Whether you are new to the sport or an experienced athlete, choosing the right coach to help you meet your goals can be a game changer.
As both a coached athlete and an experienced coach, I have grown to understand the different aspects of this decision.
The following article is written to help athletes identify the most important aspects to consider when hiring an endurance coach. By no means is this everything you should consider, but I think these are among the most important.
Technical Proficiency, Professional Development, and Experience
Technical knowledge and a coach’s commitment to their own ongoing development are important in the coach’s ability to provide adequate support and guidance – especially given that things are constantly changing.
Athletes should ask about a coach’s education, certifications, and views on learning and professional development. Certifications from organizations such as USA Triathlon (USAT), USA Cycling (USAC), and USA Track & Field (USATF) are good indications they take their development seriously and support the governing bodies of these sports.
In addition to education and certifications, a coach’s practical experience in endurance sports can be equally important. This includes years of coaching and their racing background. Hiring a coach with a lot of experience coaching and racing the type of events and distance you are looking at should be considered.
Communication and Planning Skills
An effective coach should communicate clearly and respond promptly, ideally within 24-48 hours. Discuss whether a rapid response and feedback are important to you in your initial conversation with any coach you are considering.
Prospective coaches should be able to talk about how they plan training schedules week to week, provide feedback on workouts, and their approach to ensuring these plans align with an athlete’s goals and life commitments.
It’s also important to talk about how the coach will handle changes in the athlete’s schedule should something come up with the family or work – life happens, after all! Delays or vagueness in this area can be a big red flag.
Finally, athletes should discuss their preferred methods of communication, such as email, text messaging, WhatsApp, or other platforms, to ensure any expectations align with the coach’s practices and responsiveness.
Clarity of Workouts
Similar to the communication discussion, a coach’s ability to deliver clear, concise workout instructions is critical. When this doesn’t happen, it can not only be frustrating for the athlete, but it can also hold back progress.
Ask for examples of workout plans to gauge whether their communication style matches your preference for clarity and detail. If you already use Training Peaks, the coach can share examples through the platform.
Understanding of Current Technology and Training Platforms
With the constant advancement in technology in triathlon, running, and cycling, a coach’s understanding of current training devices and platforms is a key aspect in supporting their athletes.
Knowledge of the latest sports watches, bike computers, and other wearables, as well as training platforms like Zwift, Fulgaz, and TrainerRoad, can improve the coaching experience. These tools and platforms offer valuable insights and improve the training process.
The right coach should be able to talk about their knowledge of these technologies and training platforms. It might also be helpful for athletes to ask how a coach utilizes current training technologies and how they integrate the data from these tools into training plans.
While no coach can be an expert in everything, a good coach should never run out of ideas. Many coaches have established networks of professionals or coaches specializing in various aspects of the sport.
If an athlete needs specialized support in areas such as nutrition, bike fitting, or swim mechanics, your coach should assist you in finding solutions and connect you with others who can help. They may recommend another coach with expertise in the specific area to ensure you receive the necessary support.
Discuss with potential coaches how they approach challenges outside their immediate expertise, such as nutrition or biomechanics. Understanding their network of fellow professionals and how they leverage these relationships for the athlete’s benefit would be helpful.
Effective communication stands as the foundation of any successful athlete-coach partnership. During the selection process, it’s important to prioritize open dialogue and a coach’s willingness to see the athlete as a partner in problem-solving.
Initially, you need to agree upon an approach to addressing any areas where you might have questions or if your expectations aren’t being met. The ideal coach will demonstrate a commitment to your goals and work as a partner with you along the way.
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Jeff Lukich is the owner and head coach of Drive Multisport and leads Better Triathlete's coach match program. He is a USA Triathlon (USAT) Level 1, USA Cycling (USAC) Level 2, and USA Track & Field (USATF) certified coach. A 10x Ironman finisher and Boston Marathon Qualifier, Jeff specializes in coaching long-course triathletes, ultra-runners, marathoners, cyclists, and athletes with unique events, such as double Ironman, staged races, and SwimRun events. Learn more about Jeff.