Coaching – What to Look For
In Part 1 of our Coaching series, we took a look at some of the general ways you can benefit from coaching. We now turn our focus to a closer look at the symbiotic relationship between a coach and athlete beyond the “simple” act of prescribing training, along with things you should consider when selecting a coach.
Regular Toolbox readers will know that Frank Overton of FasCat Coaching and Bruce Hendler of Athleticamps write excellent columns on various aspects of training and fitness. Let’s take a closer look at what their clients actually feel about them in order to study what factors makes a coach really stand out.
This one is dead simple. Coaching has evolved greatly beyond the days of “monkey see, monkey do” and just doing what the local hero is doing. People going to the gym are often impressed with the guy or girl who’s big and pumped and think that makes them a better personal trainer. Being fit and fast is good, but it’s not a pre-requisite for being a top coach.
A good CYCLING coach MUST have solid credentials from a recognized body, such as USA Cycling or NCCP (in Canada). Most major cycling associations have excellent coaching programs that train individuals in the theory AND application of coaching science. For example, NCCP training includes separate components focusing on Theory, Technical, and Practical aspects of cycling coaching. A B.Sc. or advanced degree (M.Sc., Ph.D.) in exercise physiology is a big bonus because that individual has had numerous courses specifically in the field.
Now comes the more subjective criteria that only you can answer. Some say toMAYto, some say toMAHto…
Many of Frank’s clients love the fact that he’s intimately in tune with the local scene.
“First of all he is local, which initially I did not care about. But he comes out to races, meets for lunch, knows the rides and the area, race routes etc. It makes a huge difference to be able to say “Climbed lookout in 21 minutes and felt like an ass” and have him know exactly what that effort is like. He has raced with or knows a lot of the guys I race against, and knows their style and a bit about them. That is huge too.”
There are coaching wonders that can be done via the Internet, especially with training software allowing you to send complete training afar. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but hands up who’s successfully maintained a long distance love affair? In the same way, a good coach/client relationship has to find a way to break down the walls imposed by distance. The advance in power sensors and software enables a good coach to see every bit of your performance as if they were sitting on your wheel. However, Frank and Bruce are coaches who go the extra mile in overcoming the distance issue, to the point of Frank recently traveling to Alabama to train with a client over the same courses he will be racing on!
“The BIGGEST difference between Frank and … is availability, and honestly that is HUGE. If I E-mail Frank and he does not respond within a couple of hours, I get concerned that he got plowed over on a training ride.”
“My phone calls and e-mails get returned within a day of sending, and Bruce is always delighted to spend time discussing my hopes, goals, and current riding status. My monthly programs are adjusted within a few days if they need changing due to weather or life circumstances.”
Besides professional competence, this is the biggest thing that you’re paying for. A good coach is your best friend, sounding board, and bad-ass drill sergeant all rolled into one. You might favour frequent contact and availability, or you might only opt for occasional chats or even a one-time feedback on a self-designed program. Decide how valuable it is to you to be able to have frequent contact with your coach and expect to pay accordingly.
“If things get funky, I am in a bad mood, whatever, he calls and shoots the shit for a few minutes getting me fired up again. He is super supportive of my goals and training, which makes such a huge difference.”
“Bruce has been amazingly responsive and friendly towards me, characteristics that make it much easier when he tells me I need to work even harder.”
Should be a no-brainer, but make sure you find a coach who relates to you and vice versa! On the other hand, make sure you do your part by being honest and open with your coach and also giving the relationship time to grow.
“Frank sends a lot of good articles and resources along with what he is saying as proof, especially when I second guess him.”
“The testing information has been used quite effectively by Bruce to highlight my strengths, weaknesses and do realistic planning to improve my cycling… With testing, Bruce became aware that I had good endurance, but relatively poor ability to sustain intense efforts. This information allowed him to design a series of gradated workouts that helped me to improve all aspects of my cycling: climbing, descending and sprinting.”
A good coach should also be open with you and back up their ideas and suggestions with solid facts. Being able to conduct and interpret lab and field tests is crucial, and this is where scientific training or evidence of detailed scientific knowledge of the sport really comes in handy.
Got any other things to suggest when looking for a coach? Let me know!
Stephen Cheung is an Associate Professor of Kinesiology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, with a research specialty in the effects of thermal stress on human physiology and performance. His company, Podium Performance, also provides elite sport science and training support to provincial and national-level athletes in a number of sports. He can be reached for comments or coaching inquiries at [email protected].