Choosing a Coach- Stefan Timms

Choosing a Coach

By Stefan Timms

This is a follow-up to the article I wrote in the November issue about choosing a coach.  To recap – I sent out an RFP to a variety of coaches in an attempt to find someone who could guide me to the podium at the ITU World Sprint Champs in June.  I got excellent responses from several coaches, all of whom would have been great to work with, but in the end I selected Steve Bentley as he seemed to have the most experience helping busy age-grouper achieve those types of short-course results.  Thus, it only made sense that Steve provided some of the content of this article.

The first step after choosing your coach is to exchange the information your coach needs to build your program.  Often this is done by answering a detailed questionnaire, and participating in several phone calls or meetings.  The coach should be looking to find out about your goals, past and current training regimes, history of injuries, races plans, time availability for training and any other relevant information.  The coach then uses this information to build your season’s plan (often called a macro).  You should provide as much information as possible to help your coach make appropriate workout choices for you.  Also avoid under or over exaggerating your training and racing abilities as that will only hurt you in the end.  You should realize that many coaches charge a ‘start-up fee’ in addition to their regular monthly fees because this stage can, and should, take a considerable amount of time, if done properly.

Many coaches also take this time to send you a bunch of information that will help you understand and maximize your training program.  Steve sent me articles on the importance of fuelling, nutrition, recovery, hydration, cellular preparation and functional assessments.  He was hoping that I could address and capitalize on all these factors right from the start which would help me be a lot more successful later on in my training.  As Steve repeatedly pointed out, failure to concern myself with the specifics of these types of details and it would be hard to achieve my very lofty goals (i.e. you’ll pay for it later).

One of things that may get suggested by your coach during this program preparation time is testing.  There are a variety of different tests that you can do that might help your coach get a better understanding of your body and how it functions, which in the long run is going to help them help you be better.  Testing could include maxVo2 tests, lactate threshold tests, body fat measurements, power thresholds, heart rate range tests, single sport video taping (to identify technique and positioning issues), nutritional analysis, functional analysis and many more.  The value of doing these tests depends on the person and their goals.  Remember though that these tests are additional expenses so you have to weigh the costs and the benefits.

I have had lots of injuries in my time as a triathlete and currently have some health issues that hinder my training.  As a result Steve wanted to know what my limitations were and pushed me to get to get a functional assessment done prior to beginning my training program.  A functional assessment is usually performed by a qualified chiropractor or sports professional to identify weak, tight or non functioning areas of your body that may become a potential problem later with training.  The results will highlight if there are issues to address prior to adding in intense/longer training sessions so you have the time needed to strengthen and correct issues without these weak links breaking just as you hit the big training sessions.  I ended up having a functional assessment done by Dr. Sean Fletch, a chiropractor, which included a 3D analysis on my cycling and running.  The assessment identified some muscle imbalances, flexibility issues and inefficiencies in when and how I was applying power.  Of course just telling me what my problems were isn’t a huge help, so the assessment report also included recommendations for a strengthening plan to help correct the issues.  Steve was then able to build this strengthening plan into my macro right from day one.

Once the macro has been prepared the athlete and coach should review it together and refine as necessary.  This is important because it is this plan that is the building block for the whole season.  Although your coach can go back and redo the plan if necessary (i.e. you get seriously sick or injured or some other major factor in your life changes), it is best to work out any potential wrinkles beforehand.  My plan is all about going fast in June, but my macro laid out a progression of focus to get my ready for that.  It contained different training phases, which were, in order, technique, endurance, strength and then power/speed.

By now you might be wondering when you actually get down to training.  After the macro is complete and agreed to, the coach will use that to build your detailed daily, weekly and monthly program.  This will contain the exact workouts to be done each day, often in two week or one month blocks (it should not be longer than one month as too many things can change in one month for your exact program to be set in stone that far in advance).  How these programs, often called micro-cycles, look and are delivered varies widely by coach.  Some do it in the body of an email, others in an attached Word or Excel document.  Many coaches deliver their programs online with the help of specific coaching software such as TrainingPeaks.  You should have taken this factor into consideration when you chose your coach.

Several of the online coaching tools are also helpful as they facilitate the provision of feedback to your coach by prompting your input on your previous workouts which is then sent to your coach for review.  It is this review of your feedback that turns a good coach into a great coach and maximizes your chances of getting the most from your training program.  You may have an amazing macro and fun, detailed workouts set out for you but unless your coach knows what you are actually doing and why (or why not), none of it may pan out as planned.  A communication system that allows open, honest and timely feedback will assist the coach in explaining key areas to focus on (for example: if you need to miss something, what the priorities are) and providing constructive feedback, technical tips and motivation.  As mentioned, this could be done through online software, it could be done through scheduled meetings, phone calls or internet chats, or it could be done through the submission of your training journal/log on regular intervals.  Even if your program does not include regular feedback you should ensure to set up some sort of communication in the first few weeks to make sure you are on track and understand the program, and around any important events you are doing to help you prepare for a peak performance.

Steve and I emailed and talked on numerous occasions in the first few weeks of my program, and thereafter regularly as required.  In fact we did most of the steps discussed above and together Steve and I had created a good plan to get me on the podium in Vancouver.  However, as the poet Robert Burns said: the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.  Despite thorough and complete preparation life can still throw you a curve ball.  Trying to achieve top level fitness while balancing everything I had going on was going to be hard enough, but my plans were blown apart this winter when I was unexpectedly sent by my work to a temporary new position at a new office (until September).  The added responsibilities of the new position coupled with the required commute have meant that my ability to fit training in is now minimal.  Subsequently I have decided to give up on my goal and no longer have a coach.  I am trying to fit in workouts where I can, but a structured plan is not possible at the moment.  That’s ok.  Training and racing is no longer about making money or getting Olympic qualifying points, it’s about having fun while staying healthy.  That’s enough for now.
Stefan is a former coach and elite athlete who now spends his time as father of baby Alex, working as a Bay street lawyer (although working in Mississauga right now), and is still heavily involved in the triathlon community through OAT and his involvement with 7SYSTEMS Sports Supplement.


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