To be coached or not to be coached, pon­ders our age-group colum­nist Amy Kilpin

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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.

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