After 15 years of participating in the sport of Triathlon (from Super Sprint to Ironman) I thought that it was about time that I gained a coaching qualification in the sport I love. So, last weekend I started on my Triathlon coaching pathway by attending a Triathlon coaching course. During this course, we continually discussed the principles and philosophy of coaching. This got me thinking – When we hire a coach, do we understand what to expect?
As someone who has over 20 years’ experience of teaching/instructing/coaching athletes up to Olympic standard, it always amazes me that when I ask clients what they expect from me as their coach, some people don’t really know how to answer the question. So what should you look for in a coach? Here are a few of my suggestions:
Whilst knowledge is important, it is also important to undertand that deep knowledge does not always predetermine someone to be a good coach. Knowledge is more than just having an understanding of the sport. A good coach will have an understanding of how to impart their sporting knowlege in order to get the best from each athlete. No two athletes are the same and knowledge of how to coach at all levels will provide a solid coach/athlete relationship.
Just because they may look the part, does not make someone a good coach. Style (in this context) is how an individual coaches in order to produce the best from their athlete. Understand how the coach works. What is their coaching style? Are they someone who is hard on you, or will they allow you to stay in your comfort zone so that they don’t offend you in order to keep you on their books. If there are not times where you hate your coach for the sessions you are doing, in my own opinion, they are not trying to get the best from you. You have to be stretched in order to learn and improve as an athlete. However, over stretching an athlete (physically and mentally) can have negative effects. Having a coach that uses a style that suits you, but also allows you to grow as an athlete is imperative.
In order to call yourself a coach, (in Britian) you don’t have to have any formal qualifications. Credentials are an important aspect of a good coach, but does that mean they have to be qualified to the hilt? Your prospective coach may have dozens of qualifications, but without the experience of how to use them do they have the credentials to help you? You need to have a full understanding of their credentials. How long have they been involved in the area that you want to be coached? Do they have experience beyond their own? The ease at which people can gain qualifications these days is quite simple. There are so many ‘on line’ qualifications that anyone can achieve, but what experience can an individual gain from them. Look deeper than how many qualifications they hold before you sign up to being coached by them.
Is your coach easily accessible if you need them? This could be as simple as an email, a phone call, a skype chat. As a paying athlete you would expect that you would be able to ask for advice. There is no point having to wait for your once a week chat if you have a question that needs answering now. The knock on effect could be as simple as a missed training session or worse, an incorrect training session that could lead to injury. Understand the accessibility boundaries that your coach lays down and ensure that they suit your needs – After all, you are the paying client.
This runs naturally from accessibility. Feedback is an integral part of being coached and not just for the athlete. If you as the athlete cannot give feedback to your coach, how can you beleive that the coach has your best interests at heart. Likewise, understand how the coach will provide feedback to you. Are they going to make everything fluffy, or will they give you the bare bones? How will you handle the feedback? If feedback is presented in the form an email or message it is possible that it may be misenterpreted and the wrong context taken. Verbal feedback sits way up there as it is possible to question the feedback in order to get the right information from it.
There are undoubtedly many more things that you may want to look for in a coach. This list is by no means exhaustive and could fill many a page. When you want to have a coach, ask yourself the question: What do I want from my coach? Write a list and make sure you interview your coach on how you will get your list of demands met. After all, you don’t go out and buy a car without test driving it first!
So, what would your list of expectations for a coach be?