Finding the Right Coach to Fit Your Needs

By: Susan DuPont

When I first decided to do a triathlon, I discovered that I knew absolutely nothing about how to train myself.  It became apparent early on that finding the perfect coach was essential to my success as a triathlete, so when I found the coach who was right for me, I begged him to train me.  Nine years later, I still think it was the best triathlon decision I ever made. 

So you’ve decided that you need a coach.  Now the question becomes which one?  Lots of triathletes don’t want to waste their money on a coach who doesn’t fit their needs, so finding the right one may pose a potential problem if you aren’t careful.  Do you want a coach who is also a lives on another continent, or do you want a coach that is local?  Are you willing to spend hundreds of dollars a month on coaching fees or do you want a coach that only charges a few?  Finding the right coach may seem tough, but following these simple steps can help you find the one who’s right for you. 

1.  Money

Unfortunately, money almost always ends up being the number one determining factor when selecting a coach.  Understand that for many coaches, triathlete coaching is their main source of income, so be prepared to pay for their services.  However, do some investigating before you settle on just any price.  For the common age grouper/beginner triathlete, the average price seems to be about $200 a month, but you can find coaches who charge as much as $400 or as little as $100 per month.  Do realize that for most triathletes, coaching may last as long as 6 months or even a year, so make sure that you have budgeted for this expense.  Like gyms, most coaches will ask you to pay in for the month ahead of time and some may require a setup fee.  Since you are ultimately paying for his or her time, expect the prices to be higher for more one on one time and lower for training that involves just a training plan. 

2.  A Good Fit

Perhaps the most important quality you should look for in a coach is finding a coach with whom you feel comfortable.  It is important to choose a coach who understands your lifestyle and shares a similar vision in regards to your ultimate goal.  Therefore, you should look for a coach who is supportive and accepting of your goals and expectations.  Athletes have varying goals, so not all coaches are the perfect fit.  If your goal is to qualify for Kona then you may want to find a coach who offers more specialized training plans that focus on elite athletes.  But, if you simply want to finish and enjoy your first triathlon, then look for a coach who offers more one on one time for beginners and focuses more on novice triathletes.  Communication is quite possibly the most valuable tool that a coach and client share.  If you do not feel comfortable telling your coach about your training or any difficulties you may be having, then he or she certainly cannot help you adequately.  Likewise, choose a coach who offers a voice in return.  Some coaches merely email their clients weekly to offer advice and expertise, while others may talk to their clients on a daily basis.  Make sure that both of you are on the same page in regards to communication before you make that commitment. 

3.  The Perfect Plan

When choosing a coach, you need to have the end in mind.  What is your ultimate goal?  Are you wanting to finish a race?  Improve on a specific discipline of the sport?  Set a new PR or meet a certain time goal?  Find a coach who offers a clear, detailed plan on how to help you reach your ultimate goal.  After all, that is what you are paying him/her for.  While most coaches offer training plans that meet almost every imaginable goal, some coaches offer services that focus on more individualized plans for their clients.  Almost every coach has a website that details their services; check these out before selecting the one that is best for you.  If a training plan alone is all you need, then check out some plans online and save yourself some expensive coaching fees.  Many reputable triathlon stores and companies offer training plans for all distance levels that you can purchase at a reasonable price. 

4.  Accessibility

Does your coach live in your hometown or does he/she live out of state?  Does your coach schedule times for him/her to assist you in training, or offer group rides or runs?  For some people, having a coach that is close is extremely important, if not essential.  But others may find that communicating by phone or email is sufficient.  Ask yourself if meeting with your coach on a regular basis is critical to your training.  If so, then you probably want to find a coach that lives in your area and is open to your questions and needs.  Also, think about if having your coach at a race is important.  While some coaches might be willing to travel to at least some of your races to offer support and advice, not all will be able to if distance is an issue.  Some coaches welcome spending time with their athletes, while other coaches, may prefer a more formal relationship.    Think about the amount of time you expect from a coach before you settle on one that may not be able to give you the time you need.  

5.  Knowledge

While being a pro is not needed to be a good coach, some triathletes may insist that their coach be an actual expert triathlete.  In thinking that the better athlete means the better coach, keep in mind that this may not always be the case, although there are some pro triathletes who make excellent coaches as well.   A pro may be a specialist when it comes to his training needs, but he may not know how to fully tend to yours.  Instead to really test a coach’s knowledge and expertise, check out a coach’s clients’ resumes and see how well their clients do.  Odds are if you find a coach, pro or not, whose clients’ times increase until their guidance, then you have probably found a knowledgeable coach.  Similarly, this will also let you know you if you are selecting a coach who actually knows how to coach.  Are there client testimonies that you can read or people you can talk to?  Most coaches will gladly give you references and are open about their knowledge and experience, so feel free to ask.  You may also want to check to see if your coach is certified, belongs to any coaching organizations, or holds any coaching titles.  All coaches should have received some sort of coaching instruction or training that is specifically for triathletes, so be wary of someone who simply “gives advice” without any real coaching background.  

There are lots of great coaches out there.  Utilize the internet to help you in your search.  Check out forums, blogs, and websites, and inquire within your triathlon community about your options.  If you are a triathlete, then there is a coach out there for you! 

Happy training!



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