I have had a coach on and off for the last 10-15 years now and I have some pretty strong opinions about how to get the most bang for your buck out of the coaching experience.
What You Can Expect
A good coach will definitely set you back a ton of cash and may not yield immediate benefits. As an old guy, I can tell you that the expression “one size fits all” works for just about nothing in this world– and doubly so for coaching. Even if a coach has a unique and highly individualized methodology, he isn’t worth a cent unless he can customize that methodology to your specific body and your specific needs. This is because no two people react in exactly the same way to the same stimuli. Some people recovery quickly while others recover more slowly. Some of us adapt quickly to a specific workout and don’t need much of that particular stimuli, while others adapt to that stimuli much more slowly. We also start the journey from different places in different sports. You can expect that the first 6-12 months to be focused on learning who you are exactly– and at about $300 per month (typical coaching rate for multisport athletes), coaching is a sizable investment.
While this learning period may not yield tangible results, it is highly useful for you nonetheless. Your coach will likely ask you a ton of questions, toss a bunch of workouts at you, and notice how you respond. Your coach will learn a ton about your individual differences, but more importantly, you’ll be talking to your coach about the same information and learning more about yourself. This will give you a chance to learn new things about your body– and, just as importantly, how you compare to others. For instance, long runs trash everyone, but do they trash you more than other people? If so, that may mean that you’re naturally more of a speedster– thus affecting the kind of events you may want to choose (because you’ll do better at shorter events) or how you approach your training for longer events (e.g. building out your distance may have to be slower and longer). A coach has a bird’s eye view of you and other athletes and can spot these differences more quickly and objectively than you can.
How to Choose a Great Coach
If you’re thinking about a coach, the natural temptation is to select a coach who has a number of pros who have achieved incredible results. While client success is certainly one important indicia of a coach’s qualifications, it comes with a downside. The real value of a good coach is learning more about your body– and this takes a lot of time for conversations, emails, and other personal interaction. If your coach seems a bit too successful, you can bet that they will be in high demand, which means that they are either very expensive, very selective, or are overextended and unable to give you the personal attention that you need. Ideally, no coach can handle more than a dozen clients without sacrificing the attention his or her clients need. Going with a coach who has any more than a dozen clients and you’re risking getting cookie cutter training plans that don’t adjust to your unique physiology, temperament, and lifestyle. Given this reality, you can understand why great coaches don’t exactly get rich even when they are charging you $300 a month.
How to be a Great Client
Much more important than choosing a good coach is the dedication and temperament it takes to be a good client. Yes, you read that right– you need dedication and the right temperament to be a good client. The vast majority of clients do coaching the wrong way– most clients don’t want to know the details and just want to know what they have to do. They want to just be assigned workouts and robotically toil away at them. They get frustrated when they aren’t hitting their marks (no wonder– they made no attempt to help their coach understand what makes them unique), conclude that their coach isn’t right for them, and move on to another coach– thus starting the long adaptation process all over again! In reality, any great coach adapts to their clients even if that means tossing out their normal way of thinking. 99 times out a hundred, it’s the client’s fault for not appreciating this process.
Not being fully engaged in the coaching process means making the following mistakes that most clients make:
- failing to constantly ask questions about why the workouts are designed the way they are– and how that fits in with their understanding of what has worked (or not worked) for them in the past.
- not discussing different ideas and strategies that you hear about or come across
- failing to fully explain in your training notes how you felt during your training and afterwards
Making any of these mistakes make coaching less successful, wastes your money, and (most importantly) doesn’t help you learn more about yourself.
Becoming Your Own Coach
I think that the ultimate goal of working with a coach is to become your own coach. If you are constantly curious, working with a coach will teach you more about your body and how to train than reading all the books and blogs (well, maybe with the exception of this one) in the world. A coach gives you an objective view of who you are– something that you just can’t get working alone.
The real reason you want to become your own coach is longevity, which is obviously essential for an older athlete. In my discussions with other coaches, the athletes who were most successful at becoming “lifelong athletes” (the enviable guys and gals who are at the top of their game throughout their careers and who stay that way well into their 70’s and 80’s) are invariably the ones who know their bodies the best and know how to constantly make adjustments along the way. That’s who you want to be. That’s what this blog is all about. That’s why you want to work with a coach at some point along your career. And, at some point, that’s also why you want to become your own coach and use everything you learned to stay at the top of your sport throughout your life.