Choosing a Coach

I recently recieved an email from an athlete looking for my opinion on how to pick a coach. She had so many hang ups on how important the coaches personal accomplishments were in relationship to the service, science, and knowledge. My response was that it is a balance of all things that make up any sort of service relationship. Here are the things I suggested she think about:

#1: Knowledge Base

What is a coach’s background in relationship to your sport. Does he or she continue his/her education through clinics, webinars, mentorships, and working cooperatively with other respected coaches, scientists, and professionals who can bolster his/her knowledge for the athlete’s benefit.  Things to look for in addition to the USA Triathlon Coaching Certificate are things like higher education, supplemental/supporting certifications (i.e. USA Cycling, CSCS, CPT, USA Swimming), and network of other coaches/professionals to draw feedback from.  If a coach seems to be a ‘loner’ or doesn’t push to learn the new science, read scientific journal articles about your sport, and seems to be a ‘know it all’ that’s probably a red flag. On the other hand if the coach has a PhD in exercise physiology and is the person publishing the studies out there in the peer reviewed journals then yes- that person can be considered a know it all. :)  If a coach does not have any certification that’s not necessarily always a red flag but I would be more dilligent in finding out what the coach’s training has been before I invest any of my money in them.

#2: Training Philosophy

Training for endurance sports is part science, part art. Each coach I have worked with has their own flair, philosophy, and go-to workouts they use.  There are definite reasons for this so – ASK. Each coach should be able to articulate a coaching philosophy or how they see progress comes in each particular sport. Some coaches rely heavily on science. Some coaches rely soley on perceived effort and athlete feedback. Some coaches believe in rest days. Some coaches believe in rest days only as needed. Don’t hesitate to ask a coach how they tick. With any type of purchase these days, be an informed consumer!

#3: Personality

Many times I get emails from athletes wanting to start up a coaching relationship via email or phone. The only time I will do that is if the athlete is out of state. I have found that in a person to person meeting non-verbal communication from the coach and the athlete will help each person determine if they are compatable to work together.  I am a very hyper, outgoing, loud individual. If someone doesn’t jive with that and doesn’t feel a connection with that why should they suffer through a season being annoyed by their coach? On the other side of the coin, a coach may decide that you might not necessarily fit with his or her coaching style/personality, etc as well. If that happens, don’t be offended – just ask them to suggest someone who might be better suited for them.

#4: Customer Service and Communication

In my opinion, customer service is the most important aspect to any coaching relationship. In the service industry you have to provide feedback, guidance, attention, support, clairty…at any given time. Ask the prospective coach what their communication plan is. If you are an unlimited athlete ask the coach for a definition of that. Can you call at any time? What about weekends? What if the athlete can’t get in touch with you? Another key question to ask is what happens if I am unhappy or frustrated.  A coach with a solid customer service plan will tell you up front that no matter what – if you are unhappy – communicate it immediately so he or she can fix it.  The best way to investigate these two items is to ask for current or past athlete references.

#5: Inspiration/Motivation

This is the piece that some find more important than others. Does this person make you want to work harder. Does their attitude, leadership, behavior, personality, make you want to get out of bed at 5 am to get your work done. The answer may be no – and if you’re a self-starting athlete maybe you don’t need that. If you know you work better when you have someone to aspire to be like then take this into consideration when looking for a coach.

Ultimately this decision is a personal one. You may make a choice that you regret down the road. You may be extremely happy with your choice. All in all, be sure you do your homework. It’s your money and in this economy you want to spend it wisely.