Optimizing the Coach – Athlete Relationship
Coaching in cycling is quite a different animal from the traditional coaching model of team sports. With most coaching done remotely, the coach-athlete dynamic takes on a different and much more challenging dynamic than a coach directly supervising a team or group. What are the key ingredients to optimizing this relationship?
In today’s world, most cycling coach-athlete relationships are different than what we typically think of as the traditional coaching model. We usually think of a “coach” as a person who leads a team (e.g. college basketball) of athletes who are in the same physical environment on a daily basis. Cycling, however, is very different, in that most athletes are not in the same physical location as their coach and even if they are located close to one another, both usually have full-time jobs and/or lives that don’t allow very much direct contact.
The Internet has given cycling coaching a life of its own with most coaches able to communicate thru email and the web. Having a relationship primarily through the Internet can be successful if approached properly. Let’s look at some ways to enhance your relationship with your coach and assure you get the most out of the partnership:
• Goals – This is where it all begins. To be successful in any area of life, we must have goals and cycling is no different. You and your coach should define these goals and make sure they are specific and attainable. For example, you don’t want to have a goal to “win races this year,” but rather identify which specific races you want to win or events you want to ride and why.
You wouldn’t tell an architect or contractor to just “build me a house” right? Of course not. You would work out together your budget, a timeline, rought plans (e.g., how many rooms, stories). Same thing with a coach – they need to know your time availability, your ultimate goal(s) for the year, etc., so get them clear up front to avoid expensive remodeling!
• Ask Questions – If you don’t understand why you are doing a specific workout, don’t hesitate to ask your coach to explain it. As an athlete, it’s important that you know why you are doing certain drills and how they may relate to your goals. Many workouts have a specific physiological component that relates to a specific race situation or prepares you for a specific type of event (e.g., a hillclimb). There is nothing better for a coach to hear than an athlete say they had succeeded in a race because a particular situation in the race reminded them of something they consistently do in training.
• Mood and Stress Level – Most athletes work full-time and have family commitments. It’s normal to be stressed in these areas and this stress level can affect your training and racing. As a coach, when designing a program or getting an athlete prepared for a big race, all these areas of life need to be taken into account. Keep your coach updated on how “life is going.” You don’t have to give them all the details (unless you want), but it’s a good idea to keep them abreast of your mood and stress levels. This will help your coach design a program that is flexible enough to accommodate the inevitable life issues that crop up for most people over the course of time.
• Power is Good – The recent popularity of power measuring devices (e.g., PowerTap) have allowed coaches to understand precisely what their athletes are doing on the bike. These tools have therefore allowed a great increase in the potential quality of the coach-athlete relationship. To capitalize on this tool, make sure you give specific details to the coach about what the data file represents. For example, don’t just send a file and ask “How does this look?” Send the file with details about what each section represents (remember, the coach probably wasn’t riding with you) and how you felt during those efforts.
Help your coach make the leap from the computer file to what was done on the road, because the data and formulas that these power applications offer are only a small part of the picture. What is more important is talking to the athlete and listening to what they have to say about their riding. This dual approach, data and discussion, completes the training picture.
• Recovery – Recovery from races and training might be the single most important piece of information that needs to be communicated to your coach. How quickly you recover during specific workouts and how you recover from hard training days and racing will determine how your program is developed over time. Be certain to relate this important info to your coach.
• It goes both ways – Where does a cycling coach truly learn about improving their coaching skills? From you, the athlete. The best source of a coaches knowledge is from their athletes, so good communication is vital. A good coach will be open to learning from their athletes and will have something to offer in return.
Obviously, the common theme is solid communication. One important aspect of success a coach strives to attain in a coaching relationship is a knowledgeable athlete who can think and make decisions on their own. Communication between the two is the key to this happening. Finally, feel like you can be honest with your coach and tell them exactly what you are doing in training. Remember, the coach is not your parent (in most cases), and not judging you. Your coach should have an objective view of you and your training, helping you become the best athlete you can be. Ride safe, ride strong!
Bruce Hendler created AthletiCamps to provide cycling specific coaching and training to athletes and cyclists of all levels. Find out more at www.athleticamps.com