Where Trainers and Coaches Go Wrong
Any athlete with a decade of physiological priming/aerobic base training – who has amassed millions of meters swimming, hundreds of thousands of km cycling or tens of thousands of km of base running mileage – is a performance coach’s dream.
These athletes often require only a well designed program of HIIT to elongate their heart rate curve, train anaerobic energy production, and fine tune competition strategy to be race ready for national and possibly international levels of competition. It is these athletes who arise from obscurity to overnight sensation: (e.g.) Chrissie Wellington required less than a year of “Training to Win” (i.e. peaking/HIIT) to focus her three decades of base leading to a string of thirteen (13) undefeated Ironman triathlons and four (4) Ironman World Championship titles.
Where trainers and coaches go wrong is when they assume that any amateur athlete who seeks coaching…
- Has the health and training base (i.e. physical literacy, technique, aerobic conditioning, and fat burning capability) to start a peaking program to compete,
- Knows what is an appropriate goal considering their health & level of base training,
- Knows what in fact is training; that training flows from a set of principles, namely adaptation, periodicity, overload, recovery, specificity, variation, and non-uniformity, and
- Know that training does not equate to HIIT and nothing other than HIIT.
- Assume that an athlete has developed fully the levels of FUNdamentals, Learning to Train, Training to Train, Training to Compete,
- Assume that chronological age equals physiological and psychological age,
- Assume an athlete is physically, mentally, and emotionally prepared to handle the Learn to Win and Train to Win levels, and has trained to handle both the peak and post-peak,
- Assume that an athlete has the knowledge and understanding of training intensity (i.e. RPE) and is able to balance load with rest, is aware of over-training signs and symptoms, and will take steps to prevent physical injury, mental and emotional exhaustion.
- Assume athletes automatically consent to coaching at the intensity of “Train to Win” when they seek a coach.
- Assume that athletes understands that training at the “to Win” level poses significant health risk (even to those with significant athletic experience) as it is training at the line separating health and injury, illness, and dis-ease. That athletes appreciate that peaking risks exacerbation of medical conditions, and the creation of new medical conditions due to the repeated exposure to extreme levels of physical, mental, and emotional stress.
To coach means to provide an athlete with an appropriate training plan: appropriate for their physiological and psychological age, not chronological age. To coach means to provide an athlete with an appropriate goal, not blindly accept the athletes expectations. The fact that an individual may ask for a training plan to complete a 10k, marathon, or triathlon doesn’t mean that they should, nor that they should be encouraged.
When coaches don’t care whether their athletes ends up healthier, improve in skill, improve in their quality of life, instead simply sell services irrespective of the harm and damage it will inflict on their athletes, you end up with where we are today: despite the most advanced research, technology, and fitness tools available ever, we are the most diseased, ill, medicated, obese, unfit, anxious and depressed population ever.
The ‘health care’ industry has played its part in building this mess, but the fitness and sport nutrition industries have done more than their fair share of adding to the state of physical and mental illness, including that of young age group athletes (i.e. children).
Trainers and coaches go wrong when they bypass training and coaching fundamentals simply to profit themselves, careless to the consequences, to the harm inflicted upon their athletes.
To coach means to assess the ability of the athlete, match training to ability, match goals to training, and continuously educate and encourage the athlete to learn, to understand the training process, to be involved in their health, to learn how to train, what it means to train, how long it takes to train, and how to establish appropriate timelines for taking on goals.
To coach also means to coach oneself, where the coach reflects on their own limits and stops coaching athletes they are incapable of mentoring, referring athletes to another coach and/or the appropriate health professional when the needs of the athlete exceed their own scope of abilities, skills, and experience.
Trainers and coaches go wrong when they don’t hold themselves to any standard, when they are willing to compromise their athlete’s physical and mental health, simply to profit themselves.
An athlete such as Chrissie Wellington possessing the physiological and psychological readiness of decades of base training offers a performance coach the amazing experience of joining in on their trip to the top.
Trainers and coaches go wrong when they…
- Expect all athletes to be physiologically and pscyhologically ready to Train to Win, when they set such a level of preparedness as the starting point or standard for their athletes, and then compare and contrast their athletes to such a standard.
- Train all their athletes identically, instead of individually. No two athletes are the same. No two athletes have the same background, same physiology, same psychology, same skill set, same goals. There is no one single training plan for all athletes.
- Fail to individually assess their athletes: heart rate curves, breathing patterns, flexibility, form, technique, training and competition skill sets, attitude, mindset (growth vs fixed), perspective on success and failure, on winning and losing all need identification, evaluation, with specific customized training plans developed prioritizing gaps in the athlete’s repertoire.
A performance coach – blessed by the opportunity to work with an athlete as prepared as Chrissie Wellington – may be seen as if they were the one who transformed a ‘nobody’ into a champion, as if the coach has the power of transforming athletes into champions.
Trainers and coaches go wrong when they…
- Encourage their athletes to believe that it is the coach who identifies and decides who will rise to the level of champion.
- Encourage their athletes to believe that it is anything other than consistency, perseverance, determination, tenacity, drive, focus, commitment that builds champions.
- Elevate themselves, instead of empowering, encouraging, and educating their athletes that the decision to succeed ultimately rests with the athlete.
It goes without saying that an athlete like Chrissie does wonders for a coach’s ego, and this is where problems arise. Trainers and coaches who are themselves undertrained, unprepared, unseasoned may be unable to handle the successes of their athletes.
- Trainers and coaches must continue to train themselves so as to remain grounded for their athletes. Athletes overwhelmed by the fame and fortune (big or small) of a win need a stable source, a landmark, objectivity, perspective, and if their coach is riding alongside them in the rollercoaster of fame and fortune, then they are not in a position to coach. They are not available to meet the needs of their athlete.
Athletes and parents of athletes seeking a long term healthy approach to training and a desire to explore their peak potential need to seek and partner with a coach who can provide customized training programs specific to the starting point of the athlete. Meet, interview, evaluate all the coaches you are considering. If they do not disclose their philosophy, their personal agenda when it comes to coaching, then it is likely that their business of coaching will take precedence over your well-being at some point.