Thursday, October 12, 2017

Not a pro? Why would you need a coach? - By PCG Coach David Ertl

Professional cyclists and triathletes typically hire coaches.  This makes sense as their career and income depend on their results.  Paying someone to help them be successful is good business.  But what about recreational and amateur athletes who hire coaches – what is the rationale there?  For an aspiring amateur wanting to get to the professional level, coaching just makes sense.  However, many  athletes who purchase  custom coaching through Peaks Coaching Group are avid cyclists/enthusiasts with no intention of racing let alone ever attempting to become a pro.  Many don’t even consider themselves athletes.  They may just want to keep up with their fellow cyclists on group rides, participate in a local or regional triathlon, compete in or just complete a gran fondo.  In many cases, they have no aspirations of entering, much less winning, a race.   So why would an amateur athlete invest good money in a custom coaching program when there is absolutely no financial reward?

To answer this we have to look at the reasons why these amateur athletes participate in their chosen sport. While not pros , most athletes who hire a coach are very committed to their chosen sport, often giving it a priority in their lives only behind family and jobs in importance.  They are very invested in their sport as evidenced by the hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars they invest in training and equipment.  If athletes are willing to commit this much time and money to their sport, doesn’t it make sense for them to invest in their own “motor”, which will have greater impact on their results than equipment ever can?  There are a number of benefits that an amateur athlete can gain through coaching. Let’s take a look at them:

Time: Most amateur athletes have time constraints such as full-time jobs, families and other obligations. They certainly can’t devote large blocks of time during the week and even on weekends training like the pros do. So they need to get the most of out their limited training time.  Additionally, because of their other obligations, their recovery time is also limited and may be impeded by work and family obligations.  Also, because of their busy lives, they may not have time to develop their own training plans.

Expertise, Knowledge and Technology:  Amateur athletes typically do not have the knowledge and tools to create a scientifically sound training regimen. One alternative to coaching is to buy a pre-built training plan, but the athlete would need to know enough to adjust it specific to their own situation. Analyzing data from workouts is an area where a coach typically has far more education and experience than a self-coached athlete.  As new methods and devices become available (heart rate monitors, power meters, GPS computers, motion sensors, software tools), the amount of data collected on a simple ride can be overwhelming. A coach can help sort through and identify the critical pieces of data to examine.  

Interest level: While some very motivated athletes are fully capable of designing a workable training plan for themselves, others are not.  Even those that are, often choose to hire a coach simply because they don’t want to invest the time (see Time above) and energy in coming up with a plan. They would rather let someone else do the planning for them so they can focus on training and following the plan. When the coach takes on the responsibility of crafting the plan, the athlete can get back to doing what they like doing (riding their bike and training) rather than doing something that they have to do (creating a custom training plan).

Accountability: This is a big one.  Often amateur athletes need some accountability for remaining on task and following the plan , especially for busy folks or those lacking discipline.  A coach provides that accountability. For the athlete, knowing the coach will be taking a look to see if they followed the Training Plan as prescribed provides much needed motivation at times.

Perspective:  Another big one.  Self-coached athletes tend to let their emotions get in the way. A coach can be more objective and help the athlete keep perspective when things aren’t going well.  A bad ride or an illness may seem like the end of the world to a committed athlete while the coach can assure the athlete that it is only a minor setback.  A coach can also provide objective feedback on training progress and provide positive feedback when the athlete is doing well and is showing improvement. A coach evaluates and determines your actual strengths and weaknesses and gets to know you on a very personal level.

Intensity and Recovery: As often as not, a coach needs to help an athlete understand the importance of intensity, which is a bit of a “double edged sword” in itself.  Amateurs aren’t going to have the physical capacity to handle professional level workloads so, workouts should be tailored to the individual client’s needs. Recovery is too often downplayed significantly by self-coached athletes.  Self-coached athletes tend not to push themselves hard enough when they should be training hard.  But then again, they don’t take enough easy days (really easy) either. They tend to do most of their training going moderately fast but never pushing the limits (which will lead to improvement ) and then not allowing adequate rest and recovery (where that improvement really  occurs!).

Setting Achievable Goals & Measuring Progress: While a  fair number  of athletes coached through PCG do race, a surprising number don’t – they just want to improve. This can create real challenges for the athlete in measuring improvement.  The first step here is to assess the athletes current condition and with their input determine achievable goals.  A coach can help them establish goals and in turn convert those goals into data points without the need for race results.  Using speed, heart rate, power, cadence and now motion analysis, a wide range of goals can be determined and metrics can be used to measure progress toward those goals.

Coaching Bonuses:  A coach looks at the complete fitness picture and can schedule in mobility routines, appropriate warm-ups and cool-downs, foam rolling, pedaling drills, strength training and even nutrition - aspects of training that are very often forgotten by athletes who are too busy ‘training’, when these can be important components of training as well.  Something often overlooked is the positive influence a  good coach can offer by providing encouragement and motivation, read “cheer leader” for an athlete.

Equipment and Ride Recommendations: Need a new head unit , power meter or even a bike?  Ask your coach for advice.  Looking to venture into giving gravel, mountain biking or CX (Cyclocross) a try and don’t know where to begin? Want to give racing a try? Do you want to try an endurance ride? Maybe just a medio, piccolo or gran fondo?  Even a big group ride? A coach can help here too.

Yes, coaching costs money, yet your time spent on the bike can be made much more efficient.  Those new carbon wheels you just bought could have paid for a year or more of coaching and you could be so much faster on your “old” wheels with coaching.  Over the long-haul, you may even save money and time off of the bike by preventing overuse injuries. 

If hiring a coach simply isn’t in your budget, ask about other resources your coach can offer, like consulting which could include goal setting, writing a custom training plan, or even just finding the correct pre-built plan while you save up some money.

David Ertl is an Elite coach with Peaks Coaching Group. His Coaching Focus is on Road, MTB,CX,TT. 

Find out more about David