Different coaches will have different appeals, meaning that a coach may easily be suited to one type of athlete versus another. Personality and coaching characteristics aside I strongly recommend that any coach you consider have either a strong history of participation in the sport, or a strong academic background in human performance with a degree in a field such as Kineseology. There is money to be made these days in coaching and hosting training camps and there are individuals out there who are looking to capitalize on that fact who may have less than stellar credentials, don't be fooled, read this blog and then do your homework.
[Note: For personal preference at this point in my athletic career I would like to have a coach that has done well in the sport I'm looking to be coached in. However there are some truly exceptional coaches with no remarkable history as athletes in the sports they coach such as; Joe Friel, Bill Bowerman, Ian Pope, Lou Holtz, etc.)
Here are a few important things to consider when deciding which coach is right for you:
Desired Level of Commitment
There is no use whatsoever in hiring Chris Carmichael to push up those watts, or Jillian Michaels to shed those pounds if all you're looking to do is have some one write up some suggested workouts for you. On the flip side, if you're already a sub 12 or sub 10 Ironman and have reached a performance plateau, a coach may be exactly what you need to reach the next level. Your coach's commitment to you should be reflective of your commitment to goals and training. On the spectrum of levels of involvement/commitment you have;
- Free online training plans with literally no involvement from anyone but you
- Subscription based interactive online training plans such as those from Endurance Nation or TrainingPeaks ($10-$100 per month)
- A coach you interact with online that emails or uploads workouts to you via TrainingPeaks or some other software package, and then reviews them and makes necessary adjustments on a periodic basis. This would include Carmichael Training Systems, and LifeSport Coaching ($150/month and up)
- Local one on one coaches that monitor your training via email/TrainingPeaks, as well as work with you face to face and lead group sessions and host clinics ($120/month and up)
So which is better? If you have the money and commitment, I personally recommend paying for a live coach for all the reasons I discussed in my first blog post. As for whether you should get an online coach or a local coach, I lean towards supporting the local coaches the way I believe its important to support the local bike shop (even if Bonktown can get you those bike shoes for cheaper). But there are some exceptional coaches online and I realize some people may not have access to local coaching due to things like geography or busy schedules, in that case online isn't a bad option.
Area of Expertise
When selecting a coach, ask them straight up what kind of athletes they generally coach. Some coaches focus on getting people from the couch to their first sprint distance triathlon, others will have a lot of competitive sprint, XTerra and Olympic distance athletes, and others will have a nice crew of Ironman triathletes in their group.
Its important you go to a coach who is familiar with coaching people to the distance for which you are training for two main reasons. The obvious first reason is that the physiological demands or a 1.5 hour sprint tri are vastly different than a 10+ hour Ironman. Getting someone from the couch to the start line of their first race can be a task fraught with obstacles that some coaches will be better suited to than others. Similarly, Ironman can introduce stress on the body orders or magnitude greater than what most people are used to, and if you're preparing for the big 140.6 then its best you have someone who knows their stuff.
The second reason to choose a coach who trains others to the same distance as you is simply because you'll likely be able to meet others who are on the same road as you (pun) and this is a great way to meet new training partners.
Know the Coach
Last but not least, its important to find out everything you can about a prospective coach. This is more than just visiting the coach's website, ask members of your local triathlon community, visit your local triathlon shop, check your provincial or state triathlon organization for a directory of coaches, and so on. Most good coaches will want to sit down with you before you commit to anything to make sure their coaching style and your personal goals and needs are a good fit. This is a great opportunity for you to ask questions and learn more about the coach's style and history. some good questions to ask include;
- How long have you been coaching and what are your qualifications?
- How many athletes do you currently coach, and is there a maximum to how many you'll take on per season?
- How many hours a week do you typically prescribe for athletes?
- Where do you fall between high volume/low intensity or low volume/high intensity?
- What classes, clinics, and training camps do you host?
- How often will you review and make revisions to my plan? Weekly? Monthly?
- How do you evaluate my progress? Qualitative feedback? Heart rate data? Power files?
- How do I provide you with my data? Training Peaks? Email?
- How many one on one sessions do we have? How much do I pay for more?
- What races to you typically attend? (if a coach has a number of athletes whose A Race is Ironman _______ then often they may attend as well).
- Can you provide insight on nutritional needs?
At the end of the day its its important you find a coach who is knowledgeable and adept at applying that knowledge to the needs of different individuals. Its critical that you find the coach who is right for you and that you are comfortable working with. Your coach should be an individual who can push you to excel to your personal bests when it is right for you, but also a person who can help you get through the challenges and frustration of being an athlete which can take the form of a bad race, poor training day, or even injury.
A good coach will know you as an athlete almost as well as you know yourself, so when you find him/her, trust them, be honest with them, train hard, and train smart.