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How to get the most bang for your coaching buck

When it comes to getting the most out of your relationship with your coach, don't be a passive athlete

There are many ways of being a triathlete. You might be a member of a club or training group, perhaps one for each sport. Maybe you are more of a solitary athlete and love grinding out the watts in your basement pain cave for hours on end. You might even be a bit of both. But, no matter what kind of athlete you are, at some point it will make sense to reach out to someone else for information and guidance with your training. One of the most common sources of this help is an online triathlon coach.

Exactly what online coaching looks like can vary widely, but two elements are fairly common. The first is some kind of training program design. The second is usually some amount of direct coach-to-athlete contact and communication. This can happen via email, phone, video conference, or even in-person meetings.

In my experience, the communication part is much more important. Sure, a good plan is important for making effective progress, but there is so much nuance in training that it is impossible for any program, no matter how detailed, to contain all possible information. Questions will arise and modifications and customisations will be necessary. This requires an effective coach-athlete relationship.

Is online coaching right for you?

Unfortunately, I think a lot of athletes see their role in the coach-athlete relationship as passive recipients of information. In my opinion, this prevents athletes from getting the most out of their coach.  Here are my tips on how to be an equal partner in the relationship so you can maximize the effect of your training.

  • Ask a lot of questions. You may be used to waiting for the coach to provide the information or to ask you the questions. That can be great, but don’t let the questions flow in one direction only. Any coach worth their salt should welcome your questions and be happy to provide you the answers. Your questions are an insight into your experience of training and help a good coach more effectively address the specific challenges you are facing. If your coach doesn’t welcome your questions, you need to find a new coach.
  • Write and share comments about your workouts. While it is true that modern GPS watches and power meters produce an incredible abundance of information from every workout, this information is still not a complete picture of how any given session went. Maybe something felt different this time even if all the numbers look the same as the week previous. This information is very useful and should be shared with your coach. Then ask them what it meant.
  • Use open-ended questions to get the ball rolling. Maybe you are completing all the sessions on your calendar and hitting all your target paces and wattages. Everything is looking great, what could there be to talk about, right? Well, there is always something that can be learned. Start with an open-ended question like “What are you looking at when you analyze my workouts?” or “Can you explain why the session/week/month etc. is structured this way?” These types of questions help you to learn more about the sport, making you better placed to effectively execute your training plan. Again, if your coach isn’t willing or able to answer these questions, or shuts you down with a “because I said so,” then it is time to find a new coach.

Use these tips and stop being a passive athlete. Your questions, comments and contributions to the coach-athlete dynamic are valued and allow your coach to do a better job of helping you. Any coach worth the money you are paying them will thank you for being such an involved athlete, and your results will probably thank you too.

Darian Silk is a triathlon coach and Clinical Exercise Physiologist based in Toronto.  Read more about Darian here or email him at darian@teamatomica.com.  You can also check out his TrainingPeaks profile here.