How to Maximize the Coach-Athlete Relationship

When my business partner and I were interviewed on The Rambling Runner Podcast last week, we touched on a topic that I wanted to explore further.  I was asked a question about factors a runner should consider when hiring a coach.  There are many!  I wanted to take the discussion one step further and talk about how to maximize the experience with your coach after you have made your selection. 

Last year, I blogged about my own experience with using a running coach.  I found it to be extremely beneficial and I am really missing being coached during my current training cycle.  Hiring a coach is a big decision, not only because of the financial implications, but because you are giving up control of your training to another person.  It's important to ask a lot of questions of your potential coach - treat it like a job interview!  Besides the all important question of fees, below are a few questions you may want to consider asking:

  • What is the preferred method and frequency of communication?
  • How do they structure their training?
  • How do they plan to help you accomplish your goals and what time frame do they see as reasonable for achieving them?
  • Are they open to adjusting the schedule as needed when life gets in the way of your training?
  • Have they coached runners at your experience level and preferred distance?
  • What is their background (as both a runner and a coach)?

Now that we've covered some basic questions, there are a few things on your end you should do prior to the interview that will really improve your conversation with your potential coach.

  • Write up a brief bio of your running history - your PR's, injury history, average and peak mileage per week, your favorite and least favorite types of workouts, and type and frequency of cross training
  • Take some time to come up with a list of goals - this can be a race distance, a finish time, an increase in your weekly mileage, whatever you want to achieve!
  • Know your limits and be honest with your coach about them - this includes how much you can afford to pay, how many days per week you want to train, and how much time you have per day to train

The most important thing to keep in mind is you, the athlete, are in the position of power!  Interview several coaches before making a decision and find the best fit for you.

Let's turn the tables a bit now.  As someone who has been coached, and someone who is a coach, I have a unique perspective on how to maximize the coaching relationship.

  • Communicate with your coach.  I tell the athletes I coach it is impossible to tell me too much information, and I mean it.  If you don't tell your coach how training is going, how are they supposed to know how to deliver the best possible training for your needs?  The coaching software I use has boxes for my athletes to record their pace, their mileage, and a notes section for any other pertinent information on how they felt.  When these boxes are filled out it makes my heart so happy (and my job much easier)!
  • Be honest with your coach.  I realize this falls under the communication umbrella, but I think it deserves special mention to emphasize just how important it is to be honest with your coach.  If your workouts feel too hard or too easy, tell them so they can adjust your workouts.  If you feel an injury coming on, tell them so they can set you up with rest days or cross training.  This is part of their job description!  If you feel you aren't being heard or would like more feedback on how they think you're progressing, speak up!  
  • Trust your coach.  This is probably the hardest thing (myself included!) for most runners to do.  If you don't follow the training (you run your easy runs too fast, you run more or less than miles than prescribed, you do additional cross training sessions you don't report), you can't blame your coach if you don't achieve your goal.  

Remember the coach-athlete relationship is a two way street.  You as an athlete are paying for a service and deserve the best possible outcome.  However, your feedback is critical for making that best possible outcome a reality.