Finding the Right Coach: 10 Must-Have Traits

Ongoing Analysis

A solid understanding of the biomechanics of each element of the sport will help your coach to analyze your swim, bike and run technique. We all have flaws in our technique. A good coach will search for and point out biomechanical problems and then prescribe specific corrective drills to help you overcome them.

This will go a long way toward staving off injuries and improving your performance. A significant component of this corrective/preventive strategy comes in the form of a comprehensive strength-training program that prescribes exercises specific to your individual strengths and weaknesses.

Eating to Win

Now that your coach has you effectively and efficiently swimming, cycling and running your way to your next great performance, the question of nutrition and supplementation becomes important. Your coach should be able to provide intelligent advice on endurance nutrition and which supplements to take to complement your diet and workloads.

In addition, he or she should be capable of designing a caloric intake and fueling plan for pre-race, race and post-race nutrition. This plan should be based on your present fitness level, environmental conditions, the length of the race, your body weight and the intensity at which you'll be working.

First-hand Knowledge

Having a coach who has been (or is) an athlete can sometimes be an advantage. As the date of your goal race approaches, your coach should help you create a plan that not only addresses your race-day tactics, but also provides strategies that will help get you to the start line in a sound mental state.

Assessing the Athlete/Coach Fit

A coach can be well trained and highly successful but often, due to no one's fault, a coach/athlete relationship may not flourish. I've seen brilliant coaches that fully grasp the scientific applications of training but don't have the empathy or awareness to connect with particular athletes.

To summarize, here are 10 key traits to look for in a coach:

  1. A combination of education and experience.
  2. An understanding of the fundamentals of workload.
  3. An ability to cross-reference key training indicators such as speed, heart rate, watts and perceived exertion.
  4. The ability to design a program for the full training year (periodization, micro-cycles, rest, etc.).
  5. An attention to the details of your training and the astuteness to recognize when it's time to make changes (e.g., to recognize symptoms of over-reaching/training or mental burnout, etc.).
  6. An understanding of the biomechanics of swimming, cycling and running and the ability to prescribe drills and exercises to effect corrective changes.
  7. The knowledge of the principles of endurance nutrition and supplementation and the ability to prescribe a fueling plan that is tailored to you.
  8. Any advice and guidance for your individual race-day tactics.
  9. Excellent communication skills.
  10. A motivating personality that fits you.


With the growth of triathlon has come a growth in the number of coaches available to help you achieve your personal best. Shop around carefully, check for USAT-certified coaching credentials and ask for references. You'll be a better athlete for it.

Six-time Ironman World Champion Dave Scott lives in Boulder, Colo., and maintains a busy schedule running his own business as fitness and nutrition consultant, product marketing consultant and nationally recognized speaker. He also organizes or is the main keynote for fitness camps, clinics and races and is a regular columnist for many print and online sources. As an Active Expert, Dave utilizes his years of experience by offering unique and creative training plans for athletes of all abilities. Contact him at
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