Thursday, September 17, 2009

Looking Ahead

Chances are you’ve started thinking about next year.

I have.

New races are popping up, races are already closed to entry, new series, far away destinations. It’s a lot to sort out.

And that’s just the planning end of things.

Maybe you’ve been at the sport for a few years. Maybe you’ve made some progress or you’ve seen yourself plateau. Maybe you’re brand new to it all. Whatever the case, you are ready to take it to the next level.

What is the next level? Whatever you think it is – it could be finishing an Ironman, placing in your age group or qualifying for Boston. It’s filled with a lot of excitement and opportunity but also a lot of questions.

This is where a coach can help. Perhaps you’ve been thinking about working with a coach or thinking about switching coaches. How do you know if either case is right for you?

There are a lot of coaches out there. Most are good, some are not so good. What defines good is really what you are looking for. Perhaps you want a coach that will communicate with you every day. Others want a coach that delivers a plan once a month. Coaching comes in all different shapes, sizes, packages and costs. Considering the cost and energy you must put into being a coached athlete, it pays to find the right coach for you.

How do you find the right coach? Here’s a few hints on the questions to ask:

1 – Who

Choosing the “who” is often the hardest part of coaching. Like hiring someone for an employment position, you should feel comfortable interviewing your coach and asking for references. Your interview can be done over the phone or email. Have a list of questions that go beyond the basics of cost, types of plans. How often does your coach communicate? What is their experience? Where do they draw inspiration? How active are they in the multisport community? Is coaching something they do on the side or is it a full-time career? What about their continuing education? Each coach has also has a style and personality. The best way to determine a coach’s style is to ask for references their athletes. A coach should have a few athletes that are willing to answer questions about their services and style. Explore a few options in the “who” of your coaching search to find the best fit for you.

2 – What

What does your coach do? Specifically, how do they help their athletes reach a desired outcome? Inquire about how they create a training plan, do they deliver workouts on a weekly or monthly basis, do they include other things beyond the swim, bike, run workouts? A good coach should aim to coach the whole athlete. Their services should include more than just “writing workouts” – and often this is what separates good from not so good coaches. A computer can pop workouts into a schedule. A book can give you generic workouts. A coach thinks about who you are, where you are and what you are trying to do. Does your coach meet athletes in person? If they coach online, how do they bridge the distance between you? Most importantly, do they charge “extra” for the “extra” things that often make for good coaching (in person meetings, phone calls, unlimited communication). Ask about what they do, ask for a sample schedule or workouts to learn more about them.

3 – Where

Where does your coach plan their workouts and how do they get delivered to you? Where do they expect to get your feedback? Where do they see themselves as a coach in 5 or 10 years? Along different lines, where has this coach been with athletes? What types of athletes have they coached – and what type of success have they had at helping those athletes achieve their goals? What are some of the events this coach has coached athletes to finish? Where has their experience taken them? Explore their background as well as their future to determine if you fit into their plan.

4 – Why

It’s always interesting to ask your coach why they got into coaching – and to ask a little bit about their educational and athletic background. There are many reasons why someone might get into coaching – be sure your coach is doing it for the right reasons, taking it seriously enough to honor your commitment to your goals with professionalism and care. Moreover, be prepared for them to ask you why you want to work with a coach. Often I find that athletes who want help in getting organized, in achieving a specific outcome, in making the most out of their time, in being held accountable – these are the athletes that are best coached. If you are switching coaches, be prepared to answer the “why” question and have a list of the qualities you are seeking in a coach or what you expect.

5 – When

Timeliness is a very important factor in coaching. A coach deals with people in real time – illnesses, injury, changes to schedule. These are issues that must be addressed within a reasonable time frame. Consider how much the communication and accessibility is worth to you. While you cannot expect your coach to be available 24-hours a day, they should be able to respond to your questions or needs in a timely – and useful manner. Furthermore, when can you expect feedback? How do they manage the feedback loop? To get the most out of coaching, the athlete should provide frequent feedback and the coach should provide frequent response. Make sure your coach is accessible enough and you are willing enough to make this happen.

6 – How

The big factor is cost. How much does it cost – and what does this include? In my experience as a coached athlete, the cost of a coach has very little to do with the quality of their coaching. Coaching fees are highly individual and can vary depending on region, experience of coach or type of athlete they are trying to attract. A $100 per month coach is trying to attract a much different athlete than a $600 per month coach (yes, they exist). An easy way to determine your comfort level with a fee is to take that monthly fee and divide by 30 days. If your coach charges $100 per month, you are paying $3.33 per day. Are you comfortable with that – and what do you expect for that fee? The more you pay per day, the more you should get with accessibility, support, information and feedback. Moreover, ask the coach’s athletes if they feel like they get their money’s worth. Also inquire about any relief they have for the fee; many coaches have discounts for committing to an entire year, referral bonuses or other incentives to help lessen the cost.

Planning for the 2010 season has begun – and maybe you’re thinking about hiring a coach to help you get where you want to go. Use the questions above to give you some direction in the process. When you find a coach that suits you, your goals and your style, you will find a positive and productive relationship that makes your time and efforts in the sport that much more rewarding.

Good luck!

2 comments:

PCR said...

Hey Elizabeth. I might take you up on this. Did my first Half Iron last weekend. Do you have suggestions for good races in the US? Timberman, Michigan? Let me know and all the best. pcr

E.L.F. said...

Timberman (if you like hills & New England Chowda)

Steelhead (good old midwestern course in a most unpredictable lake)

Eagleman (flat, fast, if you can't PR here you probably can't PR!)

Vineman (never done it but people love the course & being in wine country)

Loads of grassroots half IMs that are worth trying depending on your level of hunger for pain.