Finding a coach that’s right for you can be a daunting task. For some athletes, it’s like choosing a dentist or car mechanic; for others, it’s more like looking for a spouse. You want to find someone you can trust will have your best interests in mind, someone you connect with, and someone who knows enough and has the right experience to guide you through your training and racing year so that you show up at your key events as fit as possible.
When it comes to shopping for a coach or coaching group, there are a few key things I think are important and a few misconceptions I’d like to put to rest.
CertificationsTo become certified as a coach through USA Cycling, all you need to do is pass an open book exam. Coaching is actually pretty unregulated, which means anyone can call themselves a coach and start signing up clients. Being certified does not always guarantee that the coach knows anything, but it should at least show a level of commitment to gaining and maintaining the certification, which does require a certain amount of related continuing education.
EducationThis one is pretty important. Your coach should have a good understanding of basic exercise physiology concepts so he can design your training program and assign workouts based on a desired outcome, not something he saw in a book or magazine. When I assign workouts, I want my athletes to understand why they’re doing these workouts and what we expect the results to be. If the coach doesn’t understand the point of a workout, why would he prescribe it to his athletes?
On the flip side, while education is important, it’s common knowledge in the coaching world that athletes “don’t care how much you know as long as they know how much you care.” A PhD in exercise physiology may know everything there is to know about overload, recovery, mitochondrial density, oxygen uptake, etc., but if he’s not committed to actually applying that knowledge to help you as an athlete, it doesn’t do anyone any good.
Race ResultsRiders who win may not have a clue how they got the fitness they had or how to help someone else gain that level of fitness. For this reason it’s not a good strategy to pick a coach based solely on her race resume. Instead, look at the resumes of the athletes who have worked with her. What level of improvements have her athletes made, and in what areas? What are her athletes’ race results? The coach can only work to make sure a riders are as prepared as possible for a given event; once the race starts, there is little she can do to ensure a good result for that rider.
Coaching Style and PersonalityIf your coach gets on your nerves or works with a style you just can’t stand, it’s not very likely that you'll trust or listen to him. Take the time to interview each potential coach before making your decision. An interview will enable you to decide if this coach is the right one for you and will allow the coach to decide if he thinks you’re the kind of athlete he can work with.
Your coach’s style should also fit with what you as an athlete need to improve. Some athletes need a drill instructor for a coach; they need to be told what to do, and being told they have to do it is enough to motivate them. Other riders need to understand the reasoning behind the workout to be motivated. I’ve seen training programs at either end of the spectrum: I’ve seen spreadsheets with nothing but numbers for reps, sets, and heart rate or power targets, and I’ve seen programs with long explanations about every part of the workout. Knowing what works for you will help tremendously as you select a coach and coaching level. If you need more information, you’ll probably want to pay a little extra to get it.
CostWhen shopping around for a coach or coaching group, keep in mind that what you’re paying for is the years and years of collective experience and knowledge, not just the time the coach spends writing your program and talking to you during the month. Most successful coaches have spent a lot of time and money acquiring the experience and knowledge they will use to help you reach your goal. Most coaches support several athletes at once, and time is a limited commodity when it comes to being self-employed. You should expect (and be willing) to pay a little extra if you need or want more of your coach’s limited time.
What you get for the moneyThis is something that should be determined well before you hire a coach; having clear expectations of what she’ll be providing and what she’ll expect from you will save lots of headaches later on. Phone calls, face-to-face meetings, emails, training programs, feedback, race support, and coaching rides are just a few of the services a coach may or may not be willing to provide when you hire her. Make sure you know what you’re looking for and what the coach or coaching group can provide.
TrustTrust is one of the most important factors when it comes to choosing a coach. One of the jobs of a personal cycling coach is to guide you throughout the training and racing season so that you’re as prepared as possible for the events you want to do well in. If you don’t trust your coach, you’ll be constantly second guessing what he’s prescribing. You need to trust your coach has your best interests in mind with everything he prescribes. It’s his job to gain that trust by making sure you have a clear understanding of what he’s planning to do and agrees with it.
So there you have just a few elements to keep in mind when looking for a coach. Ask around; find out as much as you can about any coach or coaching group you’re considering. Interview the coach. I don’t know of any coach who isn’t willing to talk to a potential athlete and answer any questions you have. We want you to succeed just like you do!
Photo: PCG elite coach James Schaefer rides with a Camp Blue Ridge 2014 camper.