Joining a coached club or accessing coaching virtually or in person will absolutely advance your triathlon training. The support, the knowledge, the consistency, the focus are all incredibly beneficial to moving you forward towards your goals. However, not all coaches are equal, so here are some red flags for traits you may want to avoid in a coach:
- They see people as ‘types’ versus individuals: To get the best for you, your coach needs to understand what you are about, what you want to achieve, your strengths and weaknesses, and the pragmatics of your life and training opportunities. To simplify the process of working with many athletes, some coaches will make a brief assessment, categorize you, and provide you a plan accordingly. This plan will likely still be effective, but if you are paying for individualized support then this is what you should be receiving. The best way to ensure the quality of your training plan is to ask your coach ‘why’ questions, why they planned particular sessions, quantities, etc. If their logic doesn’t make sense for your needs then say so and work with them to revise the plan (or look elsewhere).
- They believe in magic: Meaning that they are tied to some particular unproven or disproven training regimen. Coaches are typically current or former high performing triathletes, therefore assumptions are made that they follow best evidence. However, even high performing triathletes are guilty of cognitive biases and superstitions and can pass these on to those they coach. Whether it’s low cadence riding vs high cadence riding, using a sleeveless versus a sleeved wetsuit, or static stretching versus dynamic stretching before running, you will find coaches who hold to disproven methods. Or, more nefariously, there are coaches who will force a particular product or method on their athletes as they benefit financially from doing so. Don’t be afraid to again ask those ‘why’ questions and do some of your own research on sports science.
- They impose their own goals for your training: Only you know what you want to get out of triathlon, and achievements you want to make through the journey. Does your coach think that full-distance racing is the only true goal? Or alternatively, do they disparage full-distance as too expensive/harmful/branded/lofty and have different goals for you? Either way, this isn’t right. You need to be the one who sets the vision and they should not impose their values on that vision.
- They miss the mark on your abilities: If a coach consistently prescribes training that is too hard or too easy it’s a good sign that they aren’t actually tracking your data to see how you are performing. Or, if they aren’t asking for any data or feedback at all, then how on earth are they deciding on the volume or intensity to prescribe? There may be unaccounted factors that lead you to request minor increases or decreases, but if they are truly tracking your progress then prescribed sessions should be appropriate.
- They are unkind about other coaches or teams: It is normal to be competitive, and quite healthy in sports. Your club should be interested in being the best club in the area. However, if a coach is constantly putting down other teams or other coaches this can create a negative environment for the whole community. Many (most?) athletes will dabble across clubs, or have training partners with different clubs and coaches, and this kind of negativity can become harmful to the sport which exists in a fairly small eco-system. Look for those coaches who are objective enough to understand different skills across different individuals and teams.