9 Ways To Identify A Running Coach That Sucks!


Ok, so perhaps the headline isn’t exactly PC but you get the point!

Unfortunately, run coaching (or any sport coaching) as a profession isn’t nearly as professional as it should be. There are a lot of reasons for this including but not limited to a lack of a required level of competency to coach – more on that in another post (or rant as the case may be!). 

Our posts in the past have discussed what attributes make up a great running coach, but they haven’t really touched on specifically what makes a sub-par coach.

As a longtime coach, and now the owner of a coaching education company, I can tell you that are quite a few constants that make up a sub-par coach. Below are the nine most prevalent.


I can’t tell you many times I was contacted by prospective clients because the first coach they reached out to never got back to them. So if you’ve reached out to a coach several times with no reply and allowed at least a few days to pass without hearing back, consider it a sign (and a blessing) and move on!


If a coach’s training methods are solely based on their own training methods, that is a problem. Sadly, this is quite prevalent. Not understanding that how one person responds to a training stimuli will likely be different from how someone else responds is ‘Run Coaching 101.’ As such, if a coach takes this approach – RUN!


Yes, you want your coach to be knowledgable. But, there is not a single coach on the planet that knows everything there is know about running or run coaching as whole. So, if your coach always seems to have an answer to your questions and you never hear the words, ‘I’m not sure,’ ‘I don’t know,’ or ‘Hmm… let me check on that.’ You should probably seek out another coach.


When it comes to the body, there are typically multiple ways to accomplish the same result. If a coach insists that there is only one way to accomplish a goal, exercise, etc… they are likely either lazy or lack the requisite training to modify a program – either of which are equally bad. 


While you likely don’t want an argumentative coach, you also don’t want a ‘yes’ coach. There are times within a coaching relationship that require ‘tough love,’ as well as the coach flat out disagreeing with the client. This is normal. 

A coach that is afraid of confrontation and as a result always agrees with the client is not doing the client, or themselves any favors.


Imagine this… your coach just put you through a tough training block that included all sorts of ‘fun’ workouts like intervals, fartleks and plyometrics – and instead of finding out how you’re feeling or how it went, they just prescribed the next training cycle. 

Aside from the fact that this isn’t the correct protocol or the right way to progress a client, it also just lacks a human quality to it. So if a coach never checks in or never has assessment checks scheduled throughout the training process, you might want to reconsider your coach choice. 


Yes, coaches all have rent (or mortgages) to pay – I get that. However, when money is the overriding theme of a coaching business, there is a problem. While the far majority of people get into coaching because they truly want to help others, there are some out there whose primary reason is money and that is it. 


Most individuals that UESCA certifies as coaches do not coach full-time. As such, most of them operate their coaching practice in addition to their primary job. I love this as it truly shows the passion that they have to not only spend the time to get certified, but also to take the time to coach their passion!

From your (the client’s) perspective, you should never feel like you getting anything less than 100% from your coach. If a coach starts coaching as a side gig, they must understand that some days they will be exhausted from their day job, family matters, etc… however this should NEVER be reflected in the way that they interact with you. 


It is absolutely critical that a coach keeps up with the most recent training methods, research and findings. Like most other areas of science, in regard to sports science – what was tried and true yesterday can be debunked and myth-based today.

As an example, if your coach thinks lactic acid causes muscle ‘burn,’ it’s time to get a new coach!

While it’s near impossible to stay up to date with all of the most recent findings, the most important thing is that a coach’s practice is science/evidence-based and that they are continuously learning and applying their new knowledge when appropriate.

If you’re not learning, you’re regressing.


As noted above, the far majority of coaches get into coaching for the right reasons and I’m proud to say that from what I can tell, UESCA certified coaches seem to be extremely professional in their actions and coaching practices. That said, if you’re going to invest the time and money with a coach, you deserve to have it be the best and most productive experience possible.

While there are likely many more areas to keep in mind when looking out for a ‘not so awesome’ coach, I hope that this list can help steer you in the right (or new) direction!

Rick Prince is the founder of United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy (UESCA), a science/evidence-based endurance sports coaching education company that certifies running and triathlon coaches.

To learn more about our Running Coach Certification and to get a code for $50 off, click here!

Rick Prince

Rick Prince

Founder/Director of United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy (UESCA).

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