To Be or Not To Be... Coached?

To Be or Not To Be
by Nicholas "Tri-Clyde" Sikes To Be or Not To BeTo be, or not to be... coached? That is the question... many athletes struggle with. Discussions around coaching seem to span a wide spectrum of emotions. With more and more resources online, the arguments for and against paying for a coach become less about needing expertise and more about needing customization. This is an argument I have been having with myself for the last three years and it is coming to the forefront as I contemplate my 2014 goals. Maybe you are having the same thoughts?

Training Plans

With a plethora of free training plans on the internet (check out Beginner Triathlete for some great ones to get started with), it is easy for beginning triathletes to skip the coaching route and get started on their own. What these free training plans don’t account for is the individuality of everyone’s physical fitness and available time commitment. You can make your own training plans with Training Peaks which allows you to easily track performance and measure yourself as you progress through training, but you may struggle with lack of expertise. If you hire a coach, they will likely be looking at your life’s commitments and workout data and be modifying the plan on a weekly basis. This takes a lot of the guesswork out of picking a plan, and it has someone focusing on what you are actually accomplishing and providing guidance as you progress.

Accountability

Not having an accountability partner has definitely hindered my training performance. It is much too easy to sandbag a training session or skip it all together when work and family commitments have provided an excuse to “take it easy” instead of pushing through. Online training programs don’t do a great job of holding you accountable. If you are a strong type-A personality and can drive yourself even when the world around you seems to be caving in, then you may be well served by buying a canned training plan. But be cautious that you don’t do what thousands have done in your same shoes and overtrain. Accountability goes both ways and provides sound advice for when the time comes to slow down training to recover from injuries or just fatigue. Are you strong enough to push yourself hard in training AND strong enough to know when your body needs a break?

What to Look For

As I have been struggling with the whole "coaching thing,” I have asked around and even spoken with coaches. Through this process I have come to realize some interesting things.

Not all coaches are created equal

One part of that is not all great athletes make great coaches. It is interesting that when you surf the internet looking at coaches’ websites, the first things shown are their triathlon exploits. This isn’t the norm with coaching in a lot of different sports. Easy examples are golf (Who coaches the top 10 golfers?) and basketball (How many coaches played in the NBA before becoming a head coach?).

While there is expertise to be gained from participating in the sport, coaching is more than just taking experience and translating it to a new athlete. A coach’s personality is also important. If their quirks annoy you, then it will be difficult to develop a trusting relationship that meets your needs.

A coaching relationship needs to be a two-way street

Hiring the best coach in the western hemisphere won’t do you much good if they don’t provide the time to listen, answer questions, and dialog about what is going on. This is greatest benefit of hiring a professional coach, and if you aren’t utilizing them, then it was a waste of money. If you aren’t going to listen to your coach or tell them the truth about what is going on, then you would be best served by just using an online training plan.

Even age groupers with no podium aspirations can benefit from a coach

I have spent the last three years chasing my goal of losing weight through triathlon. I have struggled greatly with the balance of how to train without beating my body up so bad that I need extra recovery days to avoid injury. Ask a prospective coach to discuss the success their athletes have accomplished and call a couple to get their opinion of their coach.

For me it isn’t about getting a podium spot, it is about becoming a better me. Triathlons have changed the way I think, and helping achieve even greater goals is the reason I am considering a coach.

Triathlon coaches can be pretty expensive. With monthly rates ranging from $100 to over $1000, it can be difficult to justify (especially to non-racing spouses) the expense. It is amazing how easily I have found ways to justify a gadget that I must have, yet struggle to spend the same effort developing a plan and justifying it through professional guidance. We all strive to buy a new set of $1800 wheels to drop 10 minutes off our race time, when that same amount of money could help us save 30 minutes through proper training and strategy.

Are You Considering a Coach?

