What to expect when you’re expecting…to hire a coach
As an endurance athlete, hiring a coach could be one of the best investments of your money you can make. It can all depend if you’re willing to invest another one of your precious resources – time. Yes, I’m saying that not only do you have to pay your coach a fee, you have to spend time on him. That investment can be quite large initially, but will taper off the longer you work together. When I rushed a fraternity, the brothers liked to tell pledges that the fraternity will return ten-fold what you put into it. A similar statement can be made for the time you put in teaching your new coach about you as an athlete.
All metaphors aside, it is very important for an athlete to share everything about themselves to their coach. During the initial phase this means training history, injury history, and typical training patterns from the past. A good coach will want more – what are you goals? What are your ambitions? What is a successful race to you? How do you balance work and life? Where are your constraints and where are your opportunities in your training? Answering these questions is not a one-time thing – they require attention, reevaluation and discussion throughout the year. These are more obvious discussions you’ll need to have with your coach, but I want to discuss when you should be filling him in with more information.
Ok, you’ve met your coach, you’ve talked, emailed and skyped at length about yourself. You’ve probably got a couple weeks under your belt. You’re comfortable with each other, your coach understands you training/life balance a little better and is providing you workouts accordingly. It’s all smooth sailing from here on out, right? Not exactly. Your coach still needs regular feedback from you. Power files, miles logged and completed swim sets are great, and they go a long way in telling your coach how you are doing. But they don’t tell the full story. How did you feel during those threshold sets? Did you complete them easily? Did you struggle but felt confident? Or maybe you had to reach shoulder deep in your suitcase of courage just to hit the lower end numbers. How did the workout leave you able to complete the next day’s workout?
Completing a workout isn’t just as simple as checking a box many times, your coach can use your feedback to plan better for the next day, the next week and beyond…but only if you can take the time to fill him in on the details. If you struggled, have you been feeling fatigue building up and this was the last nail in the coffin to draining you? Or maybe you just spent all day at a trade show working on your feet, hauling equipment around. You coach not only needs to know what you accomplished during your workout, but how it felt and why it made you feel that way. Sometimes your coach may be planning for that workout to crack you, maybe he just wants to see how far you can go in the red, so don’t expect to walk out of the week with your suitcase full. That feedback is critical to help him understand how you are responding to the cycles of stress and recovery periods in your plan.
What to report
Sometimes the difference between a successful and unsuccessful relationship is letting the coach know more about your life outside of training before he notices its effects on your workouts. Changes in your typical work/life patterns for example. Perhaps by the time a coach can see something’s up by your training files, a few days’ worth of workouts have been non-optimal, or he may not notice it at all. You may not always know as an athlete what feedback is critical and what is trivial, so oversharing is fine. Your coach can sift through some of the unimportant details to find what really matters. Isn’t that why you pay him after all?
Now, just to be clear, not every workout requires a novel. If something went amiss, a couple sentences in an email/text is great. Not every workout requires feedback either. After awhile, you’ll understand the cycles of fatigue and recovery and understand how you’re supposed to feel during and after typical workouts. If that’s the case and everything went peachy, no worries. At minimum, I would recommend a once per week quick update of the past week and the week ahead, if only to let your coach know everything is going well (after all, maybe Thursday’s VO2 sets were supposed to break you, so knowing they didn’t is important).
Yes, yes a thousand times yes! Let your coach know if something is bothering you. You’ll learn the difference between good hurting (e.g. fatigued and sore muscles) and bad hurting (e.g. joint or sharp pains) if you don’t know it already. Err on the side of caution if you are not sure which it is and you coach will help you figure it out. Even if you know you will get over it in a couple days, maybe your coach can adjust a recovery day to get you better quicker with no impact to your overall training goals.
The takeaway here is that as an athlete you need to be responsible for keeping your coach in the loop about the hows and whys of your training, not just the whats and whens. A good coach will also make sure to remind you that feedback is necessary, but as an athlete you should want to provide feedback without being asked. Don’t be afraid to overshare. It is a coach’s job to know what is important and what is not (Even if it doesn’t end up impacting your training plan, he can at least offer his condolences that your cat is not feeling well). Remember, you’re paying your coach to deliver the best plan possible, so make sure you get the most out of your dollars. Developing a smooth, feedback rich and consistent dialogue is critical to the value a coach can provide.