Finding the Right Coach: 10 Must-Have Traits

When I first began my career as a triathlete in 1976, quality coaching came from within. The sport of triathlon was still new, and hiring a triathlon coach was simply not an option.


There were many great coaches representing each individual sport, but none that could link the three disciplines together. Thus, it was in my interest to research and study the many variables involved in achieving results.

In the early days, I thought more was better, so I logged huge miles on the bike. For example, in preparation for the 1981 Ironman I took part in a local bike tour. I think I took one bottle of water and one banana on the 210k ride. And while there were many aid stations along the way, I made my first stop at the 150k mark. I may have eaten my banana there.

As I carried on in the tour I began to realize that I was having trouble remaining strong and alert. I remember seeing a number of road signs warning me of a steep decent with a sharp turn. The next thing I remember is being on the pavement with several people standing around me. Then I awoke nine hours later in the hospital with 109 stitches in my head. I never forgot that lesson: the importance of understanding exercise physiology, endurance nutrition and the make-or-break significance of pulling it all together.

Today, there's no shortage of training information, tips and tricks circulating in every form of media. The challenge now isn't finding the information, it's filtering out the proven methodologies from the unproven or just plain foolhardy advice. A well-trained coach can help you filter out the nonsense and keep you focused on the task of reaching your personal athletic goals. But how do you choose a coach that's right for you?

The Coach's Role

To start, find a coach with a solid understanding of exercise physiology and the functions of workload. Preferably this individual has an education that includes in-depth study of exercise physiology, kinesiology, anatomy, nutrition and sports psychology.

This, coupled with real-life experience as an athlete, lays the foundation for a solid coach. In addition, a good coach must also possess a solid grasp of training fundamentals, such as cross-referencing key indicators including speed, heart rate, watts and perceived exertion.

Getting Started

Part of putting these fundamentals into practice involves the selection of marker sets to establish your baseline indicators and to assess your progress throughout the season. Only from this point can a truly customized coaching program be designed for you to ensure you reach your goals.

Then, taking into consideration the full calendar of activities you plan to participate in, your coach will design your program based on the principle of periodization: developing your fitness within a series of micro-cycles that target different training metrics such as strength, endurance and speed, interspersed with adequate periods of rest and recovery to ensure you keep building from cycle to cycle.

Once your program has been created, it's important for your coach to monitor your training and recognize the symptoms of over-reaching and over-training. Each training cycle must have a clear purpose and must effectively prepare you for the subsequent phase. Building in recovery during each micro-cycle is critical, as all too often I see athletes arrive at race day over-trained, injured or doubting their abilities.

  • 1
  • of
  • 2

Discuss This Article