When I’ve looked to make a change, a big one, or achieve a significant goal, I have hired a coach.
I value coaching, and have had a number of coaches for different scenarios in sport, life, and work. I can name six coaches and mentors who, over the last decade, have helped shape my life and who helped me achieve the things that I say define who I am: Laura, Jen, Matt, Jenn, Michael and Caryn.
These people have helped me overcome obstacles, given me vision, made me show up, not taken any bullshit, and sometimes and very importantly made me chill out, think, rest and remember what’s important.
The role of a coach is not to crack the whip all the time. It’s to hold their coachee in the balance of life and help her play to her strengths and strengthen her weaknesses. To work alongside her to achieve her goal. Encourage her. Focus her. Be the calm in the storm, or the bee in the bonnet.
The most important role of a coach is to listen. Any ole coach can write a program and tell you what to do to meet their plan, but the good coaches, the ones who will help you achieve YOUR goals, they have big ears that are well tuned to their heart and mind - they have intuition and can see what you need, where you’re struggling, and what you might need to pull you through.
Your training is only part of the journey. It’s a piece of your life, not your whole life. When looking for your coach, be mindful of what you need, be honest about your strengths and weaknesses, and find a coach who will be equally a mentor and task master, a confidante and trainer. Someone who takes every bit as much pride in your experience toward and over the finish line as you do.
Here are my top questions to evaluate for finding a coach:
1. What is this coach known for? Do they specialize in short distance races? Are they focused on training beginners? Are they themselves racing at an elite or professional level?
2. What do their athletes say about them? Check out the testimonials on their website or ask for references.
3. What do their sample training plans look like? Does the plan look like something you could achieve, or did you shudder when you looked at it? Mindful, that a sample is very different than a personal plan, however, you need to gauge whether what the standard plan from this coach is what you can work toward, or maybe if you just change a few things here or there, could do it. If you can’t do their plan on day one, you need a different plan. The plan needs to meet you where you’re at today.
4. What did you feel like when you spoke to them? Did you feel nervous or excited? Did the conversation flow easily or was it painfully awkward? Did they talk about them the whole time or seek to learn more about you and your goals and your reason for doing this?
5. Do they live in the same town as you? A lot of coaching is done virtually, and I’ve worked with coaches who lived across town and the other side of the world. Sometimes, it’s nice to know you could grab a coffee with the coach, or if you needed help with technique that they are right around the corner. In many cases, it won’t make a difference thanks to the gift of technology.
6. Male or female? I’ve worked with both, and there is no real difference here except for personal preference. You may intuitively think a female will listen better than a male, but I had an amazing connection with some of my male coaches - even deeper than some of the females. This is really more about personal preference and comfort level and you can refer back to question 4 to have a better understanding of what the coach is all about.
7. What do they say about their athletes? Does the coach boast the times from their athletes’ races, or do they talk about the persons they trained and how they helped them overcome obstacles to achieve their goal?
8. What questions should you ask when researching or interviewing a coach? Well, aside from what I’ve covered already above, your conversation should go much like you’re meeting anyone for the first time and you want to see if there’s a connection. Ask them where they are from, how they got involved in the sport, what they love about it and what they find challenging. Ask them about their family. Find out where they went to school. Do they have a go to song to get them motivated?
You get the idea. Coaches are people and you need to find the right person for you. We are all different and will bring different skills and attributes to a program - it’s a relationship - choose wisely and it can be one of the richest and most rewarding relationships you may ever have.