How to Choose a Triathlon Coach

How to Choose a Triathlon Coach

Lee Zohlman, USA Triathlon Elite Level 3 Coach

Lead Coach and Owner, BodyZen MultiSport Coaching

 

I believe I can speak with some authority on this (trust me it’s the only thing I can speak on-don’t know much else in life) and to give some back ground I was one of the first batch of thirty or so USA Triathlon (USAT) certified coaches in 1998. Since 2000 I have been helping USA Triathlon by presenting to aspiring new coaches on various subjects. After going through the USA Triathlon Level Three certification years ago I really began thinking about this subject and the various moving parts. MY DEFINITION of a coach is someone who has a certification from USAT or another governing body in the sport and who also runs an ethical and smart program. I also believe the coach should have insurance, CPR certification and some type of science background. SO there you have my criteria for a coach. Going forward with this topic when I use the word coach I speak of this group. Our business is extremely unregulated and ANYONE can call themselves a coach. I mean anyone! From bike shop employees to butchers.

I know that if you live in a small city and are looking for a coach you will ask around first, maybe hop on a forum and check them out or go to the USAT (usatriathlon.org) website to find one in your area. With technology these days it is quite effective to coach over the internet as long as both parties commit to the relationship. I have seen great success with athletes with long distance coaching but it does really take a lot of time focusing on fostering that relationship. If I had my way I would see my athletes every day and look into their eyes, as you can really tell the disposition of the athlete that way and if they are ready to perform that day’s tasks.

But this is not the case nor how I have developed my business, good bad or indifferent.
Now there are many fine coaches out there. But if I were an aspiring athlete of any sport or level I would…. well, let’s say I really wanted to get into golf. I would ask around about local golf pros and I would search the internet for information about golf pros. I would find the most educated, experienced golf pro I could find and get some references as well. I would want to make sure he has plenty of success stories I could call on.

Now here’s the thing with tri coaching most people don’t know. In a way, it is kind of like personal training. I tread lightly here as the two are not very similar at all but in this way you can draw a parallel. For the most part if you take an average or below average athlete and give them enough training they are going to get better just by the mere fact they are on some type of plan. So of course if a person who calls themselves a coach and has some understanding of planning workouts and also has some experience as a triathlete and gives  out a plan then there athlete will improve. BUT, there is a lot more to successful tri coaching then meets the eye or by just throwing workouts to the athlete. The most important element of coaching is knowing how much training to give an athlete and if they’re ready to absorb the dose of a session. This is vital to prevent injury and illicit a positive response in the body. What can a qualified and competent coach do:

  • Create an individual periodized training program to peak the athlete for a certain race
  • Knows and uses Lactate Threshold testing, power meter training and heart rate monitoring in the sessions
  • Use the latest in endurance sport research to help the athlete achieve their goals
  • Create the training plan with the athlete’s strengths, weaknesses and life schedules in mind
  • Train the athletes mind as well as body
  • Coach the athlete in the subjects of nutrition, flexibility, sport specific strength training, effective and safe supplementation, equipment selection
  • Listen to the athlete and be willing to change the plan and the overall approach
  • Support the athlete in their life not just in their sport
  • Care- the coach must care about the sport, the athlete and the process of working with the athlete
  • When a coach takes all these things into mind and inputs them into the athletes plan the results will be a successful and happy individual

He’s a Great Athlete He Must be a Great Coach!

That age old question comes back. Does a good athlete make a good coach? Sometimes in my book, but first and foremost the athlete must be able to recognize who the coach’s first priority is. I appreciate an athlete who wins and is very fast but that doesn’t mean that they know how to coach or plan a schedule. What works for them most likely will not work for the athlete. It is just too easy sometimes to take peoples money if you are a really good athlete and have people requesting coaching.

TRUE CASE: I know of a very good athlete who also coaches. His athlete stated that he would get his training schedule with unrealistic hours of training planned on the days he works. Why would a coach do this? The reason is that the coach felt that the athlete needed to do this amount of training to succeed. Well, that is ineffective coaching. If your athlete does not have the time to train the hours you recommend then don’t train him. This would not happen with us as we ask each individual athlete how many hours they can train on a specific day. Then we build the plan into there schedules not the other way around.

The Russian Method

This is what I call a coach who throws arbitrary and obscene amounts of intensity and volume at the athletes. If the athlete gets injured, oh well, but if they win then fantastic for the coach. I am not a fan of throwing random workouts at athletes but rather there is a reason for EACH workout prescribed. It is our Law of Specificity. It is the WHY behind the workouts.

In addition, the Russian Method is a bit excessive without any reason. Depending on whom you ask some people will say BodyZen is too conservative and some will say that they work their athletes very hard. Like I said it depends on who you ask. We aim to be SPECIFIC with each athlete according to the following.

Simply put:

  • What load they can handle physically and mentally
  • How much time they have to devote to training
  • What phase of training they are in

Outside Influence

I have been coached by some very good coaches who I have trusted totally. Now, as a coach I believe it speaks volumes when I say that I have had a coach, followed a program and would do so again in the future. I will add to this that I believe an athlete must be honest with him or herself about what strengths and weaknesses they have. Figure it this way, Olympians have coaches so why shouldn’t you. An open mind leaves the door open to endless success. And that is what is required of the athlete, to have an open mind.

Too often this mind is cluttered with outside influences or interference. It is OK to have questions but if you trust your coach then let them do the job you are hiring them for. What I believe here is for the athlete just to give me their body and mind and let me shape it. There are too many couch coaches out there and other so called “coaches” who are cluttering the minds of athletes with inaccurate information that also could be holding the athlete back from reaching their potential.

I believe that when looking for a coach don’t just take the cheapest coach or even the one your closest friends use. Look for the most experienced, most educated and most knowledgeable coach you can get to get you to your best. Choosing a coach is like choosing where to go to eat. You can go to McDonalds or Ruth Chris Steakhouse. Both will get you full but one will fill you with high quality ingredients and the other, well, you never know what’s in it.

Do your homework as there are many fine coaches out there. Get a plan, get someone who LISTENS to you, listen to them and realize your dream.

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