Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Training vs. Coaching

A little off the nutrition path for a blog or two so excuse me but many things have been entering my mind as of late.  I suspect this increase in thought process is happening due to my slowly increasing training load coming off of the flu.  I always think better when I am training and thus, here you have my latest "think tank" installment.  Enjoy!

Training vs. coaching.  Not many people know the difference or understand it for that matter.  I teach new triathlon coaches around the country about exercise physiology and athlete monitoring and the first thing I like to bring up is the question, "are you training or are you coaching?".  The answer, while not right or wrong, helps new coaches set their business models and services.  But I digress.  I am not writing this blog for coaches.  This time it is about the athletes so listen up and take note of what comes next...

Many people can be deemed a coach.  There is no licensure, accreditation or even standards to become a coach.  For the most part, in the US, a person can pay a registration fee for a coaching clinic (many offered throughout the US), attend either online or in-person, take an exam (usually open book) and receive their coaching certification in the mail shortly thereafter.  Does this mean they are a coach?  Yes.  It says so on the piece of paper.  Does it mean they know how to coach?  In some cases, no.

Like any other profession (yes, coaching is a profession), it takes years to accumulate enough knowledge and experience to be able to properly provide coaching services to athletes.  Unfortunately, athletes do not take the time often to interview potential coaches to determine if they have the skill set to assist in reaching their goals.  I often tell new coaches at clinics that I cannot teach them how to coach but I can give them the tools that they can use in their journey of becoming a coach.  It is up to them to continue their learning and identify mentors to learn the actual coaching process.

I hear far too often from athletes that they fired their coach because the coach wasn't communicating well with them or they couldn't explain why they were giving them certain workouts.  While it is a two way street, I can honestly say that some coaches simply do not coach.  They provide training plans.  Training plans range from 4 to an unlimited number of weeks of set training that specifies the mode, time, intensity and goals of each workout.  Some athletes require only this to be successful.  However, I would argue that these athletes simply following a training plan are missing the full benefits of what coaches provide.  Coaches coach, we know that.  But what does coaching really mean?

Some of us grew up playing sports and if you are like me, I had some very good coaches and some that I have done my best to forget.  The more positive coaching influences I had growing up were due to the communication strategies the coach used with me.  Some of my coaches simply didn't care.  "Go out on the field and play."  While others helped me understand the game, the tactics the "why" behind what I was doing so I could be a better athlete, person and role model for my younger teammates.  It is these type of individuals that we must surround ourselves with as athletes.

Providing training plans, which some coaches do, offer just that: a plan.  What is missing is the communication, the monitoring piece of the puzzle.  Monitoring training is the most important thing a coach can do for an athlete. A coach is the objective person who looks at the data gathered from training sessions and puts them under the microscope.  He or she continually strives to be better by always asking questions.  "How can I help my athlete adapt better to make them faster, stronger and attain their goals?".  "How can I do my job better through asking the right questions when I interact with my athlete?".

Athlete monitoring, whether subjective when a coach asks you how you are doing or objective, when they study your times, zones, power or running velocity data, biomechanics, nutrition, psychological preparedness and life balance, are the key ideals that make a coach a coach and separate them from those who simply provide training plans.

I do believe coaches who provide training plans without much communication or athlete monitoring are doing a positive service to the athlete.  However, athletes, please remember that this is not coaching and you get what you pay for.

This is my 20th year in this industry.  When I first started coaching, my going monthly rate was $75/month.  While many things have changed in 20 years, one thing still puzzles me.  Why is it that I am seeing these similar rates from coaches 20 years later?  The answer is simple.  These coaches are either 1) funding their hobby and are not putting much time or effort into their athletes, or 2) providing training plans only with no athlete monitoring.  Athletes: please remember that when you are hiring a coach, you are receiving their knowledge, experience and more importantly, their ability to help you objectively monitor yourself in order to achieve positive physiological adaptation while reducing the risk of injury and overtraining.  Coaches: please remember that coaching is a profession and before setting your business structure, ask yourself if you want to train or coach athletes.  When you do not respect the profession and the financial commitment necessary to do the job well, it devalues the services all of your colleagues provide.

In the end, most athletes find their way to the coaches whom will suit them and their goals the best.  However, athletes can certainly shorten their learning curve by first seeking the right qualities in the coach that will work best for them.

And with that, I will now get off my soapbox...

Be on the lookout for my next blog which will be about recovery (a very important piece of the athlete monitoring puzzle)!

Coach Bob

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