Deciding whether you should hire an online coach to plan your triathlon season is a matter of weighing what you need most. There are pros and cons to online coaching that will factor in making your decision. First, you need to make a list of what expect to get from a coach. Then consult this list when deciding whether those needs are met online using the pros and cons below as a guide.
Online coaching works well for experienced athletes with inconsistent schedules. Athletes finding group workout schedules difficult to fit into their schedule are best suited to online programs. Generally, group sessions work around a 9-5 workday, so athletes that want training outside these hours struggle finding a group during the week. From a scheduling perspective, athletes with highly variable or completely random schedules are the least likely to find group workouts fit and benefit the most from a personalized online program.
New athletes generally need to acquire skills and start building an aerobic base. This means new athletes would require less individualization, aside from skills development, as general aerobic fitness does not require complicated planning. Basic fitness is acquired by participating regularly. For this reason, beginner athletes require less individualization and more time with other athletes to watch and learn. Athletes then progress to a level where they can address gaps in proficiency and look to improve on different energy systems. Since athletes respond to training differently, this is where more individualization is beneficial. Experienced athletes with more awareness of their strengths and weaknesses benefit from greater individualization offered with online coaching.
Online programs vary greatly in pricing. There are generic programs planning training in the weeks prior to an event that are very inexpensive and not personalized. Monthly coaching packages that are tailored to the athlete vary in price from coach to coach. There is no scale measuring what a coach should cost, other than what they are asking. It is less expensive to hire a good coach on a monthly training plan than to hire that coach, like a personal trainer, by the hour. Considering the relative price of an online coach to group sessions depends on what coaching is available to you locally.
It is difficult measuring the relative value in different coaching programs. There is no coaching accreditation comparing coaches and even if there was, there are outstanding coaches with years of experience with zero formal education or accreditation. The explosion of physiological testing and gadgets to measure performance means some of the art/experience is lost. For example, a physiologist is an outstanding observer based on interpretation of data which is important in online coaching. But one of the important qualities in a great coach is their listening skills (especially listening for the things that are unsaid) and communication skills. There is a myriad of subjective decisions that go into coaching. Only through experience do coaches learn how to make those decisions and it is even harder to mine for subjective data online. Asking about the kind of experience a coach has, reading and/or contacting athletes that coach works with, and ideally going to a training camp with that coach are the best ways to determine if that coach is a good fit. For instance, if you plan to train and race with power, asking the prospective coach about their experience working with this metric is important.
This leads to the second drawback of online coaching, the lack of facetime while training. It makes an enormous difference spending time in the presence of a coach. The online training platforms offer a lot of data from which a coach can measure loading and progress, but one on one coaching gives immediate feedback about how an athlete is handling the loading.
The ideal scenario for triathlon coaching is to have a coach design and be present at all of your training sessions, as is the case with top Olympic programs. Club triathlon programs have coaches offering advice face to face but often in large groups where individuals can be overlooked. For technical training sessions, instructions you can see, hear, and feel is more powerful than just by READING instructions. For swim stroke development and bike handling skills it is difficult to communicate instructions online as effectively as one on one coaching allows. However, once an athlete has had some one on one sessions, the information can be repeatedly communicated online with better understanding. This is why a combination of one on one time with a coach and online coaching is the best strategy overall.
An online program is individualized but lacks the accountability and motivation of meeting a group. If you are an athlete who loves training but really struggles to stay consistent doing workouts on your own you will struggle with online coaching. Your own personality, reasons for training, and overall goals matter. If you have the opportunity to work with the best coach in the world but no motivation to do those workouts on your own, weigh that factor. If you have a great program you can’t get motivated to complete, it is not going to be effective!
In the end, triathlon is a hobby and a passion, and making a decision that honours what you want from triathlon is important. If it is social time, new friends, a group to keep you motivated, and training with other athletes then an online program is not your jam. If you love training by yourself and want to take your triathlon career to the next level with a program designed specifically to maximize your potential this season, start researching for coaches online. Weigh these factors when making a decision that is right for you.
Melanie McQuaid is a five-time World Champion professional athlete and head coach at MelRad Racing offering coaching programs and training camps at www.melrad.com