Finding a Good Coach

>> Saturday, August 21, 2010

By now you all know that Jen Harrison is coaching me for the next 6 weeks. She's trying to help me break 60:00 in the TC 10 Mile. I once said "she's trying to help me HIT 60:00," and Jen quickly corrected me by saying "the goal is to break (smash) 60 min!" Ha! Of course, Jen! ;)

A recent commenter asked how I chose Jen as my coach, and that he'd love to hear about how to choose a coach. Well, Jen and I have been blogger buddies and FB buddies for a few years, and she coaches many people I know. I know her style, and I've been around people doing "Jen workouts." I liked the way she pushed people - but she didn't go overboard with the workouts and end up with a ton of injured athletes. And really, I chose Jen because Jen chose me - she's cutting me a HUGE deal just to see if she can get me down under 60:00 for the TC 10 Mile.

So I don't have much any "coach choosing" experience. But Jen said she had some pointers. The following is from Jen, and it's her pointers on WHO might need a coach and HOW to find the right coach for you.

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There are many reasons why we hire a coach and just as many reasons why we do not hire a coach. A coach is not for everyone. But, on the flipside a GOOD coach can help you. Some athletes feel they are too “slow” for coaching help! Some athletes think they know themselves well enough to put together their own plan…that may be true…but I will argue that that athlete is not maximizing their potential because a good coach can assess your abilities and limiters and make further suggestions on how to improve them or address them in a different way.

It takes some thorough work to find the right coach –someone who you like, respect and is knowledgeable to assist you in your goals. And, the coach that works for your best friend may not be the right fit for you and that is OK! But, keep that in mind while doing your research.

To help you in this search, I have put together a list – compiled from some of my current athletes, myself and peers on what they look for in a coach.

1. Knowledge and Credentials: Look for a coach who has experience and who has been working with athletes that you admire, like and have seen succeed. Make sure that the coach has the right skill set to help you achieve your goals. Do not assume that a successful athlete makes a successful coach. Your coach should have a proven track record working with athletes of all abilities – and especially someone like you!

2. Communication: The coach should absolutely have an open door policy. The coach should be accessible. You should be able to ask questions via email and get responses that are not only timely but also detailed enough to answer your questions. Emails should be returned within a business day.

3. Interaction: How does the coach interact with her/his athletes? Is this person accessible to each athlete? Is this coach positive and a great role model and mentor in the sport? How does this coach motivate his/her athletes? Make sure you ask for referrals and ask their current athletes how the coach interacts with them. Some coaches are hands off – sends schedules and are done. Some are VERY involved – daily. You may learn towards one of those options more – find that right match for you.

4. Goals: Make sure your coach asks what your goals are and what you want to accomplish – not only short term- but long term too. The coach should be able to set up the micro plan for you, but also be able to see the big picture, set up a macro plan and be able to explain to you why the workouts and races are set up like they are to achieve these goals.

5. Feedback: Ask the coach how they will provide feedback to you on your workouts and races. Progress is the name of the game and if the athlete does not feel they are making progress, they should be able to ask the coach for feedback on how to change things up to make progress. Also, the coach should be able to provide feedback on your workouts, data, subjective feedback, how to move workouts when sick or traveling, adapt schedules on the fly and give you feedback on your swim stroke, for example. This can be done either in person, if local, or via videos if not local.

6. Honesty: This is a tricky one, but one that I find is absolutely vital to the success of the athlete. And, one of the harder ones to address as a coach and athlete. When looking for a coach, spend some time asking this coach how they can tell you HOW realistic your goals are, WHAT you need to do to improve your swimming, or cycling or running. You are really doing yourself a disservice if you do not hire someone who has the experience in handling tough conversations about WHAT is realistic for you in regards to progress, race results and realistic time goals. Honestly sometimes hurts, but it is critical to improvement and setting realistic goals.

7. Balance: A good coach understands life. They realize that this is a hobby for most and it is absolutely critical to maintain balance with work, family, social life (ha) and sport. Find a coach that emulates this in their life. If you are a parent with 4 kids and works full time – hiring someone who has these life experiences or works with athletes like you, that will help. And, a good coach will help you sort through these balance issues daily!

8. Motivation: A good coach should be able to install confidence in the athlete in racing AND training. A good coach should be able to inspire athletes to be their best and work hard to achieve their best in all their workouts and races. Find a coach that makes you want to work hard! Someone that inspires you!

9. Perceptive: A good coach should be able to figure out each athlete. Specifically, the coach should be able to read their athletes, determine what their strengths are, what workouts would help them improve and which ones would not and create programs that are individualized to bring the best out of you. Each athlete is so different. A good coach can successfully assess each athlete and write challenging workouts for each individual athlete.

10. Likeable: Yes, you have to like your coach. Read blogs. Honestly, most people are JUST like their blogs. If you like someone on their blog, most likely you will like them as a coach. Of course #1-9 must also be addressed, but the internet is a powerful tool. Ask around. Find the athletes you admire and research their coach. And, a good coach is one that you like – not only as a coach but person.

GOOD luck and happy shopping!

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Being these 8 weeks of being coached by Jen started up so quick, I never went through all these steps to find out how well we'd fit. I knew a lot about her before going into it (through her blog and through other athletes she coaches), so that helped. Without sounding like a total advertisement for Coach Jen, I can now see how she fits these 10 points for me REALLY WELL. But, she's not for everyone - no coach is.

You can checkout more about Coach Jen Harrison on her website if you're interested. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off on my hard weekend run. (Thanks coach!) Happy weekend everyone!!

(Note: Jen just told me this about this post: "I enjoy helping others (besides you) like the guy who asked about this...and i do not need more clients, so i hope this just brings the attention on helping others and giving them feedback from a coach and bloggers." Thanks Jen!!)


SteveQ 12:13 PM, August 21, 2010  

Those are very good thoughts on how to find a coach. I've done some coaching (got a woman breaking 3:00 in the marathon in a few weeks and a national age-class sprinter at the moment) - but the thought that I'm "just like my blog" scares me to death! Most people who've read it and then met me end up telling people "But he's so much nicer and more normal than I expected."

Melissa 12:35 PM, August 21, 2010  

Great post and excellent points on finding a coach (eventhough they came from Jen, I'm glad you posted them). As a fellow JHCoaching athlete I'm excited to watch Jen coach you to smashing 60 minutes :-)

Her Name is Rio 7:16 PM, August 21, 2010  

Nice tips! I don't think most people know what to look for, so that's helpful.

amybee 11:28 PM, August 21, 2010  

GREAT info and tips. I learned the hard way about finding a coach....will print these tips and remember/refer to them the next time around for sure.

Hope to see you and Pharmie soon!

Joel 10:15 PM, August 22, 2010  

Steve (and more importantly, Jen) - thanks for posting. GREAT article! It's actually a little humblng that my little 'ole comment generated your blog post. Cool!

teacherwoman 9:32 AM, August 23, 2010  

Those are some great points! Thanks for sharing!

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