I recently met with three athletes who want to prepare for the same race next season. It was a long meeting and I enjoyed learning about each of their goals and aspirations as we determined whether or not it made sense for us to work together. What’s interesting is that one of the athletes signed up immediately; one will sign up after ski season; and the third has decided to go it alone. What’s interesting is that three different results came out of the same conversation. And that’s perfectly OK.
Many athletes will entertain the idea of working with a coach at some point in their career. Some will want guidance from the beginning of their athletic endeavors; others will feel they have taken themselves as far as they can without a more experienced mentor pointing the way. No matter when you think about working with a coach, you’ll likely consider the idea of coaching yourself first.
There’s a lot of information out there and it’s easy to get sucked into information overload. You’ll read one article about how to best improve your 40km TT on the bike or your 10km run split or how to PR in the marathon. Then, you’ll do a little more research and come upon some information that runs completely counter to what you originally read. Do you have the time available to read up on all the information available on the web, a large amount of which is complete crap (being honest here) and dissect it all? Can you take much of which is just a “snapshot” information and comprehend how to apply it within the context of a strategic approach to year-round training and racing?
One big benefit of hiring a coach is that a coach keeps you honest because you’re reporting back to someone about your workouts. Coaches establish a sense of accountability, a powerful source of motivation for many athletes. We all like to hear constructive feedback, but it’s hard to get that kind of feedback when the conversation is between you and yourself.
Another benefit is that a coach can help you is to determine what a realistic training week looks like, and then help you make the best use of your available time. Improvement is not just about training harder or putting in more volume. Self-coached athletes tend to create the “perfect training plan” and then try to shoehorn their lives around the plan, rather than building their training plan into the ebb-and-flow of their daily lives. If you’re unable to put the emotional component on the shelf while planning your training, you will quickly find that you have bit off more than you can chew. Then what? This creates what can be a terrible feedback loop of guilt and punishment. There are 3 buckets of stress – physical, emotional and mental. The body doesn’t discern the type of stress we apply; it only knows that it needs to process “stress”. If you consistently beat yourself up because you missed a workout or you’re not sure if your training is what and where it needs to be, then you’re setting yourself up for stress overload. At some point, you risk caving in.
If you’ve been training for a few years—with or without a coach--you’re likely able to understand what’s going on with your body and training. And, to a certain degree, you might even know how to make adjustments. You probably have a high-level of trust in yourself. Or do you? What level of confidence do you have when asking yourself “What should I do about today’s scheduled workout? Should I complete it or do I need to adjust it?” A coach’s objectivity can be priceless here.
It’s important to remember that most of us have the basics of the sport in which we compete covered. The acts of swimming, biking and running are basic and athletes have a basic understanding of how to complete each sport. However, there’s always more to learn, and constant time and attention that needs to be applied to your “Master Plan”. And, if you find that you’re consistently wondering whether or not you could get to “the next level” by working with a coach, then it’s probably time to take the plunge.