Enlisting the help of a coach can be a significant investment and with so many off-the-shelf training plans available, it can be seem like a lot of money you don’t need to spend. I thought I would share with you some of my personal experiences of being coached and also some of the feedback I get from my own coached clients to help you decide whether coaching is for you.
Let’s start with a summary of reasons for and against having a coach:
|A coach is trained and qualified to help||1-1 Coaching is a financial investment|
|A coach is able to use knowledge gained from working with many athletes||It can be tricky to find the right coach for you.|
|Having a coach can take the stress out of planning||You have less control over what you do|
|A coach can be somebody on your journey with you who cares||Being held to account can mean some difficult conversations.|
|A coach provides an objective point of view||I can get free coaching advice from my club coach.|
|One-to-one coaching gives individualised, flexible planning|
|Having a coach provides you with the motivation you need.|
It’s a big financial investment
It’s true that decent one-to-one coaching will cost you some money each month and possibly a front end ‘start up fee’ in addition. You are after all paying a professional to help you achieve your goal.
As with most purchases it’s worth trying to put a value on your training to help you decide what you are willing and able to afford. If you already train regularly it might be worth thinking about the amount of time you spend training as this will help you quantify how much work a coach is going to be doing for you and also help you realise the importance of your own training.
If you are training for a specific race/goal, thinking about the value you place on that goal and how much you are willing to invest in order to achieve what you want may also help you decide whether employing a professional coach is a worthwhile investment.
If training and your training related goals are important to you then, as with most things, it’s usually best to buy the best you can afford. It’s worth having a look around, coaches come in at differing price ranges and most coaches offer a range of services from entry level up to higher level daily support. If you simply can’t afford one-to-one coaching you may find there are some other options like our EBR Club that might work well for you.
It can be tricky to find the right coach for you
I have worked with a few athletes who have had some bad experiences with coaching in the past, and others who come to me having had really positive past experiences.
Coaching relies on having a good working relationship between coach and client. It can be a worry to start investing, especially if you have had some negative past experiences. I would always recommend that you book a meeting with anyone you are thinking of hiring as a coach, either face to face or over any of the many virtual meeting platforms now available.
Any coach who wants to invest in their athletes will offer you some kind of consultation to help you decide whether you are going to work well together or not. This will help you get a good feel for whether or not you are going to get along and whether you you can develop a good working relationship.
It may take a few meetings with prospective coaches before you find someone you feel you can work with but if you take some time to find the right person for you you are likely to have a much more positive coaching experience longer term.
You have less control over what you do
If you are used to planning your own training it can be hard to give up that element of control and hand it over to someone else.
If you have booked a meeting with a potential coach you can usually get a feel for how open they are to discussing the plan with you; good coaches will generally have a collaborative approach to coaching which will enable you to develop a plan together. Regardless of your level of experience in training, you are the expert on your own body and how it feels and your own life so it’s a coach’s job to be able to speak with you and develop a plan with you, not force one on you.
Being held to account can mean difficult conversations.
Whilst it can be good and motivating to be held to account, it can also mean that difficult conversations ensue. Having someone ask you questions about why you do something in a particular way, why you are attached to a certain way of training or even why you are not able to train in the way you plan can be uncomfortable.
Psychologists like to call this process ‘dissonance’, i.e. identifying the discord in established unhelpful habits to help you see where things can be going wrong. A good coach will be able to have those conversations with you, but to do it in a supportive way in which it is clear that they are trying to help, not just make you feel uncomfortable.
That being said, no one is perfect and part of developing a good relationship with your coach is pointing out where they may have gone too far or just simply got it wrong. It’s important that you feel able to give them feedback and good coaches will not only be open to feedback but actively ask for it.
I can get free coaching from my club coaches
If you are a member of a good club they may have a coach who runs sessions and is happy to give you some coaching advice. I know many athletes who enjoy success from this kind of coaching and some dedicated club coaches who invest a lot of time and energy, often for free, in helping club members progress and perform. That being said, this may not be individual coaching; the sessions set for your club may be aimed at a range of abilities and fitness levels.
My own personal experience has been that when I have paid for a coach I am far more inclined to ask more questions and ask for more input than I might if someone is doing something for me in their spare time(I am after all paying for it).
A coach is trained and qualified to help
Assuming you have seen and are satisfied with a potential coach’s credentials then the person you hire will be a professional person with relevant qualifications in their field. They will be continuing their own professional development and will be best placed to help you. Most coaches will provide you with a summary of their qualifications and also any special interests they might have which should help you decide whether they are qualified sufficiently for your needs; this may include associated qualifications in psychology, physiology and a working knowledge of your sport. They may also come recommended by other athletes. As a professional person they should also tell you if they are not qualified to do what you require.
A coach is able to use their experience from working with numerous athletes
However much experience we may have as athletes, the sum total of our experience is one person.
Coaches who have worked with many athletes have not only their own personal experiences but also the experiences of all the athletes they have worked with over the years. This applied working knowledge is something unique to being a coach; it means we can be less and less formulaic, have confidence in more than one method of approaching a goal and get a ‘feel’ for what might be the right call in each unique situation.
