I recently read a blog post from an Aussie based Athlete/ coach on why Age group athletes need a coach and how to choose one. Check it out here, its not a bad article, but I think there is one important point that has been missed.
Actually I think it is the MOST IMPORTANT aspect of successful coaching. In any sport.
Coaching is underpinned by the efficacy of communication between the coach and the athlete.
That is hands down the number one thing that will drive an athlete to their true potential; the ability for their coach to understand individual needs, remain clear on intent and purpose and articulate/ process information in a way that suits the relationship.
You can employ the most knowleadgeble, outspoken, revered and big-ticket coach available. And you might be the most uniquely talented athlete ever to grace the AG circuit, but none of that means much if you cannot effectively communicate with that coach, or worse – your coach is ineffective at commuicating with you.
Success of any kind, is influenced by communication.
Therefore a lack of success, or a lack of progression towards success could be determined by a failure or inability to communicate.
It isnt a one-way street either.
Communication is trust. If you cant trust your coach, who can you trust? Why would you put yourself through pain, suffering and torment if you werent certain that the coach had your best interests at heart. How much would you really apply to your training if you were not sure it was right for you.
Doubt creates uncertainty and uncertainty breeds failure.
Lets say I employ a Financial Planner today. She is smart, well-known for getting good results and has a string of accomplishments hanging above her desk. We sit down at the first meeting and the FP begins to bombard me with tales of impressive results that she achieved for other people.
I try to interject a few times, to ask about the relevance of my finances and how best to accomplish my own success, but I am met with a stale response: just trust me, do this and it will work. She talks more than she listens; trying to glisten me with her infinite wisdom.
But because I feel she sin’t listening, I ignore her wisdom and decide to make my own decisions – despite the fact I have paid for that wisdom. She think she knows it all, and I think I know it all. No-one is listening.
How succeessful do you think that relationship will be? I am putting my money and time into a relationship with very little trust and a great deal of scepticism about the efficacy. I dont think so.
Just because someone says it is so, doesnt make it so. Unless they can concisely detail the plan, the execution, with a full understanding of how, what and why.
After all its your athletic success on the line right?
Lets be honest here. Not everyone needs coaching. For a variety of reasons.
Some people prefer to download a plan, follow along at their own pace and make whatever adjustments they see fit. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. We have seen many many athlete race with success just by following the Ironman Blueprint.
The secret to that success is that they are probably all very good at self-communication. Given there is no contact from a coach, just a plan to follow, they are good at communicating to themselves. They record, they observe, they listen.
Just like a coach would.
Admitedly this makes for more work for the individual. But if they are that way inclined, then success is imminent. Communication is uniquely individual. Everyone has their own style that they use to communicate with.
I have worked with coaches whose only style was to yell and scream orders all day (baseball). The orders were smart, relevant and well designed instructions, but there effect was completely useless on the team (a bunch of teenage boys who thought they knew it all). The end result was that when the coach yelled, we played badly. We made errors and we lost confidence.
Thats not to say that becoming animated – passionate isnt helpful.
I have also worked with coaches who stood silently on the sideline (rugby) and spoke no words. Just watched. And at the end of a training session or game, very few words were spoken. So we had zero feedback to go from, zero insight, and therefore zero ability to adjust our tactics and planning.
Coaching is an art.
No amount of textbook learning will teach the true art of coaching. Absolutely there is a need for knowledge of the sport, whether experiential or learned through close observation but that art is crafted through communication; understanding the differences between what the athlete wants VS what they need VS their ability/ circumstances.
There is no other way to gain those insights other than through consistent, trust-based communication. Across the board there arent too many major differences in how most coaches coach in this sport. There are some examples of polarity but for the most part, the training is fairly similar.What changes though is each coaches style, of communication and ability to read the play of each individual. A solid plan will look great on paper, but the reality is that on a particular day that perfect plan might be completely inappropriate for an athlete.
A coach has to understand the individual requirements and circumstances of each athlete (which is why we focus on quality, rather than bums on seats).
Good training and bad training look the same on paper -Ron Daws
A good coach will spend time planning and developing strategies for an athlete. A great coach will articulate those strategies to an athlete in a meaningful and comprehensive way.
If an athlete knows the full reason as to why they are doing something and how it will relate tp their desired success, then they will follow diligently.
If there is a question of doubt, backed by a lack of open-dialogue then the athlete will stop listening. The athlete is no longer trusting the process because they do not understand the process.
On the other side of that coin, if a coach requests communication and the athlete is unwilling to provide it then there is a serious breakdown in dialogue and the coach is working blind. This doesnt serve either person.
This can make choosing a coach (instead of a program or form the vastly growing number of triathlon experts) difficult. How do you know that this person will be right for you?
A good coach asks questions.
A great coach listens to answers.
As I said, not everyone needs a coach. Some people are just not coachable and that is ok. Its better to know that you prefer to follow your own advice then waste someone elses time if you are not prepared to listen to the advice you would be paying for.
Kristian and I have been working on filling in the gaps somewhat; providing an accessible coaching platform for those athletes that will benefit from coaching contact, but not in a full-time role. I think this is a major benefit to a lot of AG athletes out there. Our goal is to continue to educate athletes and provide as much support as permissible, whilst working with the juggling act of life.
If you have been thinking about seeking out a coach, I encourage you to ask yourself a few important questions first:
Is it their job? Or its this merely a supplementation of income?
Do they have beliefs/ ideas that resonate with me? Or, ideas that I am willing to accept and learn from?
Do they display excellent communication? Can I easily understand who they are and what they are about?
Am I willing to provide relevant and regular feedback?
Am I ready to question methods and tactics to help gain insight into progress?
Lastly, what am I going to learn from this relationship?
If you can answer these questions then you have most likely found the right coach to work with. Like I said, intuition is very rarely wrong. When you look past all the bravado and chest beating – follow your gut.
Or if you are still unsure, seek out that coach’s athletes and ask them some questions about the relationship and its success.
Your health and performance hinge on the ability to effectively manage life with training and racing, not separately but in a symbiotic way. If you choose to employ someone to help you achieve this balance, then do your research.
A coach who says he/ she has all the answers, is wrong. They dont.
Find a coach who is willing to find the answers with you.