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Picking a Triathlon Coach

Having a triathlon coach to mentor you, writing your training plans—-and talk you off the edge when you are freaking out— is money well spent.  I have been a coached athlete since January of 2011, and I know it’s been the best thing for me.  Someone recently emailed and asked me to write a post about coaching. I’ve been meaning to do so for awhile now.  I have a section in my book about coaching, but here’s a quick starter about coaching and finding a coach who is right for you. If you are not in a position to afford a coach, I would encourage you to find a triathlon club or training group for accountability. Some people can do this on their own—but having someone in your ring really does help—especially if you are just beginning.


You really aren’t THAT strange…

Having a coach is not that weird in the sport of triathlon. It’s true that triathletes may be the only group of people over the ages of twenty-four who do have coaches, but you will be surprised (and in a good way) at the way a coach will change your motivation, your goals and set your mind at ease about training.

Even Coach Monster (my coach) has a coach. If the coach has a coach, then we should all have a coach. Or something like that. Yes, having a coach costs money. Some coaches cost a lot of money. But sometimes, you’d be surprised—the cost per month for being a coached athlete is likely to be less than a few eating-out extravaganzas.

Coaches Know Things

I hired Coach Monster for his help to get me to my first Olympic distance race. One telephone conversation with Coach Monster and I learned more about triathlon than from all the books I had ingested. I had approached my training semi-correctly up until that point because I had attempted to swim, bike, and run. But other than that—I was not doing much else correctly.  I learned quickly the hows and whys… and it made more sense. Period.


Coaches Should Be Nice. Really.

Coach Monster is not an in-person coach. I see him in cycling class on Fridays.  We email and chatter during the week about training. Mostly, he formulates my training plan and sends me the workouts electronically. Then, I cry and question his sanity. Then he tells me to suck it up and to focus.

He has always been very nice to me. Well of course your coach should be nice to you, you might say. Yes, I agree. It sounds simple. But I know people who have crappy, mean-spirited coaches.

You can find almost any triathlete who might be willing to coach you—and for cheap. But do not fool yourself: the coach-athlete relationship is a relationship. You would not be friends with someone who sucked or was constantly mean. So do not put up with a mean, sucky coach.

I may be chunky, but Coach Monster has never said, “You know, you’d be a lot faster if you lost some weight there, Two Ton.” (Even though it’s true).  And while we discuss nutrition and diet, he waits for me to bring it up. Once weight is in conversation play, he showers me with his advice and we discuss. I find this wonderful, because my sensitivity is then removed from the game. If I bring it up, we discuss it. If I am quiet, he says nothing.

Other coaches might look at an athlete like me and say, “Thanks, but no thanks. Not until you lose fifty pounds.”  You have to find the right coach for you—someone who enjoys the challenge of a beginner.

Coach Monster is very tough, but he has never been unkind to me. (And he even wears SBM gear. Awwwww.)


No Brainer

The no-thinking about the workouts is a nice benefit to a coach. I wake up, read my plan and (usually) do what I am told.  When I am too busy to even remember my shoe size, I like the no brainer aspect.

You just show up.  And you do. Like a triathlon robot. And I like that.


Find a coach who is a good match for you, personality-wise. Coach Monster is a good personality match for me. He does not let me slack, but at the same time he understands my struggles and issues. He’s tough, which is also good for me. Plus, we have the same demented sense of humor.  You want someone who thinks like you—or at least, relates to you on some level.


Understanding Your Goals

If your coach believes you should be running a six-minute mile and you just started running yesterday, then she might not be the best coach for you. Some coaches may have been tri-ing for so many years that they have lost a grip on what it means to run a twelve-minute mile (on a good day).

Your coach should recognize your goals, no matter how crazy. But your coach should also understand your life, your family and your (true) limitations. By “true” limitations, I mean your working hours, number of kids and the like—not your lame-o excuses as to why you could “never” become a triathlete.

Bike check... Check!


Find a coach to bring out what’s inside of you! Coach Monster’s goal is to be a catalyst for his athletes. “I don’t have any magic formula to my coaching,” he has explained to me. “I really simply try to bring out what is already inside in the athlete. I’m not trying to put anything into the athlete—I’m trying to pull it out.

Your End of the Bargain

As coached athletes, we have a duty to try not to drive our coaches up the wall. Note that I said “try.” We also have a duty of hard work. If you are paying money for a coach, then for Pete’s sake, pay attention to the coach and work hard!

Where do I find a coach?

There are a million coaches out there.  You can start with USAT and get their list of coaches. But I think the best way to find a coach is word of mouth.  Who at the swimming pool knows a good coach? Who loves their coach?  Ask around, and you’ll be surprised.

Also, if you’d like to (in the comments) shout out GREAT coaches you know, please do so.  Add their website and city/state, and we can be a good resource for each other!



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