I would love to hear from you if you are asking the famous Shakespearian triathlon question yourself. I'm wrestling with this at the moment as I struggle to find money in my personal budget to afford a trainer. I will share my progress throughout 2014 as I pursue some major goals in health and training. Give me a shout at if you have questions, or are looking for more information. I know a wide cross-section of coaches and would love to help get you pointed in the right direction. I would also love to hear if you have had success using a premade training plan.  
2014-02-12 18:12:30
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Robert Dittmann
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Very well written Nick, I have a few thoughts about this topic myself. I am in a similar situation to you; going on my 6th year as a Triathlete, I find myself constantly searching for ways to better my performance, expand my threshold for suffering and lessen its impact in my recovery. I did give serious consideration to hiring a coach, I know several of them personally and some that would be very good mentors to me. People I trust, who are proximally located to where I live, train and work and who know the value of being a coach over being a “subject matter expert” I do like that you made this distinction because I think it is perhaps the best advice that someone can take away from a coaching experience is to “remember it is about you” not about the coach. Your coach should be in tune with what your ambitions are and have the skill, expertise and style that motivates you to stretch your capability beyond the goals you initially set forth. I am a big fan of coaches. In some ways, I am one. I derive genuine pleasure out of helping other to reach their goals and stretch beyond what they think is possible. This personality trait of mine makes me popular with my fellow athletes and friends. This personality trait also does not lend to someone who is good at being coached. Which is an important part of the Coach/Athlete dynamic… Being a type “A” personality, I run my own business and have the flexibility and drive to follow a dedicated and self-directed training program. As such, my workouts do not fall into a strict routine (I.E. I wake 3 days a week at 0500 to meet my coach at the pool for laps) Rather, I tend to make the time and space in my life "as-needed" to ensure that I follow through on the necessary training to reach my goals. Then when I need to be accountable, I invite others to join me. It’s amazing how easy it is to wake at 0500 to go down to the lake when you know that 3 people are waiting there for you, that would not be there had you not invited them. So, for this year, I am working my way up to my first 70.3 in June. With less than 16 weeks until “Go Time” I am in a race with the Iowa winter. I seriously considered coaching this year and after careful consideration of all the factors. I went with a free plan that looked reasonable, simple, and well thought out. I chose this option primarily cause it has worked for me in the past and is a plan that I can follow. Then to be accountable, I posted it for the good lord and the world to see! As the training season progresses, I will invite others on my rides and swims (Running is something personal to me) and use there presence and support to ensure that I stay on task. Most of the selection criteria that I used when picking my plan centered on the time commitment (I wanted to ensure that I could work it in to my schedule); I wanted it to be simple (I do not train to watts, or have significant capital investment in technology) and I wanted to know that it worked. I know my body and know when it is time to dial it back and when it is time to ramp it up! The last thing I would caution with any free training plan… (This is based on my experience)… Is that your goal should be that you are able to do all of what is required to meet your goal prior to race day! The only time I was ever let down with a free training plan is when that plan said the “the momentum of race day will carry you through the last 1.2 miles” That was total BS… Remember your “P’s” Proper Preparation Prevents P-Poor Performance. Thanks For Sharing! -Winnebago Out
Greg Grandgeorge
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For me, hiring a coach was extremely effective, and we worked together for four years. Prior to hiring my coach, I did my first 70.3 training on my own, using TrainingPeaks. For those that know me... you know I am very analytical, create very detailed plans, and disciplined about the execution... extreme type A personality. That being said, I found three main benefits from coaching, that made it a good investment for me. The first benefit was finding a coach who had greater expertise and experience than I did, meaning the plan was better than I had developed on my own in terms of quality/safety. Besides being a level II certified triathlon coach, my coach had qualified and competed at Kona. In retrospect, I came really close to an overtraining situation in my first 70.3, which is a potential problem for type A personalities. My biking and swimming quantitatively improved over time, via well built workouts. The second benefit was time savings. If you want to create a good quality plan, it takes does take time to put it together, both up front and on a weekly basis. It's really nice to simply have the weekly schedule and workouts put together for you. I would put my constraints (traveling, etc.) into TP, and my coach would work around them. I'd look at the week and move workouts at times, but most of the time I could simply focus on executing the plan. The third benefit was having access to experience. I agree that being a good triathlete doesn't imply that the person will be a good coach, but I was fortunate to find someone who was good at both. She understood first hand race plan strategy from her own experience, as well as the success and failures of her athletes. When I'd get overly aggressive on my race plans, she did a great job of guiding me to more realistic goals, as well as helping me digest actual race performance in terms of what what went well, what didn't, and why. One unique characteristic (I think) of my coach was her communication. I uploaded my workouts daily, and she commented nearly every day via email. She was great at encouragement, asking me how I was feeling if my performance was low, etc. If she sensed I was pushing too hard or going beyond overreaching, she'd adjust the plan. When researching coaches, many limited the number of phone calls, emails, changes to workouts, etc. My coach didn't have these limitations. Based on my personal experiences, I'd recommend coach/self-coach based on the following: - If I was new to the sport and was focusing on races through Olympic distance, I'd probably just self coach. - If I was looking at my first Ironman, I'd hire a coach. Yes, it is expensive... but once you add up the cost of actually doing an Ironman (entry fee, air fare, bike transportation, hotels, food, nutrition, etc.) the coaching can be one of the smaller costs overall. My thought is when you do a full IM, you may decide it is "one and done" and it's great to be confident you did the best you could in the event. - If I was just going to do one 70.3, I'd probably self coach... but would buy a good, specific plan with detailed daily workouts. - If I was planning on doing multiple 70.3 events (or a future 140.6), I'd hire a coach to really build fitness to compete at a higher level. Once you understand the strategy/patterns and have gone through a race or two, you can go back to self coaching. Hopefully this helps. I had a somewhat unique situation, but I believe I wouldn't have reached my top 2013 goal without the help of my coach. If you are interested, the details are here: http://wp.me/P1FXx6-6z
Tri-Clyde
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'Bago, Thanks for the kind words. It has been great for me to hire a coach. I am just finishing up week 2. My work schedule is rough and it is easier for me to want to veg when I get home or have a late night the day before, but with a coach I know that someone is going to be calling me to ask what the heck I was slacking for. I am also noticing that I am not as beat down the first few weeks of training like I was the past few years. I go out too fast and don't know how to best look at training as a long-term endeavor. And when I don't see results I like I either get depressed or push harder, neither of which is good... Please let me know how your training goes as you get ready for your 70.3. I always love hearing other peoples adventures in Triathlon and will likely post an update blog in a few months and would love to include comments from readers that are on their own path towards becoming better athletes. My email is sikes.n@gmail.com Thanks again for the comments!
Tri-Clyde
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Greg, You are a stud in my book! I appreciate your comments! Nicholas
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