How to Find a Triathlon Coach

So, you’re thinking about hiring a coach to help you reach your endurance sport goals. But, where do you start? Finding and hiring a coach can be a difficult or easy process depending on who you know and what you need and want in a coach. I like to think that searching for the right coach for you is like dating. There are a lot of good coaches out there, but you need to find the one that works for you. Below is a guide to help you along your journey to finding the right coach for you.

  1. Determine your goals – Do you want to race an Ironman or a sprint tri? Do you need swim-focused training? Are you trying to qualify for Kona or the USA team? Figuring out your short-term and long-term athletic goals is important in identifying the right coach for you. Plus, every coach will ask you what your goals are so it’s best to be prepared anyway. Some coaches specialize in long-course athletes, while others work with short-course athletes. Some love working with beginner athletes and developing their potential from the start, while others prefer to work with athletes that are a bit more experienced. Some coaches have strong backgrounds in one particular sport and thus maybe you need their expertise in that one sport to turn your weakness into your strength. Determining your goals not only helps you figure out what you need and want in a coach, but will help your future coach determine your training plan.
  2. Determine location and communication needs – Do you need to work with a coach in-person? Or can you work with a “virtual” coach through TrainingPeaks and email? Working with a coach in-person is probably relatively rare in the triathlon world, but it can definitely happen depending where you live and what the availability and what services are offered by the coach. This option is most likely more expensive than a “virtual” coach. A large majority of coaches use training software, such as TrainingPeaks, to deliver training plans to their athletes. It allows athletes to upload their training technology devices and provide feedback on each training session to the coach. At this point it is important to consider what level of communication you need from your coach. Are you the type of person that needs to talk to your coach on a daily basis? Do you want access to your coach via email, phone, text, smoke signal, etc.? Every coach will let you know how much access you will be able to have from them. It is important to remember that each coach has a life too and may not be at your becking call 24/7.
  3. Determine the type of personality you can work with best – This is the part that I equate with dating. You need to find a coach that you get along with well. At this point I would suggest creating a pros and cons list of traits that you want and need in a coach. Are you the type of person that needs to be praised after every workout? Do need extra guidance for certain workouts? Do you prefer a coach that will tell you like it is even if it’s bad? Every coach has a unique personality. You might find that you want the same coach your friend is using because of his or hers reputation, but then you may realize you two don’t get along well. Once you figure out your pros and cons list, go through and star the traits that you need in a coach. The rest are the wants that you can live without if you have to, but still try and find someone that meets at least some of those traits. Reach out and have a conversation with a few coaches and see how well you hit it off with each of them. Remember that most coaches will want to keep your relationship professional. There are a few coaches that do become friends with their clients, so keep this in the back of your head when looking for a coach.
  4. Determine cost and affordability – Cost is probably the biggest factor in people choosing to hire a coach or not. Personally, I believe it’s the best investment I have made in my triathlon career. I first hired a coach in 2012 and it was by far the best decision I made because she truly formed me into the athlete I am today and also inspired me to become a coach myself to give back to other athletes looking to reach the next level in their triathlon careers. Determine what you can afford each month for a coach and then search around for coaches that are within your budget. Most coaches are in the range of $150-250 a month depending on their education and athletic and coaching background. It doesn’t hurt to ask a coach too if perhaps you could work out a deal if they are really out of your price range. However, they may not agree so don’t get your hopes up too much.

Now that you have determined what you need and want in a coach, where do you find a coach? A great way is through word-of-mouth. Ask your tri buddies who they use and what they like and dislike about their coach. And, as a reminder, just because your bestie loves their coach, doesn’t mean their coach is the best fit for you. Also you can use the coach finder tool through TrainingPeaks or google triathlon coaches to find other coaches.

Here are some other thoughts that you should consider:

  • Does education matter to you? Most coaches are USAT certified coaches. There are varying levels ranging from Level I (entry level) to Level III. A coach that is USAT certified must pass a test to be certified after attending a two-day seminar and complete CEU courses to remain certified. They also have coaching insurance. Some coaches may have additional certifications in cycling, swimming, personal training, etc. Few coaches also may have degrees in exercise science. Chances are the more educated the coach, the more expensive they will be.
  • Is your coach a top competitive athlete? Many people seem to pick their coach based on the coach’s athletic achievements. Oh, they qualified for Kona? They must be a rockstar coach! Just because your coach is a rockstar athlete does not mean they are a rockstar coach. Chances are they have their own coach that has helped them reach their achievements. Is it important that your coach be active in racing? Are they racing at a high level? If they are, they may not have a lot of time to devote to you and your training needs. Of course, you probably do want a coach that has or is currently competing in the sport (I know I would). There are numerous awesome coaches out there that may not be competing at the upper levels of the sport that are amazing coaches. Look at Chrissie Wellington’s old coach, Brett Sutton. Sutton was not a strong swimmer, but was an amazing coach (he coached the 2000 Australian Olympic swim team with a great deal of controversy though) and has coached many world champion triathletes. (Side note: Sutton is a controversial coach, but he does know how to produce champions)
  • What is their roster size? Some coaches run their businesses as their full-time gig, others do it part-time. What is their athlete roster size? Do they coach 5 athletes or do they coach 25 athletes? How much time will they devote to you? Is this important to you? This question ties in with some of the other factors mentioned above, such as communication needs.
  • Do you want extra benefits like a tri kit and/or clothing? Some coaches have “race teams” and thus have tri kits for their athletes. Do you want to wear a tri kit from your coach? Some people want to feel like they are part of a team and want to represent their coach’s brand. There is nothing wrong with this because I have seen some pretty sweet team kits out there, but is this important to you? Do you want extra benefits?

Don’t be afraid to approach perspective coaches to pick their brains to determine if they are right for you. Most athletes tend to work with a coach for about two years and then will switch to a different coach to try something new. Coaching may be an expensive investment, but I find it has the best return on investment in helping you reach your goals!

Now, for a shameless plug for myself, since I can, I am still accepting athletes for 2014 so contact me above through the “contact me” tab and we can see if we are a good fit for each other.

~ Happy Training!

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