For you as an athlete it can be very comforting to know that what to you feels like a completely isolating/lonely experience (e.g. getting injured, not having time to train, getting sick in the final key weeks before a big race) is not unique; others have been there before you and come through.
Having a coach can take out the stress of planning your own training
With so many different approaches to training and racing it can be overwhelming trying to decide what might be the best approach for you.
For some athletes who sign up with me this is a key factor; they perhaps do not have the emotional energy to both decide what to do and then go out and do it, or they may simply feel overwhelmed by the many different possibilities. With particularly big projects like ultra-distance events that may be new to you, putting yourself in the hands of someone who has ‘been there’ and ‘done it’ with many athletes before can be a big relief.
A coach can be someone with whom you can legitimately share your journey
Endurance sports more often than not involve many many hours doing things on your own, even the world’s best introverts can sometimes feel a little bit lonely.
Many athletes that I coach will say much of the value they find from coaching is in having someone ‘bothered’ about what they do. If you don’t have friends who also do endurance sports you may find that you can over-stretch their goodwill if you are constantly wanting to talk about training when this is not their interest.
Having someone who’s job it is to be interested in you, and is genuinely interested as part of their chosen career, can not only create less strain in your other relationships but provide you with key emotional support that you need.
Whilst your partner’s response when you come in soaking wet and freezing cold after you nailed a particularly hard session in horrid weather may range from ‘where’ve you been?’ ‘you’re late!’ ‘you must be bonkers,’ your coach’s response will be ‘well done, you nailed it!’ and sometimes that’s just what you need.
I am so interested that I am sometimes waiting to see how well a certain session or event has gone and encourage my athletes to message me on WhatsApp!!
A coach provides an objective point of view
However much we try we can never be truly objective about our own training. Whilst even coaches come with their own set of biases it is often much easier for another person to see where things might be going wrong than it is for us to see it ourselves. For this reason even coaches often hire a coach or run things by each other in their own coaching community.
In addition to this with platforms like TrainingPeaks which we use here at Endurance Bike and Run, your coach is able to see both the objective data such as pace, heart rate, power, cadence as well as your own personal comments on how each training session felt.
Perhaps the most common aspect of objectivity is having a third party say ‘yes you are tired, take a rest day,’ this can be the most difficult call for endurance athletes to make.
If you have been stuck in a hole of a while, or simply feel like you’ve plateaued, having a fresh, objective pair of eyes look over things for you can be a good way to find out where things could be better. Again a coach is trained to view your overall training data and see patterns or trends which you may have missed. Many coaches will offer a consultation to discuss how things are going and this might be all you need to get back on track.
A coach can provide individualised, flexible planning
However hard we try, life does not always go the way we want or expect. We may have a fool proof plan for completing the training we set, but sometimes life just gets in the way.
Brad Hudson in his book ‘Run Faster from 5km to a Marathon’ advises an adaptive approach to all training schedules; in the days before spreadsheets and TrainingPeaks his advice was to write all training in pencil so you can rub it out and change it round as needed.
I know many athletes who have enjoyed great success from following off-the-shelf training plans, but I also know that they didn’t follow the plan completely. You may find you get tired and have to take an extra easy week or rest days, a family crisis or celebration may suddenly emerge, you may get injured, ill or any other number of things.
When a real person is planning your training week by week and month by month they are:
- planning it based on how you responded to the last block of training so it is perfect for you
- adapting it based on the feedback that you give
- can be flexible and change things round to work optimally for you so that you are training around your other life commitments not in spite of them
- can train you back from injury or illness if necessary
Having a coach provides you with the motivation you need
Good coaches are good at seeing your potential and enabling you to see it too.
Along with those difficult conversations, meeting with your coach should leave you feeling like you have a clear idea of what you can do and a clear path on how to get there.
Investing in a coach is a commitment, but making that commitment can be enough to ensure that you commit to the training you have paid them to plan.
Receiving something more than numbers and biofeedback on your training can keep you motivated. Even just knowing that your coach will know whether or not you have completed a workout can be enough for some people to get them out of the door.
Coaching is a personal and difficult decision to make; if you have taken the time to read this article you will have been giving it some serious consideration.
It’s definitely not a decision to be rushed in to lightly. If you are not sure whether you want to take the plunge or just unsure what level of coaching you need why not book a free 30 minute consultation with me and we can discuss your options?
How do I know if a coach is qualified? It is not a given that someone advertising coaching services is a qualified coach; a qualified coach will be able to provide you with certification proving that they are qualified.
Is it better for women to have a female coach? Whilst the craft of coaching is gender specific I have worked with and know men who have done some excellent work with female athletes. The main consideration would be that both you and your coach need to be comfortable talking about women specific issues (periods, menopause, child birth, PMS, etc, etc). If you feel you could only talk to a woman about these issues then you may be better looking for a female coach; if you are having that first interview with a coach it’s a good idea to check out that they (male or female) are prepared to talk about these issues too.
Do good athletes make good coaches? Being good at your sport and being able to coach your sport are not the same thing. Whilst having a working knowledge of a sport can help when coaching it is not a prerequisite and some people just seem to be very good at applying the knowledge they do have to the sporting world. Equally, good athletes can either be able to pass on and adapt their own experiences or really struggle to see how someone else may not succeed in the same way they did.
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November 30, 2022