Coaching by Allegory and Continuing Education

One of the things that I love about my job is that there is always new science, new studies, and new theories that come out about training and how we can make athletes better, stronger and faster.  On the flip side, one of the things that frustrates me about some coaches in the field is that they coach based on allegory. What does coaching by allegory mean? In literature, an allegory is a story/poem/picture that can be interpreted to mean something else. In this blog, I am using the word allegory to represent the ‘stories’ that a coach has heard or been taught by other coaches (or God forbid athletes).  An example of this is let’s say a coach reads Macca’s book or Chrissie Wellington’s book and decides that since Chrissie Wellington did a monster set of 800 repeats off of the bike that everyone training to PR an Ironman should be doing the same set.  Here’s the rub for me: A set of 800 repeats off of the bike CAN be very effective and be a great tool to measure fatigue rate and help determine race pacing (I prefer mile repeats off of the bike) but they need to be built into a program that makes scientific sense, sense to the athlete’s recovery and fitness ability, and make sense to the athletes goals.  A coach who coaches by allegory won’t be able to discern these things and will dole out punishing and sometimes stupid workouts to an athlete who has no need or business doing them. Volume for the sake of volume is one of the worst things a coach can do.

How do you know if your coach is coaching by allegory? Ask them what the scientific rationale is behind a workout. An educated coach should be able to give you the breakdown as to what the desired physiological adaption the workout is meant to bring about. They should also be able to explain how your bodies reaction to the set workout either reacted as expected or if it didn’t why it didn’t (i.e. if you did a 3 x 20 minute aerobic test set to determine aerobic conditioning and the coach saw a major decouple in the heart rate, dehydration may have played a role in the data you are seeing and therefore you may need to take that into consideration instead of taking the test at full face value. *Dehydration should not typically affect a test under an hour but can in hot temps or with heavy sweaters.) If your coach can not explain this – ask them why they can not explain it. If they say don’t question me, or just trust me I know what I am doing – it’s up to you as a consumer to either trust them or look elsewhere for an answer (or a new coach).

So why am I writing and quasi-whining about allegorical coaching? Because I take my job seriously. I love coaching. I love that I get to work with some amazing people and help them manipulate their bodies to accomplish things that weren’t possible before.  Over the past two years I have set a professional goal that I want to continue to work with the top thought leaders in the industry in order to learn and eventually become a thought leader. To me, a thought leader is someone who in triathlon develops new training methods, testing techniques, and eventually coaches top level athletes. In order to do this though, I had to seek out some of the best.  I have been luck enough to work with Craig Upton who has coached me for the past 2 years. He’s been a fantastic coach and mentor. One of the things that I have learned is that if you do what is right for the athlete you’ll always be successful. That may mean shutting them down for a few days to rest or it may mean having a hard conversation saying if you want to reach xyz you’re going to have to stop eating donuts and start doing the workouts on the plan. He’s also developed my knowledge and ability to evaluate power files and run files to target plans to improve our athletes.

Most recently I have signed on with Justin Trolle. Justin is a Level III USA Triathlon coach and he offers a mentorship program for coaches.  Over the next 6 months I will be mentored by Justin and his team at Vanguard Endurance.  In the short time I’ve been working with him I have already been super impressed with the knowledge, perspective, and testing protocols that I’ve been exposed to.  I can’t wait to share this with my athletes in 2015.

I think that it is easy in today’s day and age to settle in and become comfortable with the way we do things. It is natural to want to find the path of least resistance. In endurance sports it’s all about getting to the finish line FIRST & the FASTEST. In coaching, I do not necessarily think that this is the best method. I think that lifetime learners and coaches who can admit when past methods have failed (or were even wrong) are the ones that end up being the most successful.

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