Multisport: How to get the most out of a coach

So, you hit the bid and have signed up for an Ironman triathlon, marathon, century ride or other major event.

You are excited and a little scared. You "know" that you have what it takes to finish, but want to get the most of out of the limited time that you have to train.

You have significant commitments in your non-tri life, and would like to minimize the disruption on your family and work colleagues. You need some advice to get you through your athletic journey, and are thinking that a coach could be the way to go.

In short, you are exactly where I was a few years ago. I have been on both sides of the athlete/coach relationship, and want to share some ideas on how to get the most out of your coach.

Here are some key points to remember when considering a potential coaching relationship:


You will be entrusting your entire season to another person. You should check the coach's credentials, experience and background. Ask for references and speak to current clients. Review sample workout plans, and discuss the coach's approach to building the season.


Communicate your key goals for the season. I have found the best results are achieved by having a limited number of quantitative as well as qualitative goals. Set the goals early in the season, and tailor the year toward achieving them.


There are a lot of coaches out there, and just as many training philosophies. Different strategies work for different folks, and you should make sure that your coach's training style matches your needs. Particular things to watch for are the approach to intensity, volume and recovery. This is where the variation can be greatest, and will have the most significant impact on your performance (both positively and negatively).

The plan

Many coaches offer different levels of service and price points. Make sure that you choose the plan that best fits your needs. If you are looking for frequent interaction, make sure that your coach will be happy with the level of assistance that you require. Make your expectations known in advance, and see what the coach recommends.

'Share of mind'

If you are paying for individual coaching, make sure you will get an adequate "share of mind." Find out how many athletes are currently being coached. Discuss your coach's other commitments. Be sure that you are confident that your plan will get the focus it deserves. Once again, make your expectations clear in advance.


You are buying your coach's advice, experience and support. Ask a lot of questions. Understand what lies behind the yearly, monthly and weekly planning. You will become a better athlete if you understand the reasons behind each session.

It is also your job to make sure that your coach understands how you are doing. Take advantage of every opportunity to update on your progress. You need to be totally honest. If you were so tired you couldn't get out of bed, make sure that message gets across. Be totally open and clear with what is happening.

I think this is even more important in an online coaching relationship because of the lack of visual feedback (tough to hide overtraining at the track, easy on the keyboard). Don't BS your coach! This is essential when you are tired, injured or not coping. Know when to back off. In my opinion, if your interaction is limited, you are not being coached.

Do the program

Once you have committed, paid your cash, built the season up ... do the program. This sounds easy, but in fact, many people second-guess their coaches and adjust the plan. There should be a reason behind every workout. If you have doubts, ask questions until you are satisfied. You are paying for expert advice, so use it.


Coaches should have the skills necessary to create and enhance the athlete's ability to achieve their goals. The power of belief is one of the most powerful forces in life. The best coaches, friends and training partners all share a unified belief in the ability of the athlete. People that do not serve this power of belief are best avoided.

In my opinion, creating and enhancing the power of belief is the central role of the coach. It is also the most important attribute for success in athletic competition.


Based on their experience, coaches should have the knowledge to provide the athlete with a structured environment that will enable the athlete to move safely and consistently toward one's goals.

Structure gives the athlete a feeling of control and confidence -- thereby strengthening the power of belief as well as increasing the probability of success.


There are two aspects of clarity: 1) coaches should be able to explain goals, sessions, techniques and strategies in a clear manner that the athlete can understand; and 2) coaches should strive to remain independent from the athlete's results, thereby being able to offer the athlete the benefit of an objective opinion.


Coaches should be constantly seeking new training techniques and expanding their knowledge about all aspects of training, nutrition, psychology and recovery. The goal of every coach should be to become a mind-body master.

Likewise, athletes who want to perform at the highest levels should make it a priority to understand the purpose of each session and to become mind-body masters in their own right. Gaining a clear understanding of a coach's philosophy will strengthen an athlete's power of belief.


Coaches should be open to (and with) their athletes. Athletes should know that they will not be judged by their coaches. This builds trust between coach and athlete, increasing the effectiveness of the relationship.


Coaches must take full responsibility for the programs that they create. Likewise, athletes must take full responsibility for executing the coach's program to the best of their ability. When doubts arise, coach and athlete should review them together and agree to the overall strategy. This builds trust and strengthens the power of belief.

For more information on finding a coach that's right for you, go to UltraFit's coaches page or check out the TrainingBible Coach Directory.

Gordo Byrn is a coach within Joe Friel's Ultrafit network. He specializes in ultra-endurance events having won the Hawaii Ultraman as well as completing 10 Ironman-distance races (with a personal best time of 8:46). Along with Friel, he is the author of "Going Long: Training for Ironman-Distance Triathlons." He runs a successful endurance-coaching business and can be reached at

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