Do I Need A Running Coach Certification To Coach?

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As the founder of UESCA, a company that certifies running coaches, I get this question a lot. 

The short answer is no – you do not need a running coach certification to coach, at least from a legal point of view. The reality is that there are plenty of great and successful coaches out there without a certification. Conversely, there are also quite a few coaches without (and with) certifications that leave quite a bit to be desired.

FACT #1 – Being a great coach has a lot more to do than just one’s education. For example, you could have a Ph.D in applied physiology and be a certified coach… but if you never return emails and can’t apply theory to real world scenarios, you’re not going to be a very good coach. 

FACT #2 – Having a coaching credential should be viewed as a tool in your toolbox. Meaning, while you can glean quite a bit of information from a coaching certification, a certification in isolation is just one tool to use. Personal experience, consistent learning and getting information from multiple resources are just as important.

Just like any other profession, there is no such thing as a coach who knows everything and every little piece of information that can be gained is worth it, as you never know when or how that information will be able to positively impact a client or clients.


From my point of view, the true value of a running coach certification (or education in general) is that you are exposed to a wide range of information that likely isn’t all comprised of information that you already know, and thus encourages you to think about how you coach runners from new and different points of view.

In the case of UESCA, we believe that to be an effective and for lack of a better word, legitimate coach, you need to understand how the body functions so that your coaching decisions are not solely based on your own experience or even your own coaching experience. Rather you can draw upon your knowledge of the body to figure out how to proceed in most all coaching scenarios. 

It is important to note that just because a running coach holds a running coach certification, it does not automatically make them a qualified coach. As noted above, there are many aspects to being a great coach. 


So what is required to be a great running coach?

While this list is likely endless, we’ll list the five most important ones

1 – Be a Student of the Sport

Regardless of your coaching experience, you should always be learning and curious. As an example, most runners just go out an run and come back home and move on to the next thing. However, runners that are ‘students of the sport’ are always paying attention to the littlest things that could be a teachable moment.

Maybe the ‘student of the sport’ runner notices that the heels of some runners flick out to the side whereas with others, their heels flick inwards at the back of the stride. After their run, instead of turning on the TV and relaxing, the ‘student of the sport’ runner researching what they just saw. 

2 – Say ‘I Don’t Know’

No matter how many certifications you have or how long you’ve been coaching, you can’t possibly know everything. Saying “I don’t know” and/or asking for help is not a sign of weakness, nor is it a sign of a bad coach. Conversely, admitting when you don’t know something is the sign of a true professional. 

3 – Be Professional

How you carry yourself and how you manage your coaching business are critical to being a great coach. Communicating effectively and in a timely manner, being humble, being on time and following through on deadlines are just a few examples of what being a professional coach entails.

4 – Educate Yourself

Whether it’s via a certification, books, scouring the most recent PubMed articles, talking to other coaches, etc… being educated is not a finite sort of thing, it’s a continuous journey. 

5 – Truly Care

While this seems like a no-brainer, you might be surprised by how many coaches are just going though the motions. While most all coaches want to have a thriving coaching practice, it must not come at the expense of the quality of the coaching. As such, I highly recommend capping your clientele based on what you have time for and can realistically handle. Coaches that are truly vested in the success of their clients almost always go the extra mile for them as well.


In summary, no – you don’t need a running coach certification to be a coach. However, if you’re looking for a singular resource to gain as much information as possible, a certification is likely a good path to explore. 

Lastly and just a hypothesis, due to the expense and time involved to become a certified coach, it’s likely that those who decide to take the path to become certified coaches are also those that operate the most professional coaching practices. 

PC: Edge Athlete Lounge, Carlos Navarro Abin

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 get a $50 discount on the Running Coach Certification, click here!

Rick Prince

Rick Prince

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

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