To be coached or not to be coached, ponders our age-group columnist Amy Kilpin
To be coached or to self coach, asks our age- group columnist Amy Kilpin.
There’s some commonly experienced confusion in triathlon – and I’m not talking about where your bike is in T1. It’s something that makes itself present to athletes at any level, from age-group to pro – the coaching conundrum.
Whether to be coached or to self-coach, who to employ as a coach, what credentials a coach should have, what proximity to them is needed and what level of coaching is required. There’s a whole wealth of questions to be asked and it can be a tricky one to crack.
The reason is individuality. Every athlete is different, as is every coach and the combination of the two can be make or break. I speak from experience as I have had a number of coaches in a relatively short number of years. But having worked with coaches from when I was an absolute rookie when I started out in triathlon to where I am now (slightly less rookie-esque), I have found my requirements have changed as I have evolved through the sport.
I’ve learned a lot from my different coaches – different approaches along with different experiences.
One of the most important things when teaming up with a coach is the coach-athlete relationship. My sports psychologist said something to me recently which really solidified my view on this: “A good coach will look at you as a person, rather than as an athlete.”
It’s true. Whatever level we are performing at, whether it’s a glorified hobby fitting in around a full-time job or a professional career, we all still have stuff going on in our lives that means we sometimes need to strike a balance between commitments, and that can be challenging and stressful.
External factors outside our control can often affect how we feel on a training day or indeed race day, and it’s not always possible to change that. A coach who knows how to deal with people and not just a sport is one who will be most effective.
I started working with Mark Pearce, former head coach for British Triathlon’s High Performance Centre at Loughborough, now Founder of Intelligent Coaching, in late 2015 and kept it on the low until I was sure he was the right coach for me. After mixed experiences, I was hesitant to take anyone on board and ended up self-coaching for the majority of 2015.
In February, I attended a coached training camp at Tri Sports Lanzarote with Mark and a few other athletes (mostly pros), where I had an opportunity to work more closely with Mark and build a better picture of the coach-athlete relationship. It completely opened my eyes – not only to his skills and abilities as a coach, but also to what I have been missing out on as an athlete.
Despite five of us being coached on the camp, we all had different, individualised sessions every day. Sure, sometimes we’d ride out together, but somehow there would always be variations on our sessions, which meant we were all working towards our own personal goals and objectives. Mark doesn’t proclaim to know exactly how it will work – performance gains take shape differently in different people – it’s about finding out what works for you.
We were all going through our own individual challenges (some were recovering from illness, some were injured) and in spite of this, Mark would treat us as human beings, taking every factor into consideration and carefully planning what was best for each of us. He would take each day as it came, planning the next day’s sessions around our individual feedback, weaknesses, areas of focus, and race goals – and importantly, how we were feeling. It wasn’t 100 per cent about the training – we are human, and too many coaches overlook this.
The training side of it was revealing too. Many people are training “long and slow in winter and yet while I completed a decent week of base endurance training (25 hours), a lot of it was quality work too, involving longer efforts on the bike at over 100 per cent of functional threshold power, double swim days and sprint interval run sessions. One of the greatest benefits of a coach is that they will set sessions you would never set for yourself, because they’re the ones you don’t like.
Having no coach is a learning curve. Having a coach has value. Having a good coach is priceless.