Three Words Every Great Coach Should Say!

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Inevitably, an athlete that you coach will ask you something that you aren’t 100% sure about or something that you have absolutely no clue about (ex: what is the distance of a track in the middle lane?).

How you respond to these questions says a lot about you as a coach and your coaching practice.


A lot of coaches fear that by saying the words, “I don’t know,” they will be perceived as dumb, uninformed or at worst, a fraud. It’s important to note that these feelings are almost always a one-way street. I’ve likely worked with around 100 clients over the years and have performed thousands of training/coaching sessions and I can’t think of one time I was chastised because I said I didn’t know something. For these coaches that are afraid to say they don’t know something, the perception is very different from reality.

So whether you say “I don’t know,” or “I’m not sure,” – just know that this is normal and quite frankly, it would be abnormal to not have these words in your dialogue with clients from time to time.


We’ve all encountered the ‘know it all’ type of person and I’m also sure that we all share in our disdain of them. You know the type… whether the question relates to astrophysics, politics, neurosurgery, running or squirrels – they always have an answer!

Don’t be this type of coach!


So your client just asked you whether ascending or descending intervals are better for increasing one’s lactate threshold. As you stare at them blankly while trying to process what just came out of their mouth and somehow manage to mutter, “I’m not sure,” what should you say next?

While it’s correct and totally fine to say you don’t know something, that is not the end of the line. As a coach, one of the areas that you add the most value is that of being a resource. As such, the words, “… but, let me check and I’ll come back to you (or something like this),” should be the next words out of your mouth.

Just because you check and research a topic doesn’t always guarantee that you’ll figure out the answer. This is for many reasons. Perhaps there is no right answer, perhaps you couldn’t find it, or perhaps the answer is way to complex to fully understand.


If the question being asked of you falls outside your scope of practice or knowledge (even with your self-research), it is best to refer your client to someone or something (ex: website) that could provide more value and insight. For example, if your client asks you if the pain in their knee is patellofemoral syndrome, you are not legally able to answer this. In these cases, you must refer them to a specialist.


In areas that deal with questions that pertain to supplementation, medicine and injury; you are able to inform your client if you have knowledge about a particular area but you are not able to diagnose or prescribe. As per the example noted above, you could inform your client about what patellofemoral syndrome is, but you cannot diagnose it.


Saying the words, “I don’t know,” is not a sign of weakness or being uninformed. More often than not, it’s the sign of being a great coach who understands that they don’t know everything and like the client, wants to find the answer.

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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