Finding the right triathlon coach

Finding the right triathlon coach

In the first part of this feature we looked at the multiple benefits of having a triathlon coach and now we focus on the different options available and how to find the right coach for you.

Click here to read part one of this article - 'The benefits of triathlon coaching'.
We'll now focus on the main types of triathlon coaching available and run through their pros and cons before highlighting the key things you should look for when identifying the coach best suited to you:

Club Coaches

What: Most local triathlon clubs will have coaches on hand to give free coaching advice or more commonly, coached sessions (eg swim club, track session etc). 
Pros: Other than club membership fees, there is usually no fee. Also a great way of meeting other triathletes and finding people to train with.
Cons: You are unlikely to get particularly tailored training advice. Usually there will be a generic programme in which you might pick up some tips, or you might not. 

Professional face-to-face

What: A coach you are paying to coach you in some capacity, who you see on a regular basis.  There are many levels to this, ranging from seeing some of our pros daily, with all sessions are designed specifically for each individual, through to athletes we see once or twice a week at group swim sessions. All athletes will have regular face-to-face meetings to discuss the week’s training and ensure programmes are adapted as necessary.
Pros: A training programme designed specifically for you, and adapted to take into account progress or hiccups along the way.  Not just swim, bike, run training taken into account, but often conditioning training, race strategy and sometimes other services such as nutrition advice.  Fully comprehensive package - if you are paying for this, you can expect to feel you make progress, so long as you are following the advice given.
Cons: Can be costly.  If you haven’t got a good amount of time to commit to training, this might be a level too high for you, as you might not be able to make the most of the time and input available.

Internet based training

What: You have a coach who puts a training plan on a web-based platform for you to access.  Often communication will be via this platform, but it can also include contact through Skype for example. There are many levels to this, from a tailored approach similar to the face to face above (regular contact etc), to a simple periodical programme that you follow, until completion and go back for another.
Pros: Easy format, gives you a wide range of options of coach, as they can be based anywhere in the world.
Cons: We use the term “training” here, as it is very difficult to coach someone via the internet.  You can have limited and unreliable gains in technical areas without seeing the athlete regularly in training.  Having said that it does depend upon what the athlete needs and how other other areas con be influenced. 
For example, we have an athlete in Australia whose technical running has improved due to the type of sessions he does and regular Skype conversations with demos etc. However this is largely down to him and his ability to process the information. Another athlete might not be able to process this in the same way and will not make the same gains.

Discipline-specific coaching

What: There are some coaches who specialise in a specific triathlon discipline.
Pros: These can be very good for people with desire to improve in very specific areas i.e. swimming. 
Cons: Triathlon is different to the individual sport in many ways and not all discipline-specific coaches appreciate this and take into account the other training you are doing.

Workshop coaching

What: Similar to the discipline-specific coach, you can get coaching on workshops targeting specific areas. Swim workshops are very popular at the moment, but it might also be a weekend away where you look over an upcoming race, and do transition practice, open water swimming in a group etc.
Pros: A good way of getting a good injection of knowledge and tips for your training.
Cons: A few months down the line you might have forgotten those tips or be unwittingly getting back into bad habits technically.

Training/Coaching camps

What: These are most common in winter (especially in Europe) to get to warmer climates and get some good miles/km of training done.  Typically run by coaches these camps can vary from a simple holiday with some training, to fully coached, specific training camps. 
Pros: Similar to the workshops above, a great way to get some fairly individualised coaching on a one-to-one basis, without the commitment of long-term cost.
Cons: You might want to have a full-time coach when you get home! If you don’t go on a coached camp, it is easy to get carried away and do way more training than you would at home, and then be knackered and unable to train properly for a few weeks when you get home.

What should you look for to find the right coach for you?

Do an on-line search for a triathlon coach and the choices are endless.  So how do you find the right coach for you?  Here are my tips for what to look for when choosing a triathlon coach.
Qualifications - realistically speaking, if you are going to be spending a good chunk of money on coaching, you should really choose someone with qualifications. There are a variety of qualifications out there, not just coaching ones, however a triathlon-specific coaching qualification is the best one to look for - most national federations run coaching courses. Other areas to look for are relevant degree or post grad qualifications (eg sports science, with a focus on physiology or coaching). 
Experience - what has the coach done in the sport or outside the sport that might enhance their their ability; what level of athletes are they experienced at working with - an experienced coach of elite athletes may not be such a great coach of novices. 

A lot of ex-elite/pro athletes (and even current ones) turn their hands to coaching.  It is important to remember that what they have achieved as a coach is much more relevant to you than what they achieved as an athlete. A great athlete doesn’t necessarily make a great coach (although they can).
Track record - what progress have athletes made with this coach? Coaching big names is one thing; making athletes better is another. 
Compatibility - does the coach ‘fit’ with you, do you like the way they work, can you talk honestly with them?
Provision of what you want - do they offer what you need? i.e. no point looking at a coach with expertise in swimming if you want to improve your biking. 
Hopefully you now have an answer to that question of whether you could be a better triathlete with a coach - and also have the knowledge to choose exactly the right type of coach for you.

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