How to choose a triathlon coach

November 21, 2011

At a recent USAT Coaching Clinic I learned that there are 150,000 USAT members (and that isn’t including the one day athletes), and 2,100 triathlon coaches. If my math is correct that’s 71 athletes a coach, which obviously shows one thing….. there are plenty of coaches to go around, or rather, plenty of athletes. Sure these days it might feel like coaches are a dime a dozen…. they are popping up on every corner with varying degrees of experience. In my opinion….. every coach has something to offer. You just have to find the one that’s right for you.

Since 2004 I have been coaching triathletes, my experience in this sport spans over 15 years and prior to this I was a swimmer since age 5 with a collegiate swimming career, and a YMCA swim coach. To put it simple, sport has been my life in one way or another. I am extremely honored to be part of an incredible team at QT2. Just look at our coaching team. Throughout my years I have seen a lot as both an athlete and as a coach.

By the grace of God I have had nothing but spectacular coaches. When I say that to my father he reminds me…..  I have just been able to pull what I need out of every coach I have ever had. True, very true. There will be good coaches and coaches that don’t click with you, I believe it’s up to us as athletes to pull what we need from those who we pay to guide us.

So how do you choose a triathlon coach? Here are my tips on finding that match.

1. Experience: When choosing a coach I look for years in sport and years of coaching. For me…. and this is just my opinion….. a triathlete in year two of competition won’t have what I need to draw from as a coach. With that being said if the prospective coach has experience in sport other than triathlon and coaching I’d definitely consider them. Nothing speaks louder than experience. In that same breath…. I know plenty of good coaches who don’t have years of experience, but have an ability to learn and apply and read an athlete.

2. Certifications. I do believe certifications and education is very important. I look for USAT, or an equivalent even  if the prospective coach has e a background in health or exercise science. I think that a good understanding of exercise physiology is vital as it eliminates the…… I read so-and-so coaches’ training protocol and that is what I will use, or this is what I do, so this is what I use. I’d look for both a triathlon certification and a personal training certification from an organization such as ACE or ACSM. I have taken all of those exams and trust me they are not easy. They are not open book and someone with those credentials must have a good understanding of the material. On Wednesday we will talk more about certifications.

3. Reputation. I need to know the reputation of the prospective coach. To put it simply…. I need to know that are a balanced human being without a history of acting out of character and able to remain open minded. I need them to be able  to work with people…. especially other coaches. I will stay away from anyone who bashes another coach as respect between colleagues is important.  If they have worked with athletes before I connect with them for their opinion and I keep it off the record. I need  honesty. I also need to know how they deal with parting with athletes and how they deal with difficult situations. If they are rash, condescending and disrespectful….. then they are placed on the no list.

4. The triathlon stuff. These are the things many athletes look for first, but are the things I look for last.

  • What is the coach’s training philosophy?
  • What training protocols / methods do they adhere to?
  • How to they structure a season?
  • What type of assessments to they perform?
  • What level of communication methods do they use?

I usually know before I even speak to a coach that they are the right one for me. In 2009 I emailed four coaches who I thought would make a good fit with me. The coach who emailed me back these four words was the one I chose immediately “I can help you.” That was Jesse Kropelnicki and even though I had a tough story and tough road to navigate…..  he accepted that challenge, and immediately put my concerns to ease. His  we will take care of all of it attitude was not only comforting when the other responses were full of excuses…… it made me realize that not all athletes click with all coaches.

Not that anything was wrong with the personalities, backgrounds or programs of those three other coaches….. we just would not have worked well together. Which is why I looked closely at four and not one.

So take the time you need when looking for someone who is going to be this involved in your life. Look for experience, balance, education and an ability to be a part of your life without being overly emotional.

In my opinion if you can find those….. you have found your coach.

Are you someone who is thinking of getting into coaching? Stop back on Wednesday, we will walk through some important steps you need to take to begin. And remember….. with over 150,000 USAT members, there are plenty of athletes to go around!


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