There are a lot of great coaches out there. There are also a lot of, well… not so great coaches. One question that I get asked with some frequency is, “What do I need to do to be a successful coach?” This is a hard question to answer, as I certainly cannot guarantee that any coach will be ‘successful’ from a monetary standpoint or the number of athletes a coach could acquire. This is largely because ‘successful’ is entirely subjective, but moreover, in my opinion there are quite a boxes that need to be checked in order to be considered successful.
That said, below are some of the biggest areas to ‘get right’ in terms of being a great coach!
COPY AND PASTE
One very unfortunate trend in coaching is what I’ll call the ‘copy and paste’ method of coaching. This is exactly what it sounds like. It might look like copying and pasting an athlete’s program from one week to the next with just slight or no modifications in the programming. Or it might look like copying one athlete’s program to another athlete’s program. While occasionally these scenarios might be correct, the overall reasoning behind this type of coaching is laziness and/or being overloaded.
This often occurs when a coach has too much on their plate (ex: day job, too many athletes) and they cannot spend the proper amount of time on their coaching business.
Every athlete is unique and as such, their programming must reflect this. A coach must only take on the number of athletes they can handle and truly care for.
I DON’T KNOW
TRUTH: As a coach, you should be knowledgable about the body and its application to the sport being coached.
FACT: You will NEVER know everything there is to know.
An all too common practice among coaches is making up answers when faced with question(s) that they do not know the answer to. This is most often done because a coach fears that by not knowing the answer, they will be come across as incompetent or at the very least, their perceived lack of knowledge will erode the trust that their athlete has put in them.
Bottom line, if a coach does not know the answer to a question from an athlete, the correct response goes something like this, “I’m not sure, let me look into this and I’ll get back to you.”
Look at your coach/athlete contract – what does it say you’ll provide? Weekly calls… check. Weekly programs delivered via email… check. But I want you to focus on what it doesn’t say. As a coach, you set the parameters in respect to what services you’ll provide an athlete. Now go past this!
A hand written thank you card. Emailing an article that relates to a sport-related conversation you previously had with your athlete. Sending a small care package before an athlete’s big race. Showing up unannounced at your athlete’s race.
These are just some examples of what over delivering for an athlete might look like. Your athletes expect a certain level of service… it’s your job to not just meet their expectations but to exceed them!
DO WHAT YOU SAY
This is largely a communication issue. Sure, we all forget to do things and I for sure am guilty of this as well from time to time. However, in terms of working with your athletes, it is imperative to be ‘on point’ at all times.
- Send programs to athletes on time
- Call athlete at the agreed upon time
- Show up on time for the group run
- Modify the program like you told your athlete you would
- Get back to your athlete about the question they had
To be clear, its not the job of an athlete to chase you around for answers or deliverables. In summation, follow through on your commitments when you are supposed to. As a coach, there is no such thing as ‘casually late.’
If you’ve been competing and/or coaching for a while, you likely take many things for granted – I know I do. Whether it be assuming that everyone knows how to ride with clipless pedals or assuming that everyone knows what the term, “DNF” means.
When coaching athletes, especially beginners, you must approach the training process through the lens of the athlete, not your past/current experience and knowledge. As an example and as noted above, while you might have been using clipless pedals for years and could do it in your sleep, for a new cyclist, having their feet attached to what amounts to ski bindings is terrifying! Don’t assume that everyone has a set level of skill and most importantly, don’t assume that they are comfortable with a particular skill or environment.
This also goes for verbiage.
To fully understand this, think of a visit to your doctor. We’ve likely all doctors that put into plain words the issue and what the course of action should be. Conversely, we’ve also all had doctors that speak in medical terms and you leave the office more confused than when you arrived. This is akin to you coaching athletes through your view versus that of the athlete. Don’t be this type of coach! You must appreciate who you are communicating with in respect to their knowledge level and speak to them at their level.
ONLY ONE OTHER PERSON IN THE ROOM
This primarily applies to in-person sessions. When you are performing an in-person coaching session, the athlete is your ONLY focus. Checking your phone for Facebook updates, watching ESPN on the TV in the gym, chatting with other runners in the park. None of these things should occur during a coaching session.
Your athlete is paying for your time/expertise and they deserve 100% of your focus… period.
There are many aspects to being a great coach. However, unless you are professional in your actions, communication and timeliness, nothing else matters. I don’t care if you have 10 Ph.D’s in applied physiology and can recite the Kreb’s cycle without a hitch… if you are chronically late to coaching sessions and/or just ‘call it in’ with respect to programming, you’re not a good coach.
Coaching is often undertaken as a side gig to one’s full-time job. This is perfectly fine and to some degree, the norm. However, ‘side gig’ should never equate to putting less focus on it than one’s day job.
Be responsible. Communicate effectively. Follow through. Stay humble. Truly care.
Rick Prince is the founder/director of United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy (UESCA), a science-based endurance sports education company. UESCA educates and certifies running and triathlon coaches (cycling and ultrarunning coming soon!) worldwide on a 100% online platform.
Click here to download the UESCA Triathlon Course Overview/Syllabus
Click here to download the UESCA Running Course Overview/Syllabus