Choosing a Coach

How do most athletes and parents of athletes go about choosing a coach?

First, they probably look at the results a coach, or a team or club are delivering. If the results meet or match their level, or their expectations of the level they want to attain, then it becomes worth continuing the investigation process.

Second, they typically look to finding someone, or someone that knows someone who is currently trained by a specific coach, or is a member of a team or part of the club they are investigating. The question asked at this point is… how is the coach? If the answer is as hoped, “good” or “great”, then the process is almost at its end. If there are added bonuses, for example, a social dimension to the club or additional training available, then these are often the icing on the cake closing the deal.

Sounds like a good way to select a coach, right?

Maybe. The problem with this process is that it avoids digging into any of the realities or truths of training under a specific coach, or with the team or club.

If you asked a member of the local triathlon club “how is the coach/the club”, then the standard response would likely be:

  • its great, its fun, its a great group, you will have fun…
  • the workouts are challenging/hard/killer…
  • the coach is good or great
  • there is training for each sport: there are run groups, bike groups,…
  • there are athletes of all levels

Actually, if you ask 10 athletes from 10 different clubs – be it a triathlon, a running, a swimming club, doesn’t matter the sport – you will almost certainly get identical answers.  So, what have you truly learned about the coach or the club by asking these questions?

Nothing.

Why is it important to dig deeper? Because your health, your well-being is at stake and if you are going to join a club. Personally, I truly hope that any individual seeking health by training for sport finds the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the coach and the club, because you are putting your health and well-being into the hands of said coach.

Let me use a recent story I heard to illustrate the point. A father has a daughter who plays hockey really really well. Having recently moved to the area, he wants to find a team for his daughter to play. He starts the typical research, looking for the teams which consistently are at the top of the league, consistently in play offs, etc… He identifies a couple teams, does a quick poll of friends to find out if anyone knows about this team or that team, asks the typical questions and gets the typical answers… its great, your daughter will fit in great, she will have fun, the workouts are challenging, the coaching is good, and so on. Since there is no reason to stop this father from signing up his daughter to the team, he does. It doesn’t take long before he realizes how big and bad the mistake it was. The hockey head coach is best friends with a couple families (the people who told the father the coach & club are perfect) and it is their kids who get almost continuous ice time, with every other kid getting only left overs. The father is upset that the truth didn’t come out beforehand, and now that the season is underway he and his daughter are stuck.

Should he be upset? Not at all. He didn’t dig deep enough into how the team operates, how lines are selected, what are the dynamics within the team, so he found out exactly what he asked, and nothing more.

So if you asked a member of the local triathlon club, you can be certain that you will get the answers that the father received… its great, you will have fun, you will fit in great, we have workouts that will match your needs, blah blah blah… and you have learned what?

Nothing.

If you are serious about your health, your well being and your performance as an athlete then you need to dig deeper. How many of the athletes on the team suffer injuries annually? How many are currently sidelined? How many have improved in their health? How many had their health decline? How many athletes have had to leave the club for health reasons? How well do the athletes recover post competition? How is training structured for injured and ill athletes? Is there any customization of coaching in group workouts to adjust for individual needs?

Finding out from the club how many athletes stand on podiums is easy, finding out the truth of whats the cost behind those podiums is a challenge unless the coach is willing to take ownership, responsibility, to be held accountable for their coaching.

Coaches are eager to share the successes of their athletes, who wouldn’t be? But coaches are remiss to share how many athletes they have injured, over-trained to the point of injury, burn out, or blow up, pushing them to the point that they have been diagnosed with low testosterone, chronic fatigue, low motivation, difficulty sleeping, an inability to recover, and so on (as in the case of numerous pro triathletes). No coach wants that sort of marketing!

And that is exactly the point. If you ask only superficial questions you will get only superficial answers.. everything’s great!

If the father in the above scenario asked ahead of time how ice time is decided, by who, and what changes the criteria… he may have come across as overbearing, obsessive, excessively demanding in his desire for details, but if that father truly was invested, fully invested into the well being of his child and their potential in the sport, then is there really a point where you stop asking questions? If you would do that for you child, then why don’t you do it for yourself?

In regards to our local clubs, one has a nasty habit of over-training its athletes, to the point that some feel obligated to train while injured, training through the injury, into the pain as if that somehow will help them recover or perhaps the thinking is that it will make them tougher. Is this widely known or made known, absolutely not. Its known by astute members who do not hold the club or the coach up as ‘god’. Indeed, many members of this club do perform well at competition, some make the podium, but another nasty not revealed is how many members fail to recover, even after months have passed after competing. Having delivered an effort far beyond their training, or while severely over-trained, these athletes have damaged their immune systems, have impaired their physiology and psychology to such a degree they have yet to enjoy their so called success, as they try to heal. Even members of the club can be unaware, because the natural assumption is that when someone doesn’t show for workouts is that they are busy with work, with family, but not busy with a body damaged resulting from training and racing meant to be for their long term benefit.

Unless you dig deep you will not find out if the training the club does actually makes anyone healthier, or if it just leave athletes suffering with injury, illness, never-ending fatigue, and so on.

If you are signing up with a coach or a club in order to become chronically injured or ill, then by all means walk blindly in. But when the ‘benefits’ of being part of the club start to impact your ability to perform in business, at the office, at the worksite, at home, in relationships,… or land you in a doctors office or the hospital, then maybe you will want to reconsider why you signed up? You may have to ask whether the social aspect truly outweighs your decline in well-being, in health, in day to day function.

If you do not find out ahead of time what a coach or a club is like, then you will likely be in the same position.  A few years down the road, having invested into equipment, into coaching, ending up with a body that has been broken down because you did not do your due diligence into the philosophy of the coach, and the real results (i.e. the unspoken outcomes).

I believe that you are worth taking the time to find out if the true results you will obtain from working with a coach, joining a local team.

Do you believe you are worth it?