everything racing and training can throw at you. 

The key to good coaching is striking a balance between presenting science-backed, well-researched knowledge while still remaining adaptable to a chaotic reality. Accepting what you don’t know, remaining humble but still relying on your wealth of experience and research will provide your athletes with the most well-rounded guidance. As you continue to coach and train, don’t forget where you came from as an athlete but strive to bring your hard-earned confidence and experience to your athletes. Who knows, maybe you’ll inspire them to become coaches someday!

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Joe Hamilton Mountain Biking On A Trail In The Woods
About Joe Hamilton

Joe Hamilton is a coach for SpinDoctors Performance, LLC. He has more than a decade of experience in the bicycle industry as an athlete, coach, personal trainer, and team organizer. As a USAC and Accredited Training Peaks Level 2 coach, he has helped athletes at every level prepare to reach their goals in road and mountain cycling. You can follow SpinDoctors on Instagram or Facebook. For more information on personal coaching, training plans, or to schedule a free introductory call visit: https://spindoctorsperformance.com/

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