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Choosing a Coach- 4 Key Considerations- Stefan Timms

Choosing a Coach

By Stefan Timms

First and foremost people think about price.  Most coaching programs range from $50 per month to $400 per month, though you can find some coaches who charge closer to $1500 per month! This may seem like a huge range in price but often there are many reasons for the range.  Your basic, generic program with no room for communication with the coach, or changes to the program is usually at the lower end of the price range.  Here you get a ‘one size fits all’ approach.  Typically the more feedback, changes, input, and personal service you want, the higher the fee.  Also, coaches with more experience, well-known successes, and higher levels of education and coaching certification tend to charge more.  Although you often get what you pay for, it is not always the case so make sure you ask around and find out what current and former clients thought about a particular coach’s value.  The best programs, if you can afford it, are those that are customized to the client’s unique goals, abilities, and time availability, and should be adaptable to accommodate work/academic life, personal life, and athletic life, as well as changes to the client’s personal situation that come up along the way.  In my case I have to consider budget, but I need to be able to have input to the program and changes made as a result of my feedback when work, injuries, and family life get in the way.

There are lots of experienced coaches available for hire who have worked with high profile athletes.  There are also lots of former top athletes who have moved into coaching after they have stopped competing.  However, there is more to consider than simply what elite athlete the coach has worked with, or what the coach’s own results were.  Someone who coaches many top pros or was a top pro him/herself is not necessarily going to be able to relate to an age-grouper and adapt a program accordingly.  A common problem with coaches is that they have a set opinion of what is the best way to train, and while their theory might be true in an ideal world (or worked for them personally), if the client’s individual circumstances do not allow him or her to follow such a program then it doesn’t matter how good the theory is.  So to start, you need to look for a coach that has had success helping a variety of individuals meet their personal goals at events that are similar to your goal event.  You can do this by asking for references, or again just by talking to some of the coach’s current and former clients.  This part is easier for me knowing the industry pretty well so I already have a short list of those that I think can help me reach my goal.

Approach and Philosophy
One of the fascinating aspects of training for multi-sports is that there is not only one ‘right’ way to train. There are many successful approaches to training volumes, intensities, structuring the season, etc. Some coaches emphasize long slow aerobic training, others incorporate a lot of strength work, and still others might focus on some other aspect of training. There is no one coach that has a monopoly on training knowledge and information, and there is not one right coach for all athletes.  In addition to training philosophy you should consider the coach’s ability to interact with his or her clients.  There is little point in pursuing your goal if you don’t enjoy it, so choose a coach you are able to communicate effectively with and think that you might get along well with.  Don’t be afraid to ask coaches what their coaching philosophy is before you sign up.  Personally, I will be looking for a coach who I can communicate with openly and clearly, someone who understands my experience and needs as an athlete, as well as someone who recognizes all the other demands I have on my time, and still wants this to be an enjoyable experience.

Level of Service
The level of service offered by coaches for their monthly fee varies greatly.  Some of the differences are in the regularity of the program (is it sent to you by email once a week or once every 4 months), whether there are actual workouts you can go to, how much feedback you get, whether you can ask for changes to the program, whether you will be able to meet the coach in person at any point, what level of communication the coach offers, etc.  Some coaches even offer additional services such as one on one workouts, video analysis, or blood lactate testing.  You need to decide what level of service is important to you (and affordable) as part of your training plan and choose a coach that offers that level of service.  I don’t need a lot of bells and whistles, just a bi-weekly program with regular feedback that keeps me on track.

Hopefully after reading my thoughts above you at least have an idea of some of the things you should consider when choosing a coach.  Don’t be afraid to talk to various potential coaches before you choose one as it is an important investment you are making in yourself. 

Stefan is a former elite triathlete and coach who is now a lawyer, as well as a principal in the company that just launched 7systems endurance sport supplement.  Follow Stefan’s search for a coach and his progress towards his goal of winning the sprint age-group title in Vancouver in future editions of this magazine and on his blog:

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