I recently read a great article on trailrunnermag.com, entitled “5 Things to Do Before Hiring a Running Coach.” As a coach, I am always interested in what athletes really want and need from their coach, and as an athlete I learn a lot from observing how fellow athletes choose and interact with their coaches. I recommend you take a look at the full article here, but I’m also going to summarize it for you, breaking it down from my perspective as both a coach and an athlete.
Their first piece of advice is, “Contemplate the ‘Why.’”
Every coach is specialized in a few niche areas. In order to find the coach that knows how to do what you’re trying to do, you need to get clear on what exactly you are trying to do. Many coaches make their specialties a visible as possible. For example, on several of my pages (including the menu on my Home page, my About Me page, and Coaching Options) you can see what I specialize in, my history and experience, and what I promise to bring to the athlete. So before you even begin looking for a coach, give some thought to your specific goals and how you hope a coach can help you achieve them. (By the way, a coach’s time is limited too, and we cannot always take new athletes. To maximize your chances of getting the coach you want, reach out to them with specific goals and questions.)
Next, “Weight both Expertise and Personal Experience.”
Successful athletes need a coach that can motivate them, not just through inspirational tips, but through promoting a deep understanding of why the prescribed training will get the athlete closer to achieving their goals, as well as how the training will fit with the athlete’s overall lifestyle. A coach needs to have been there. Not all coaches are going to be elite level athletes in their sport, not all coaches are going to have specific degrees or certifications. Some may be and have both. Some may be or have neither. An athlete and a coach should have some sort of overlapping experience; something that helps build trust between the two. For example, on my About Me page, athletes can read about my competitive history and current pursuits on the national and international scale, as well as my mobile lifestyle and belief in a flexible training plan. This should give readers a sufficient introduction to me for them to decide whether it’s worth getting to know me and my work further, and possibly pursue coaching from me.
Third, “Find a Philosophical Fit.”
Related to the above, Trail Runner next recommends finding a coach whose life and athletic outlook matches yours. This means the coach’s training tactics should be motivating and constructive for you. This means the workouts and training schedule should fit your lifestyle. And this means your coach should share similar views to yourself regarding why your sport is a part of your lifestyle in the first place. Another example from my own coaching experience: Athletes who have “tunnel vision” focus and just want to know exactly what to do, who don’t have the time or interest in learning about the bigger picture of their training, will find working with me to be frustratingly vague. I believe in a very flexible, customizable approach that involved substantial learning on the athlete’s part. And an example from my experience as an athlete: When choosing a ski team for my upcoming season, I contacted the coach directly, told her some key qualities about myself (independence, my need to have a say in and understanding of my training, desire to have things in my life besides ski racing, etc.) and then asked her if she thought I would fit in with her program. (She said yes!)
Next, Trail Runner says to, “Gauge Personalities.”
If you’re considering hiring a coach, presumably you think you would benefit from some personalized guidance in your training. The more comfortable you are communicating with your coach, the more personalized attention you will get! The most transparent relationships will always be the most successful. I have worked with a variety of coaches in my career, and I know how important it is to be able to converse with my coach about the physical reasons why a workout didn’t go well. But just as importantly, I need to be comfortable confiding in him or her when a date goes badly, or I had a fight with my sister. The emotional toll on training is real, and the insight between coach and athlete can take the relationship to a new level of success.
Trail Runner’s last recommendation is to, “Sweat the Small Things.”
An athlete should know exactly what they’re going to get from the coach. Likewise, many coaches will want to know if what they offer is what the athlete wants. In some cases, minor adjustments can and should be made to make a good match, but sometimes the athlete just wants something that the coach doesn’t offer. Better to know that before you try to work together! An initial consultation is a valuable tool. It gives the coach the chance to ask questions and get to know the athlete’s current relationship with their sport, their goals, and what resources they have to work with. It gives the athlete the chance to learn how and when they will communicate with their coach, what to expect in terms of level of support and personalization, and what options will exist for changing or canceling the program if it’s not working.
Thanks to Trail Runner for writing a great article. I hope you enjoyed my summary of and expansion upon it. Most importantly, I hope it has given you some ideas to think about regarding your own athletic endeavors, and whether a coach could help you achieve your goals and increase your enjoyment of your sport!