As the founder of United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy (UESCA), a company that certifies running coaches, I get quite a few questions related to what it takes to become a running coach and more specifically, what it takes to become a successful coach.
I should note that there is no barrier to entry to become a running coach – at least not from a legal or educational standpoint. Coaching is an unregulated industry (for better or worse). Therefore, all you need to do is call yourself a running coach and start coaching. The one caveat is that you can’t call yourself a ‘certified’ running coach if you’re not… more on that later.
It’s been my experience that most coaches get into coaching for two reasons:
- They love the sport of running and want to help others to find the same level of passion and enjoyment that they do.
- They were personally coached and that experience was so amazing, they want to become a coach to help others in the same way that their coach helped them.
Regardless of the reason for wanting to become a coach, the below areas should help in deciding if becoming a coach is the right path for you and if so, how to excel at it.
Whether you have one client or one hundred, each and every client deserves your absolute best! Most coaches start their businesses as a side hustle and while some take it up a notch to a full blown career, the breadth of one’s coaching practice should not impact the client experience. It is imperative that when you’re working with a client, you’re fully present. As a professional coach, your clients pay you for your services. As such, your clients deserve your absolute best!
So… unless you can honestly say that you can give 100% to each and every one of your (future) clients, you’re better off waiting until your situation changes before embarking on becoming a running coach.
Coaching can take quite a bit of time – at least when done correctly. Whether you’re updating client programs online or leading run groups, make no mistake… being a running coach requires a time commitment.
Therefore, the degree to which you involve yourself as a coach should be based on your time availability. The worst thing a coach can do is commit and then not deliver.
I often see this with novice coaches. In an effort to ramp up their client load as fast as possible, they promise prospective clients the moon and then once clients sign up, they cannot fulfill their obligations.
When formulating what kind of coaching practice you want to have, the first step should always be to figure out how much time you can allot to coaching.
Education can come in many forms from informal (reading running magazines) to very formal (masters in exercise science). I would also say that in my opinion, an educated coach is also someone who learns from each of their own runs as well as their clients – in other words, an active learner and student of the sport.
In respect to running coach certifications and as the founder of UESCA, I often get asked how ours compares to other run coach certifications. Of course, it’s hard not to be a bit biased when answering this question but the reality is that while I obviously think ours is pretty awesome, it doesn’t mean that it’s right for everyone. Below is list of some of the more popular certifications:
This is the most well known US-based certification. This is a two day, in-person certification that got its start in 1998. RRCA’s mission for their certification is, “To create a national community of knowledgeable and ethical distance running coaches to work with runners at all ages and abilities.” Having known quite a few coaches who have been through this program, I can say that they have a solid program and should be seriously considered by anyone thinking about becoming a running coach. RRCA has two levels of certifications and level one costs $325.
As the name suggests, the USATF certification educates individuals to coach track and field events. Their program has three different levels, all of which are in-person (2-days). As the program level increases, so does the prerequisites. If you plan on coaching track and field events – this is the certification for you! The demographic where this certification is most applicable is within school-based programs. The cost for early bird registration (Level 1) is $205, and regular registration is $255.
This certification is by renowned running coach, Dr. Jack Daniels. This certification is based on his book, “Daniels’ Running Formula.” The main focus of the certification is race distance-specific training programs. In respect to estimating race paces and times, Daniel’s is likely the most knowledgeable person in this area. Using Daniel’s VDOT (adjusted VO2 Max) formula, a runner is able to input a race time or pace for a specific event distance and his VDOT calculator will estimate paces and times for other distances.
If you’re an aspiring coach who is looking for a certification built off of years of experience and more specifically, a focus on distance-specific programming, you should check out this certification. The cost is the price of the book plus $199 to take the online exam.
The UESCA certification is a robust, science-based certification that teaches the theory of exercise science and how it apply it to runners on an individual basis. The basis for the content came from an expert team of advisors/contributors, as well as from reviewing hundreds of the latest peer-reviewed journal articles to source the most up to date training information.
While the certification is applicable to all levels, due to it’s comprehensiveness, if someone is looking for a quick credential, the UESCA certification is likely not the right fit. The certification is a singular certification (no tiers) and the course, including the testing is 100% online, though UESCA has in-person classes in development. The cost of the UESCA certification is $399.
DEGREE OF INVOLVEMENT
As noted earlier, the degree to which coaches are involved with a clients’ programs varies greatly. A coach’s degree of involvement usually corresponds to either the number of clients they have and, or the number of services they offer and are actively involved with.
For example, perhaps you just want to coach a few clients online or lead a run group once a week. Conversely, maybe you want to go all in with a new career and offer a full suite of service offerings from online coaching to training camps. Neither approach is wrong so long as you can fulfill your coaching obligations to the utmost satisfaction of your clients.
AREA OF FOCUS
If there is one area that a lot of coaches get wrong it is trying to be everything to everyone. For starters, this is not possible. I remember once seeing a coaching website that said the coach “specialized” in working with novices through professionals and they also specialized in every running area known to man, including but not limited to gait analysis, nutrition, strength training, sports psychology, race strategy and more. Really??!!
Determining your area of focus should not only be a function of what type of runner you’re most qualified to work with, but also the type of runner you want to work with. As an example, perhaps you have an advanced degree in exercise science, have a successful history of coaching elite runners and have over 20 years of personal running experience… but, you want to change directions and work with novice runners. So long as you’re qualified to help a specific type of runner, go for it!
Lastly, by having a niche coaching practice, you’ll likely attract more clients than if you have a ‘general’ coaching practice. Additionally, it is easier and more cost effective to market to a niche versus the general running population. In other words, don’t dilute your coaching practice.
If you’re looking to become a running coach, I hope that this article has helped you in some way. In summation, the most important factor in deciding to become a coach is being honest with yourself in respect to how much time you have to work with clients so that you can provide exceptional service and results. Secondarily, deciding what type of runner you want to target and educating yourself accordingly is also of critical importance.
PC: Rahul Sharma (CYRUNS)
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!